10:10 -- Publicity Stunt or Game Changer?

10:10 -- Publicity Stunt or Game Changer?

If you haven't heard about it, the likelihood is that you've spent the past week living in a cave, in which case your carbon footprint must already be so low that you are not really part of the target audience.

The 10:10 campaign launched earlier this week at an event at Tate Modern with much media fanfare, celebrity endorsement, and the ambitious goal of getting individuals and businesses to commit to cutting their carbon emissions by 10 percent during 2010.

The successful launch of the campaign means it already looks as if it has the potential to match the Make Poverty History campaign and become a permanent feature of the media landscape over the next year. It raises the immediate question for business leaders, as to whether or not they should accept the challenge of cutting emissions by a tenth in double-quick time.

At first glance, there are plenty of reasons for serious-minded executives to give 10:10 a wide berth. The campaign bears all the hallmarks of a populist, consumer-focused initiative. The snazzy logo, the high-profile support of London's jet-setting luvvie-ocracy, the conveniently catchy 10:10 target, and the absurdly idealistic goal of getting the government to commit to a 10 percent cut in emissions in just 12 months all appear as far from coldly rational boardroom thinking as you can possibly get. Moreover, the campaign is the brainchild of Franny Armstrong, the documentary filmmaker behind McLibel and The Age of Stupid, and hardly a natural ally of the business community.

But first impressions can be deceptive. It's not perfect, but 10:10 is far better thought out than your typical green campaign and it offers plenty that businesses can, and should, be endorsing.

First, just as with individuals, cutting corporate emissions by 10 percent is not as tough as it sounds. For an über-green business, delivering a 10 percent cut would be extremely difficult without significant investment in costly onsite renewables and the like. But most businesses are nowhere near as carbon efficient as they could be and they are capable of delivering emission cuts of around 10 percent simply by replacing light bulbs, installing cost-effective insulation, turning off unused computers and cutting corporate travel. For example, axing one in 10 business trips would get you a long way to reaching the target, and if you can't identify 10 percent of trips that are an almighty waste of time, you either have the world's most important job or you have grown far too attached to airport waiting areas.

Second, as reported, the 10:10 organisers are fully aware of the importance of getting businesses on board and are bending over backwards -- even risking the credibility of the entire project with some of their more "deep green" supporters -- to make it feasible for firms to sign up.

Businesses will be judged a successful member of the campaign if they deliver cuts of just 3 percent in carbon intensity next year, and what's more, they can choose their own starting date so that they keep in line with financial reporting periods. Any business of any size should be able to cut emissions relative to revenue by 3 percent in the course of a year with minimal financial outlay, so if your firm has been waiting to implement a green scheme, now is the perfect opportunity.

You have until the start of the financial year in April to get organized and then you simply have to start measuring carbon emissions and identifying initiatives that will deliver a marginal improvement in carbon efficiency. It is also worth noting that such measures equate to best practice and will help your business save money and carbon while also preparing for upcoming emission-reporting regulations.

Which brings us to the third point, that snazzy logo. Any business that has tried to cut emissions in the past knows that it involves the daunting challenge of encouraging staff to change their behavior. But 10:10 promises to do all the marketing and educational heavy lifting for you, making it far easier to get employees, customers and suppliers on board with emission-reduction initiatives.

Finally, 10:10 has a genuine chance of success, not necessarily in terms of delivering emission reductions through behavior change, although every little helps, but more by providing clear evidence that people and businesses will support ambitious, government-led measures to cut emissions.

While extremely helpful, behavior change alone will not deliver the deep cuts in emissions that are now required. The priority has to be to de-carbonize the energy and transport infrastructure on which our lives and businesses are built. Governments and infrastructure firms know this, but are even now reluctant to accelerate a clean technology revolution that will impose short-term costs on electorates and customers in order to deliver priceless long-term benefits.

I have always thought it strange that the term "gesture politics" is deemed an insult when, if you think about it, gestures are an essential and hugely influential component of any society. All the key moments of our lives, from naming ceremonies to weddings to funerals are in effect gestures, and are none the less important for that.

Well, 10:10 promises to be a case of "gesture politics" at its most effective. Of course, it will be great if everyone who signs up to the campaign cuts their emissions 10 percent, but the greater value will be in demonstrating to the government once and for all that people understand the scale of the challenge presented by climate change and accept that changes to our society and economy will have to be made. It could finally give our ever-cautious political class the public backing necessary to drive through the renewable energy plants, high-speed rail lines, electric car infrastructure, even airport contraction, that are essential to the creation of a low carbon businesses and the delivery of deep and sustainable cuts in emissions.

More than 300 firms have already signed up to 10:10 and there is no reason why thousands more should not join them.

This column originally appeared at BusinessGreen.com.