Why now is the right time to create your company’s climate action plan

The piece by Henry Muss will be published in The Beam #12. Pre-order it to read more on the subject.


 

In a year when a worldwide pandemic took over the headlines, let’s not forget the environmental crises that swept across the globe. So how should your business tackle its carbon footprint?

From the devastating wildfires across Australia with around a billion animals reported to have perished and the unforgettable pictures of a glowing orange California after the state experienced its biggest ever fire season, 2020 has unabashedly shown the reality of climate change.

In the UK, although the climate was tamer in comparison, we experienced the wettest February on record followed by the driest sunniest May since records began. While it certainly made the first lockdown more bearable with spring temperatures similar to the height of a hot summer, it deepened an environmentalist’s sense of unease. It also provided more evidence of climate breakdown and the urgent need for action.

This came at a time when COVID-19 transformed many of our pre-existing behaviours. The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) and the Food Foundation charity found that 91% of people didn’t want to return to how life was prior to the pandemic. Why would they? Many were enjoying cleaner air, planting their own food and creating stronger social bonds in their community. The situation made people rethink their relationship with nature and understand that it is what ultimately sustains us.

The public now expects organisations to be setting ambitious targets to achieve net-zero, to be considering the sustainability of their products with respect to the energy consumed and the waste generated. Studies have shown that the majority (80%) of consumers are concerned about climate change but that concern is not being met sufficiently with adequate labelling  (e.g. carbon impact) to help to make informed choices and achieve a net-zero society.

There was some further good news at least in June when it was revealed that the UK had enshrined into law a net-zero carbon emissions target for 2050, although most of us feel this could be too far away. Scientists such as Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London (UCL), have called for an earlier target of 2030 and said that if there is any chance of keeping the planet from warming more than 2°C, the whole world must hit zero carbon emissions before 2050.

Given the relatively new legislative framework, the scale of the climate emergency and the public’s deeper connection to nature now is the time for organisations to rethink their values and rise to the climate challenge. Calculating your organisation, product or service’s carbon footprint will eventually provide a competitive advantage.

A good starting point is understanding that carbon emissions are generated through almost everything we do: how we heat and power our buildings, the raw materials and energy used in manufacturing processes, how we process, store, distribute, use and dispose of a product all contribute to climate change.

A carbon footprint captures the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions outputs on an annual basis. So it’s time to pull together your utility bills and fuel receipts for 12 months of your operations. This information will fall into different categories or in carbon footprint jargon “scopes”. So calculate your gas bill and the fuel used by your vehicles (scope 1), the electricity you have used (scope 2), indirect emissions involving multiple stakeholders (scope 3) – which makes them more challenging but important as they often account for a significant proportion of a company’s carbon footprint, sometimes up to 90%. Examples of scope 3 include business travel, employees’ commutes and emissions arising from the use of products but also upstream activities including how your product is manufactured.

 

“A good starting point is understanding that carbon emissions are generated through almost everything we do”

 

If your organisation is looking to calculate the carbon footprint of a product, a second lockdown is the ideal time to start contacting your suppliers as this information can take a while to gather.

Once you have collated your data there are different options on how to calculate your carbon footprint and develop your climate action plan. Things to consider: do you want a quick calculation so that you can determine your carbon footprint, identify low-cost wins to reduce it and then consider offsetting the rest? Or do you want a more in-depth analysis of your current business impacts, your supply chain emissions or those associated with your building operations and manufacturing process?

There are many carbon footprint calculators on the web, like Carbonfootprint‘s free business calculator that covers a wide range of emissions sources. You can quickly generate the carbon footprint for your organisation, get a comprehensive report, including energy-saving advice and the opportunity to offset your emissions through a range of removal projects. Minor Figures, the oat milk manufacturer, teamed up with ClimatePartner to offset the emissions from a full life cycle analysis of their product, thereby achieving carbon neutral status.

If you are looking to achieve carbon-neutral status for your product or organisations emissions, you may want accreditation to an internationally recognised standard such as BSI PAS 2060. This can be done from your scope 1 and 2 data (as it’s understood that it can be challenging to collect or calculate your scope 3 emissions).

Part of the PAS2060 accreditation is obtained by a carbon reduction plan, which will require your organisation to make a commitment for a future reduction. The accreditation is only valid for 12 months and can be externally validated or by your own organisation.

External validation ensures that the methodology and data have been audited and verified. This type of validation is recommended for those organisations that want to promote their carbon neutrality status, as it protects the organisation from external criticism for lack of thoroughness and, as a result, will strengthen confidence in the carbon neutrality statement.

Whichever route you choose the climate emergency demands that it’s time to act now. For a quick fix, consider changing your supplier to a green tariff so that your power is sourced from carbon-free wind, solar or wave renewable energy sources (Ethical Consumer recommends Good Energy and Ecotricity for the highest quality green electricity) Or optimise your heating timer controls (and your bills) to match building occupancy and temperature setpoints to match comfort.

Not only is moving towards net-zero good for the planet, but the economics show it’s also good for business.