Why everybody needs to address sustainability

– but planting a tree isn’t the answer.

Writes Neil Bradbrook

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Views on sustainability vary. And what, if anything, can individuals and business owners do? It can all be confusing. There are so many different terminologies: carbon neutral, carbon removal, carbon offset, Net Zero, to name but a few.

They all mean different things but what we hear unceasingly in the media is about businesses planting trees. So, let’s clear that one up: trees are not the answer.

While it’s not a bad thing, we produce too much carbon for trees to be the solution. Globally, there is not enough space to plant the number of trees required to offset the carbon we produce.

On what, then, should we focus? The key term is Net Zero. The principle of Net Zero is to reduce carbon output first, aiming for at least a 90% reduction – then offsetting can be used for the last 10%.

It is also reasonable to ask why should businesses care?

So here is an incentive: how about staying in business?

Legally all UK businesses must achieve Net Zero by 2050. But you can’t put it off – at the start of COP26, Westminster announced that all large businesses and public organisations must have a plan for Net Zero by 2023.

Yours may not be a large business. But you probably interact with large businesses and public bodies – or you might be a supplier to someone else who does.

This means that if you want to be part of the supply chain, you, too, must have a plan. Most companies need to start planning a year before the deadline date – so if you haven’t got this in hand by the end of next year, your business probably won’t survive very long.

Tesco announced this step in October. If a business does not have a plan, and is not measuring and showing improvement, it will no longer be accepted as a Tesco supplier from next year.

The first step in effecting change is measurement: calculate your carbon output, and apply three scopes of measurement:

#1 The carbon a business burns, including fuel for premises and vehicles.
#2 Indirect Carbon such as electricity.
#3 Everything else including business travel and transportation of goods.

And expect regulation which demands that every single item lists its carbon.

Once you know how big your carbon footprint is, you can take action to reduce it. Before long, most people will only deal with those taking action.

Keep tracking and taking actions to reduce. Once you get down to the last 10%, go off and plant some trees.

Here are three quick wins:

  • Switch to 100 % renewable electricity.
  • Move to all-electric vehicles
  • Make remote connections the default and travel the exception.

Start your plan now. Do it for the planet. Do it for your children.

But do it for yourselves – if you don’t embrace Net Zero, you will be out of business in less time than it takes a sapling to grow.