Steven Kiakowski, Director at sustainable training and consultancy company The Verdancy Group, discusses how to bring carbon emissions goals into fruition.
The UN’s Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will soon take place in Glasgow. The aim of this annual event – to encourage action on climate change – grows all the more imminent each year.
Previous COP events have seen governments committing to major emissions reduction targets, with countries like the UK enshrining net zero by 2050 targets into law (2045 in Scotland).
Businesses must take action to meet UK and global targets. But faced with immediate challenges like lockdowns and worker shortages, it’s easy to bury sustainable actions deep down in the to do list.
That’s why COP26’s first goal – to encourage even more ambitious emissions reductions targets by 2030 – stands to be its most significant.
While historically governments have offered grace periods and leniency to businesses during times of reform, we’re not seeing a similar tolerance for missed net zero targets. Businesses who aren’t improving their green practices are already losing out on grants and bids. With the potential of even more stringent targets on the horizon, slashing business emissions is becoming all but essential.
What, then, can businesses do to take swift action and improve their green credentials?
Define sustainable goals
Many businesses have standard green policies in place (transitioning to 100% renewable energy, converting transport fleets to electric, directing zero waste to landfill, and so on). While actions like these form the foundation of sustainable business practices, they’re not enough to make headway at the necessary rate. That’s because, although well-meaning, most businesses are not strategic in their approach to sustainability.
Sustainable policies must form part of a wider sustainability strategy, with an end goal in mind. Before creating a plan, clear and achievable targets need to be identified.
While the goal of cutting emissions is common to all businesses, the way that works in practice will differ for everyone. Start by calculating your carbon footprint – get really clear on this, using accurate metrics rather than rough estimates. From there, you can set an emissions reduction target with a precise time frame.
Identify what’s hindering progress
While simple changes like installing motion sensor lighting can drastically reduce business emissions, it’s the remaining emissions that can’t be curbed by minor adjustments that we need to focus on.
Widespread changes, particularly in larger organisations, come with a plethora of logistical difficulties. By identifying these difficulties and dissecting what about them is limiting progress, you can begin to alleviate them.
Recently, for example, we met with the CEO of a large construction company whose customers were looking for partners who could deliver projects without single-use plastics. When we probed about what checks the company had in place to eliminate single-use plastic from their procurement process, we found that there were none.
While this might raise readers’ eyebrows, this is not at all uncommon. Many companies have a sustainability goal in place, but haven’t created a clear path to get there. When you identify your roadblocks, you can then create people-friendly measures to circumvent them.
Lead by example
Organisations are composed of individuals, all of whom have a responsibility to act sustainably. You might imagine that some companies are held back by a lack of engagement from their teams with green policies, but in our experience, there is plenty of goodwill from employees. Given the chance, people are usually keen to make a difference.
That said, if management introduces new policies without themselves following suit, you can expect an emphatic decline in enthusiasm.
Consider what changes you are asking your team to make. Are you encouraging taking public transport while driving a petrol-fuelled car to work? Are you asking procurement teams to work with green suppliers while taking internal flights for business meetings?
To inspire change, leadership must also embrace a green lifestyle.
Empower your team
Are your new goals viable, or are they simply burdening your team without providing support? While strategic sustainability policies can transform business carbon footprints, they will only come into fruition with your team’s input.
Employee training has the capacity to totally transform your business for the better, helping you to achieve your strategic goals, whether that’s identifying unsustainable practices or working with suppliers to lower emissions.
Introducing new green ways of living is an opportunity to empower your team both at work and in their personal lives.
Working with an environmental consultant can help you implement a sustainable strategy to slash your carbon emissions at pace.
The Verdancy Group provides consulting and training services to companies across Scotland and the wider UK.