By Mark Doyle , Gazprom Energy
Just as you need a solid plan when changing marketing strategy, a clear sustainability plan is critical for businesses setting out on the road to net-zero. Having a set of achievable and measurable milestones will help keep businesses on track to successfully meet their sustainability goals and is therefore essential to all businesses aiming for carbon neutrality.
The importance of this is emphasised by the upcoming changes to the rules for businesses pitching for major government contracts (over £5 million), which will require all bidding companies to publish “clear and credible carbon reduction plans” before an application is considered. The UK is the first country to introduce sustainability requirements for businesses bidding for public sector contracts, and it is something that will set a business apart from others pitching for work in other industries too.
Recent research carried out by Gazprom Energy has revealed that almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of medium and large businesses have a sustainability plan in place and 40 per cent have a zero-carbon pledge. Making an organisational pledge is a good starting point, but a clear roadmap, including clear timings, outlining the steps the organisation will make to progress towards its end goal gives the pledge credibility and direction.
Whether or not a business is pitching for major government contracts, having a detailed plan and milestones is best practice for all. Without one, net-zero pledges risk becoming merely vanity statements used for marketing purposes rather than to reduce their ecological impact.
Every business is different when it comes to energy consumption so no two companies’ plans will look the same. While our research shows knowledge of the need for energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling solutions is high, awareness of other energy efficiency measures is lacking among leaders of medium and large-sized firms.
It is important to initially gain a good understanding of the business’s current energy practices to find out where improvements and savings can be made, so an energy audit is an essential first step. Even progressive businesses will find themselves with work to do on raising awareness of sustainable measures, with our data showing just a third of companies are knowledgeable about battery storage, sourcing renewable power and Power Purchase Agreements.
A good energy audit will inform and shape an actionable plan, allowing businesses to achieve their sustainability targets. Audits may be completed by an external auditor, but it is also possible for businesses to do this internally .
Once an energy audit has been undertaken, businesses can start to plan their first steps in lessening their environmental impact. These will form the basis of shorter-term goals to begin the journey.
Reducing consumption is a simple starting point and the small and manageable tasks it requires can make the concept of carbon neutrality less daunting. Switching to LED lightbulbs, improving office insulation and avoiding printing and scanning where possible will all reduce energy consumption, energy bills and environmental impact.
Inefficient or outdated equipment often consumes a huge amount of energy compared to newer models, so replacing it is essential. New appliances will have been built to higher energy rating specifications, and often have pre-set eco settings. Installing sensors for lights, heating and cooling so that they only operate when necessary is another effective way to reduce energy consumption.
Involving the whole organisation
Sharing the sustainability strategy with employees to gain their support is crucial to saving energy across the organisation. Internal communications therefore form an important part of a sustainability strategy – this includes initial communication of the vision, and regular reminders along the way. Sharing tips such as turning off lights and shutting down computers rather than leaving them on standby will go a long way in terms of energy savings. This is especially important now that hybrid working is common as devices could be left on or on standby for longer intervals as employees use the workplace less frequently. Gazprom Energy’s research has found that this could be costing businesses £10 per employee each year.
With sustainability such a current and widely concerning topic, employees will likely be supportive of initiatives when they are communicated.
Assess where your energy is coming from
Of course, businesses will always need to use energy, but balancing emissions through offsetting and moving away from fossil fuels completely by switching to renewable energy will significantly reduce the carbon footprint.
Carbon neutrality is not something that can be achieved overnight, so in the interim period, businesses should consider offsetting some or all of their unavoidable emissions as they transition to more sustainable practices.
Carbon offsetting packages allow companies to invest in environmental projects to balance their emissions. These projects are often based in developing countries and focus on clean energy generation and limiting future emissions.
Although carbon offsetting should not be the only environmental measure taken by businesses to achieve net-zero, it is an effective way to minimise impact in the early stages of the journey and balance unavoidable emissions further down the line.
Sourcing wind, solar or hydro power with Renewable Electricity Guarantees of Origin (REGO) assures businesses that the electricity comes from a reputable renewable source and will minimise their environmental impact. Likewise, renewable biomethane gas created by breaking down organic material through anaerobic digestion is also available. Renewable gas is currently a more expensive option, but we anticipate supply increasing, which may help soften prices.
As businesses progress further towards carbon neutrality, they will need to have more impactful goals in place and deadlines for these should be set early on.
Businesses that use fossil fuel vehicles will need to move away from these to hybrid or fully electrical vehicles. With one single electric car producing 50 per cent less CO2 emissions than the average EU car, the benefits of replacing a whole fleet are clear.
An example of a business holding itself accountable on sustainability targets is Nestlé, which has a public carbon reduction plan . The organisation’s goal is to switch to lower emission vehicles by 2022 before eventually transitioning away from fossil fuel vehicles altogether.
Another goal to consider is generating your own power and developing battery storage capabilities. This is a big investment, but it gives businesses more control when moving towards carbon neutrality and reduces demand on the National Grid. Any surplus power can be sold to create revenue to invest in other green projects.
Going carbon neutral is a huge feat for any company to undertake, but given the growing concerns around climate change, it is necessary. Preplanning a route with regular, achievable goals and recognising the importance of accountability will make the journey easier and more beneficial for both the business and the environment.