National governments may have come together to sign a global compact on tackling climate change, but the private sector has a crucial part to play in ensuring that the Paris accord can make a meaningful difference
What does the Paris deal mean for business?
The pivotal Paris Agreement reached in 2015 isn’t a distant or abstract issue for businesses. Leaders of the G20 declared at the end of this July’s summit in Hamburg that “a strong economy and a healthy planet are mutually reinforcing”, with accelerated climate change resilience opening a path to innovation, sustainable growth, job creation and competitiveness.
The heads of state and government also delivered the robust message that the plan “is “irreversible”. So what are the implications for workplaces?
The agreement raises the bar higher than green targets under the UK Climate Change Act 2008, which were based on a goal of keeping global average temperature to around 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
It’s certainly ambitious – aiming to limit warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to hold the increase to 1.5°C. It additionally sets a target of net zero global emissions in the second half of this century.
In practical terms for business, this will mean having to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whether through smaller scale initiatives or those that are game-changers.
These may include:
- Implementing carbon management and reduction measures, including action to calculate and track carbon footprint. Measures to reduce emissions include encouraging recycling and reducing waste, reviewing transport policies, promoting increased home working and/or cycling to work. Organisations can offset emissions by investing in high quality carbon reduction projects around the world, such as those tackling deforestation.
- Promoting energy efficiency by, for example, using energy-efficient bulbs, ensuring PCs or laptops are shut down at the end of the working day, using building management systems, and putting in place water-preserving measures.
- Scaling up renewable energy. Larger organisations such as BT have invested in wind and solar farms.
- Innovation in clean technology. Virgin Atlantic, for example, has been working with a cleantech company since 2011 to develop a commercially viable low carbon jet fuel derived from waste industrial gases.
The Paris Agreement is sparking a recalibration of views. Many organisations have aligned themselves to its goals not because they are required to through regulation but because it’s becoming more widely accepted that tackling climate change is integral to smart business, not secondary to it.
Can industry afford to ignore climate change?
For business, being sustainable is not a question of if but when. The Paris Agreement, a historic legally binding global climate deal struck in 2015, has given renewed urgency to the green agenda and added momentum to efforts by countries, communities and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver low carbon economies.
Organisations that were already behind these goals have seen Paris as a clear signal that the time to take action is now. A growing number of companies are in agreement as more and more are joining coalitions such as We Mean Business, that aim to showcase the commercial benefits of action on climate change.
Part of the drive towards a shift to a low carbon economy is awareness of the consequences of inaction – climate change-related events are already causing considerable disruption to businesses and their supply chains.
“Business can only thrive in stable and enabling environments,” said Georg Kell back in 2011, then executive director of the UN Global Compact, a voluntary corporate sustainability initiative.
Yet data according to World Counts, which compiles world facts, shows that the Earth’s natural resources (integral to many businesses) are fast being drained.
Every year we extract 55 billion tons of biomass, fossil energy, metal and minerals. “The way we are living we are already using two to three times more of the Earth’s natural resources than is sustainable,” the organisations says.
Business operations and their supply chains are also being disrupted by extreme weather patterns, the likes of which we saw in September when hurricane Irma ripped through the Atlantic.
A study by Citi, called Energy Darwinism II, Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn’t Have to Cost the Earth, warns that the losses to global GDP from climate change inaction between 2015 and 2060 could be as high as $72 trillion.
It forcibly underlines the UN secretary-general António Guterres’ comments, earlier this year, that “those who fail to bet on the green economy will be living in a grey future”.
Putting sustainability at the heart of business practice today
M&S is now a brand that has become synonymous with sustainable business, having launched its wide-ranging Plan A in 2007. It’s a move that has saved £750 million in costs and earned it the unique accolade of being, as far as M&S knows, “the only major retailer in the world with carbon neutral global operations”.
Ten years on, it has also reduced its operational carbon footprint by 70 per cent. How? The retailer has implemented initiatives such as designing buildings in ways that minimise carbon emissions and energy, taking steps to reduce waste and improve the environmental efficiency of packaging, ensuring delivery fleets operate efficiently so that as many products as possible are transported on every journey, investing in solar power, and much more.
The retailer also uses carbon offsetting to achieve carbon neutral status. This where an investment is made into an environmental project dedicated to reducing emissions (mainly in developing countries).
M&S purchases carbon credits from the projects, which are used to neutralise any remaining emissions.
But it’s not just large organisations that can become carbon neutral. The multi-disciplined engineering company adi Group has become the first company in the UK to offset its fleet’s carbon emissions through the BP Plus Fuel Card.
Each time one of adi Group’s fleet of vehicles refuels at a BP service station and uses the BP fuel card to pay, the carbon emissions associated with the purchase are calculated and offset, leaving the adi Group fleet driving carbon neutral.
To achieve carbon neutral status adi group offsets its fuel emissions through BP Target Neutral, a not for profit programme that invests in carbon reduction projects all around the world.
These projects not only reduce carbon emissions but also improve the livelihoods of the communities where they are based, supporting the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Research carried out in 2014 by Imperial College London in partnership with the International Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Alliance (ICROA) estimated these benefits to be $664 per tonne of carbon offset.
Visit bptargetneutral.com/uk for information about BP Target Neutral