The need for business to take steps to cut its carbon emissions and demonstrate that commitment to customers, shareholders and stakeholders, has never been greater. Carbon management needs to be part of “business as usual” and the business community should be leading the way by committing to, and implementing, effective carbon reduction initiatives. Low carbon equals low cost, and improved corporate reputation. Some organisations are already reaping the benefits from taking action. However, to avoid claims of corporate spin or greenwashing, a robust carbon management process should be put in place that has impact from shopfloor to boardroom.
The first priority should be to address energy wastage. Kickstart activity by obtaining board commitment and implementing the quick win, low and no cost measures such as running an energy awareness campaign. Such measures could help make savings of up to 20% on energy bills. Once short-term savings are realised, the money can be re-invested in cost-effective measures that require higher levels of capital investment, such as installing energy-efficient boilers or more efficient lighting systems. Going one step further, and taking an integrated approach by looking at emissions across the supply chain, is the next major opportunity for businesses committed to further reduce their emissions. The Carbon Trust is working with a number of businesses to help them analyse these indirect emissions in order to make further emission cuts. It has also launched a carbon reduction label, which quantifies the emissions of specific products from source to shelf and includes a commitment from the company to reduce the carbon content of the product. This is an exciting and fast-moving area. Our research last year revealed nearly two-thirds of UK consumers wanted to know the carbon footprint of the products and services they bought, with the same number agreeing they were more likely to buy from a business they saw was taking action to tackle climate change.
Carbon Trust has some clear advice on another headline issue: carbon offsetting. It should only be considered once direct and indirect emissions have been reduced as far as possible. Offsetting allows organisations to indirectly reduce their carbon footprint by buying carbon credits associated with emission reduction projects that have occurred elsewhere, typically in developing countries (see page 25). However, the key questions to ask are whether the emission reductions achieved by an offset project deliver reductions over and above what would have happened in the absence of the project, and whether the project is audited by an independent third party that confirms the reductions have taken place. If an offsetting company cannot confirm, the project may not have a useful environmental impact and a business may be putting its brand at risk.
As the Stern Report on climate change highlighted last year, the cost of apathy is greater than the cost of action. Stern was a significant turning point and in part explains the dramatic shift in business attitudes and actions over the past few months. Far-sighted businesses see robust and early action to reduce the carbon footprint of their company and their products as an opportunity to secure long-term brand advantage as well as financial gain. It goes without saying it is also the right thing to do.
Peter Hambly is director of marketing and communications at the Carbon Trust For further information, call the Carbon Trust Advice Line on 0800 085 2005 or visit www.carbontrust.co.uk