Who wants Liz Truss’ bonfire of net zero bureaucracy? Not a big company, to begin with | Gaby Hinsliff

If One thing Liz Truss wholeheartedly believes in is that no one likes being told what to do. People don’t want to be nagged about their weight or pressured to eat less and move more. They don’t want to be told what they can say on social media. Above all, companies want to be free to make heaps and heaps of money, unhindered by regulation and bureaucracy and what David Cameron has called “green shit”. But when she said she didn’t mind making herself unpopular in the process of releasing all that growth, she didn’t mean with the people doing the culture.

What to do, then, with the fact that this week more than 100 major companies from Ikea to Amazon, Coco-Cola and Sky have signed an open letter urging the government not to backtrack on net zero, at the set of clues that Truss might be planning to do just that? It wasn’t in the script, either for the deregulatory right or arguably that part of the convinced left that capitalism loves nothing more than warming its rapacious hands over a bonfire of crackling red tape, while watching the planet burn. What exactly is happening?

CEOs aren’t monsters, of course. They see the same fires, floods and droughts on the news as everyone else, and probably have the same teenagers scolding them at breakfast. They know that being perceived as green matters to both young customers and employees, as Gen Zers are increasingly reluctant to work for brands their friends view as toxic.

For some, like a water industry enduring its driest summer in 30 years, the climate crisis already poses a direct threat to their operations; others, like renewable energy providers, have built their businesses around decarbonization. But what has really changed, as a result of the conflict in Ukraine, is that big business is now much more concerned about soaring fossil fuel prices. Renewable, safe and cheap energy seems increasingly essential to their ability to continue to generate profits.

That said, it would be naive to imagine that big polluters aren’t already pressuring this new government to water down some net zero policies, or that many companies don’t have changes to make. But there are a surprisingly large number of companies that would be rocked by a sudden change in leadership now.

The letter was organized by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), whose recent survey of 700 senior business leaders found almost 70% already had their own company net zero plans (some arguably more compelling than others, but that’s another column) and 80% had earmarked funding. Telling them at this late stage that in fact they didn’t need to bother spending the money seems more infuriating than liberating.

The same goes for scrapping the sugar tax now, after companies have already broken through the pain barrier by reformulating snacks and soft drinks to avoid the tax. Sometimes bureaucracy is not just about protecting the public, but about creating stable and predictable conditions in which to make money, as well as a fair field of obligations where well-run companies are not undermined by bad ones. or don’t feel like suckers. Nearly three-quarters of CISL survey respondents said that, far from being a drag, regulation was important to their company’s business model.

Admittedly, this often shifts costs from the state to business, which business understandably hates. But the logical, albeit unpopular, corollary is that scrapping it just sends those costs back to taxpayers, something the government seems rather less keen on discussing. As Polly Mackenzie, the former chief executive of the Demos think tank, recently tweeted, you can scrap rules that prevent companies from fueling things like obesity, work stress or air pollution. air, but “your health costs are going to be enormous”, regardless of the human suffering caused. Someone still has to pay: it’s just a question of who.

Mackenzie knows this territory well, having served as a Liberal Democrat special adviser in the 2010 coalition government, whose much-publicized bonfire of bureaucracy died out when it emerged that most rules actually exist for a reason, and the reason is often that people love them. One of the earliest candidates for scrapping was apparently the rules governing the flammability of children’s sleepwear, on the grounds that most families now have space heaters and not the riskier open fires. But still, does anyone want children’s pajamas that ignite more easily? Is this really what progress means?

Even periods that were violently felt at first tend to settle over time, becoming part of the wallpaper. The Working Time Directive, which protects employees from being required to work more than 48 hours a week, was controversial in 1998 when it was first introduced. But binning – as Jacob Rees-Mogg would have envisioned it – feels oddly last century now, in a world where companies concerned with increasing productivity are instead experimenting with four-day weeks.

The idea of ​​freedom, or getting the government out of your life, remains heady and for many leavers it was part of the Brexit itch. But while it still thrills a certain type of conservative voter, it feels increasingly retro. We’ve come a long way from the days when greed was good, lunch was for wimps, and caring about the planet was strictly for hippies. If you want to take Britain back to the 1980s, don’t expect us to come quietly.

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