Wherever you might be on your sustainability journey, you need to have clearly defined targets to reduce your environmental impact. Improving the sustainability of your business operations will involve saving energy, water and waste through a comprehensive strategy and evaluation of efficiency.
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Improving the sustainability of organisations (something we do here at Energy Saving Trust) is becoming increasingly important every year as part of efforts to address the climate emergency. 18 % of the UK’s carbon emissions are from businesses and under the Climate Change Act, it is a legal requirement in the UK to reach net zero by 2050.
Sustainability has become mainstream. According to our own research, 88% of people agree that it’s essential for the UK to meet its net zero target. One of the top-selling business books in 2021 is by Bill Gates on sustainability. Many news outlets, including the Financial Times, have a daily section on sustainability. And LinkedIn is full of companies promoting their own sustainability wins.
By now, most large brands already have their sustainability strategy well underway, improving their operations, reducing their carbon output, and getting the goodwill of ethical consumers. Some of the largest corporations have made bold environmental commitments. In fact, 63% of UK businesses are already introducing new forms of remote working in an effort to reduce carbon emissions.
Getting senior executives on board might take some engagement, so the first part of your strategy should be focused on benchmarking. You might also want to consider an environmental management system such as ISO14001 to provide assurance to management, employees and external stakeholders that your environmental impact is being measured and improved.
Move from ambition to action
The first thing you’ll need to do is a bit of internal research. You should start by creating an emissions inventory for your organisation, listing them by most energy consuming (transport fleet, manufacturing, staff travel) to least energy consuming (computers, lights, water, waste). By collecting this energy and carbon emissions data, you’ll be able to identify the worst offenders.
The next step is to create benchmarks that will underpin your sustainability targets and objectives. Research the best sustainability practices in your sector; looking into case studies from similar businesses can help with this. It can also be done through materiality workshops that will help you filter out which sustainable development issues are most pressing to your organisation and stakeholders, allowing you to create a meaningful sustainability report.
Analyse the emissions data you have collected, together with your organisational practices. Using site energy audits and feasibility studies will help you identify areas for improvement.
You’ll now need to develop a set of criteria that your sustainability strategy can be assessed with, including Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART) targets and objectives. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a strategy, built with the previous three steps, which is ready to implement.
Bringing all of your research, staff, goals and ambitions from the screen into reality is no mean feat, but it’s an important one if you’re ready to be a part of a greener future. It’s now time to implement actions with input from relevant industry specialists to begin reducing your organisation’s carbon emissions and increasing your energy efficiency.
It’s important to develop and deliver staff engagement workshops to educate employees about your sustainability strategy. With a mutual understanding of the benefits, you’ll be able to influence and motivate sustainable behaviour change at all levels. This can also help you measure staff initiatives more closely for reporting purposes.
Implementing a monitoring framework is your next step. It’s important to check and review your progress throughout the year, highlighting the largest carbon contributors and sharing any success with your employees.
After a year of your sustainability strategy being in action, you should evaluate your annual carbon reduction against the targets you set. By using this evaluation framework, you will be able to highlight your success and share with staff, stakeholders and customers.
After your first year, you can begin the cycle again – making continual improvements to your sustainability strategy and creating longer-term sustainability goals.
Every week, more businesses are making new and ambitious sustainability commitments, with some aiming to reduce energy-related emissions by up to 40%. To become a market leader in sustainability, it’s important to see what other brands in your industry are doing. Without being proactive, you risk getting left behind. Reducing waste, carbon emissions and energy usage is a great way to improve your operations and prepare for net zero.
At Energy Saving Trust, we practise what we preach – we’re working to address the climate emergency by helping governments and businesses across the UK to implement sustainable measures and strategies. You can easily get in touch if you want our support creating a comprehensive sustainability strategy for your organisation.
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