Sustainability

Five tips for adopting sustainable business practices

Sustainability has rapidly changed from a ‘nice to have’ for organisations to a business imperative.

Words:
Charlotte Cameron
Images:
Shutterstock
Sustainable Business Practices
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Sustainability has rapidly changed from a ‘nice to have’ for organisations to a business imperative. While for some companies adopting sustainable business practices is helping to comply with emerging regulations and ease pressure from stakeholders, for others it equates to winning more tenders, attracting and retaining the right talent and creating business resilience.  

But for some organisations, embracing sustainability and adapting to a changing world can seem overwhelming.  

By 2050, all UK organisations must be net zero carbon, regardless of their size but surveys show that less than one-third currently have net zero strategies in place. Key barriers were a lack of investment internally and the need for better regulation, but also a sense among some companies that their actions would be insurmountable in the face of the climate crisis.  

SMEs account for over 99% of the business population in the UK and over 60% of employment.  

We’ve been working with businesses of all sizes to embrace sustainability, reduce their carbon footprint and unlock the passion of their employees since 2013, and we know the incredible collective impact that businesses, including SMEs can have.  

For example, in the first half of 2022, Planet Mark members saved 38,708 tonnes of CO2e – that’s the amount of carbon needed to power 11,091 homes for an entire year.  

Here’s some of our tips for organisations just starting out on their sustainability journey:  

You can’t manage what you don’t measure

As consumers, clients, supply chains and talent all grow increasingly aware of the impact of climate change, businesses are increasingly expected to know and understand their impact on the planet.  

Large organisations are required to publicly disclose emissions data for regulatory schemes such as Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR), the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), and industry-specific targets.  

In April this year, the UK Climate-Related Financial Disclosures became mandatory for large organisations meaning over 1,300 of the largest UK-registered companies and financial institutions are required to disclose climate-related financial information on a mandatory basis. Now, these regulatory impacts are trickling down through large organisations’ supply chains to smaller organisations.  

Calculating a carbon footprint is a cornerstone of any successful sustainability policy and is the first step to continued reduction in emissions. From this data, a business can understand the environmental consequences of its business operations and prioritise efforts to start reducing their emissions. A carbon footprint is also one of the most widely recognised symbols of sustainable progress, easily communicated and understood across every industry. 

A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly, or indirectly, by an individual, business or organisation, item or event, typically expressed as a carbon dioxide (COe) equivalent. When measuring a carbon footprint with Planet Mark, these GHG emissions are compiled into one easily measured and tracked carbon dioxide equivalent (COe) – this is the measurement that most organisations use so it helps for comparisons and benchmarking, as well as making the footprint easier to measure, reduce, and communicate.

Set a science-based target

Science-based targets provide companies with a clearly defined path to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals.  

The Paris Agreement, a binding agreement adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, brings all nations into a common cause – limiting global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.  

While many businesses have the tools and willpower to make carbon reduction commitments, and take action on those commitments, many of these targets are not connected to climate science. Science-based targets are a way for business to demonstrate leadership in their industry, stay at the forefront of social responsibility and demonstrate to your stakeholders that your business is serious about climate action. 

Engage your employees in sustainable business practices

Unlocking the passion of your team is the key to achieving your organisation’s sustainability goals. Organising a progressive and effective green team or group of sustainability champions can be one of the most empowering and significant initiatives on your sustainability journey.  By setting up a group of sustainability champions, or a green team, you can stay on track with sustainability targets and create a purpose-driven work culture.  

If the motivation and passion is there, your sustainability champions team can be a great way to expand your business network, foster inter-departmental collaboration and effect high-level change.  

Tips for creating a sustainability champions team: 

Creating a dedicated sustainability champions team offers an opportunity for employees to develop skills and get involved in other parts of the organisation. Fully informed and engaged staff feel valued and, in turn, this improves morale and creates a better working environment.   

Encouraging participation from a cross-section of staff is integral, ensuring that sustainability becomes ingrained in the culture of the business. It can also offer you a view from all corners of the organisation. This fosters team building, bringing people together who don’t usually work with one another, particularly beneficial in a post-Covid workforce where many businesses have shifted online.  

Through obtaining the support of senior management by highlighting the business benefits of your programme, you can clearly outline the remit and resources available to support the group. In addition to this, creating a mechanism for sharing the group’s work back to senior management can keep actions on track and support prioritisation.   

For some companies, it can be beneficial to add a standard sustainability or green item to the board agenda and have a senior management representative as a sustainability champion.   

When going about setting up the team itself, there are several ways you can recruit participants: from holding an event to publicise the idea, to offering freebies and incentives to encourage take-up.  
When forming the group, signpost information for staff to be able to understand what the programme is and what is required of them. It’s important that participants know the commitment they are making when joining the group, especially in terms of time.  
The next step is to define a clear vision for the group. Having objectives and specific strategic goals and timeframes to work towards ensures the group stays on track and you are working towards the business’ wider sustainability strategy.  
Sustainability champions should have a clearly defined role, which will depend on the nature of your programme. Delegating clear responsibilities that are reasonable, achievable, measurable, timed, and agreed by line managers is the next crucial step.  

Embrace the quick wins

While some aspects of sustainability may take longer to implement; for example switching to an electric vehicle fleet, there are some quick wins that can help reduce your business’ emissions quickly from switching to online meetings and events to promoting more sustainable methods of transport through incentives such as the Cycling to Work scheme.    

Infrastructure changes across your business can result in significant improvements in operational energy, water and waste efficiencies across your business.  For example, with energy management, controlling temperature set points within your building or your operation is just one of these low-cost but effective energy saving initiatives. We recommend maintaining a temperature of 21C throughout the entire year. Properly maintained kit is another way to improve energy efficiency within your business, for example ensuring air conditioning units remain unclogged. 

Share your challenges and opportunities

Finally, share your journey along the way!  

In the lead up to COP26, David Attenborough shared that climate action was much of a “communications challenge” as it was a science or technological one. “We know what to do, we just need the will.” 

Being able to communicate progress with authenticity and confidence can help your business stand out from competitors, with research suggesting that consumers are increasingly wanting to spend more for sustainable products and services. In fact, $1 in every $5 spent on FMCG comes from an environmentally conscious consumer, according to McKinsey & Company.   

Communicating your sustainability achievements and goals can also help to attract and retain talent. Studies show that younger generations are looking for roles in purpose-driven companies, with some research suggesting that over 60% of millennials won’t take a job if the company doesn’t have a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy.  

While communicating sustainability is important, it must be done in an authentic and clear way to avoid greenwashing.  

That’s not to say that you can’t share your challenges too. Honesty fosters trust which is a critical aspect of brand loyalty. Honest and transparent communications about your sustainability journey will resonate with customers and stakeholders It is ok to disclose if you haven’t met your targets if you share the why’s and lessons learnt so that other organisations can learn with you. This will help us solve our collective global challenges faster.  

The race against climate change is one we must all win. Communicating your progress is not only helpful internally but it can support and encourage other organisations to get started too. 

Our free toolkits are designed to help organisations take the first steps in measuring the carbon emissions associated with five key areas: energy, water, waste, procurement and travel. You can download them here.