Becoming carbon neutral has been a long process, with carbon management forming a core part of our sustainability agenda for more than 10 years. While the benefits we have seen include greater efficiencies and cost savings, driving down carbon emissions is simply the right thing to do in the context of the Paris Agreement and the urgent need to limit climate change, and we all have to play our part.
Click to read the key steps I recommend to any organisation embarking on their carbon neutral journey:
1. Lead from the top and communicate your plan
Your carbon reduction strategy must be championed from the top of your organisation, for example by a board member. This provides leadership that is visible to your whole organisation and clarity on why you must become carbon neutral. Make carbon neutrality an agenda item for board meetings with regular updates and communications via senior leaders to ensure it remains a constant priority. Empower others to drive the agenda.
2. Invest in staff engagement
Long-term behavioural changes may require training or dedicated task forces to steer people in the right direction. Embed ‘carbon champions’ to drive change from the bottom-up. Communicate your goals, shared benefits and progress to raise awareness and encourage action across your organisation. And be sure to celebrate your successes, so everybody is aware how much you have achieved.
3. Establish your carbon baseline
You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so calculating your global carbon footprint is the crucial first step. It is complicated, as it involves assessing the emissions of all business operations including offices, travel, work processes and supplies. Make sure that you have the skills and capacity to capture and track emissions from across your business, including from suppliers and service providers. The international standard for carbon reporting, ISO 14064, provides guidance to help you accurately calculate your carbon footprint.
4. Seek accreditation
Certification from external bodies provides assurance that your approach and methods meet best practice standards, are comprehensive and thorough. Accreditation to ISO 14064 and PAS 2060 (the international standard for carbon neutrality) show you are doing what you say you’re doing and can stand up to scrutiny.
5. Drive down emissions and empower employees
Identify and pursue easy reduction wins. Set stretch targets for your staff and suppliers. Encourage and enable changes in behaviour. Demand innovation. Sharing emissions data with colleagues, including information about per capita carbon footprints across the business, enables you to challenge them to cut their impacts further, and make suggestions. When we did this, we received all manner of exciting ideas.
It’s important to collaborate with all the organisations that affect or supply your business to find new ways to reduce carbon. We are accredited to ISO 44001, the international standard for business collaboration, which helped us embed the external changes we wanted to see. Engage your landlords to agree how your offices can switch to renewable energy, by default. Use car rental firms that offer preferential rates on hybrid or electric vehicles. As for your supply chain, challenge them to deliver low carbon solutions, and create competition to stimulate innovation.
7. Use digital technology
Using dashboards and data-based solutions are important to achieving success. For example, we created an app to help our office managers gather data on building emissions and an interactive dashboard to allow staff to interrogate their carbon footprint. By identifying where your carbon emissions are and then monitoring changes, you can drive down these emissions. Simple digital solutions such as remote conferencing technology cut the need to travel, with the added bonus of providing resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However hard you cut carbon, for the foreseeable future it will be impossible to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions, so to become carbon neutral you will have to offset. Offsetting involves investing to capture from the atmosphere a quantity of carbon equivalent to what you release into it. There are many schemes to choose from, and not all do what they claim. So do your due diligence carefully to assure long-term performance of the solution you choose, and check that it will deliver positive social and economic outcomes for local people.
9. Keep cutting
As demand for offsets grows and the offsetting market edges towards saturation, the cost will rise. Use offsetting as a commercial incentive to continue driving emissions down: keep the focus on carbon reduction.
Kim Yates, technical director, Sustainability