Most businesses in the UK are not obliged to measure, let alone reduce, their carbon emissions. So, is it really worth the effort, asks Steve Malkin, founder of The Planet Mark™ sustainability certification.
A majority of UK adults (64%) now believe that human activities are contributing to global warming – a consensus held by 97% of climate scientists for some time now. Yet climate change remains a complex issue that is just as likely to trigger an emotional response as it is to lead to reasoned argument. Moreover, our views on its potential impacts and the timescale of those impacts (e.g when will we really feel the adverse effects) vary widely.
Such attitudes are often mirrored by the conflicting actions of governments, both here and abroad (most strikingly and worryingly by the Trump administration in the US).
So against such a backdrop, is it really worth a business considering opening the can of worms that constitutes 'your company's carbon footprint'?
Unless you have a strong personal conviction, I suggest you treat your carbon footprint just like any other business decision. Go through the pros and cons and see if it stacks up.
We talk about this subject every day of the week, with organisations across sectors, of all shapes and sizes, and help them review the business case for carbon footprinting.
Typically, their decision is based on the risks and opportunities associated with the following questions:
1. Why and why now?
The very fact that you're reading this blog means that carbon footprinting, sustainability and/or environmental impacts are on your radar for some reason. Where's this coming from? Why has it come up? And, why now? are important questions to answer because it could contain risk. For instance, has it been triggered by a request for information from an existing or potential customer?
2. What’s the commitment?
Bearing in mind that any additional work stream will suck up resources, before committing to measure your carbon footprint, think about the resources it is going to take. You may have expertise in house, but usually a carbon footprint is outsourced. You'll need someone to collect information on your energy use from offices/your estate and vehicles (assuming you have company owned vans or cars) and of possible data on water, waste or business travel. Typically, this will be in the form of bills, which your finance team have, or meter readings or information from suppliers. Well organised companies can usually pull this together in one day. If it is longer then this is an exercise worth doing as within it you can often find over payments, inefficiency and money saving opportunities.
Once you have the data, your business carbon footprint can be calculated. The value in this is it provides a heat map of your carbon emissions. As the adage goes, “where there's carbon, there's cost”. The data allows you to see at a glance where you can make cost savings.
If you commit to reducing your carbon footprint, your first action is to ask your employees to help. Inside every organisation are people who are passionate about sustainability and doing their bit for the environment. They are a free, knowledgeable and resourceful bunch and are usually well prepared to help a company’s carbon saving initiative.
3. What's the cost?
The cost of a carbon footprint will vary depending on the size, complexity of your business and the quality of the data. To pull together something of value to the business, it’s likely that you're going to need some outside help. If its robust, the cost is likely to be between £1500 to £10,000 depending on the size of the operation. For SMEs it will certainly be at the lower end of this scale.
4. Will I get a return on investment (ROI)?
Yes. And you should think of this as a profitable exercise. Time and again we work with companies that consistently save more than they spend.
One of the benefits to measuring your carbon footprint is finding quick wins on resource efficiencies, in particular, from reducing energy usage.
For most organisations, measuring carbon emissions should be at least cost neutral. Holders of The Planet Mark™ cut their carbon footprint by an average of 5% per employee per year. This equates to around £100 / employee per year.
5. Once I've started, do I need to keep going?
Not unless you're being told to (e.g by regulation, customer demand, brand reputation or pressure from your team). But changing direction can look odd, so always re-assess the business case – and consider the following when doing so:
Reducing your carbon and sustainability is a bit like going to the gym, once you've started you get the bug. The business benefits start to manifest in different ways
Cutting carbon is 'doing the right thing' and this says much about your company culture. It's a powerful differentiator as you're seen to be taking a pro-active stance on big issues and is certainly valuable in attracting and retaining customers and talented people
Unlike some CSR activities, measuring and reducing your carbon footprint is quantifiable evidence of your commitments to society and the environment. This can be truly valuable to your customers and is especially important when involved in pre-qualification questionnaires, bids and tenders.
If planned well, the actions you take will align with your company vision, mission and values. You can promote your actions and achievements through your communications channels, internally and externally.
The business benefits of measuring and reducing carbon normally come down to cost saving, engaging your employees, enhancing your brand and winning business.
The benefits to society and our environment are even greater. So if you think it stacks up, I'd advise you to just get started.
The Planet Mark™ is holding free one-to-one carbon management advice clinics at edie Live on May 23-24. If you would like further guidance on carbon footprinting or to discuss your process in more detail with us please book a session.