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OPINION: Businesses can’t avoid the climate change fight

As Gamma celebrates #EarthDay, we present this opinion piece by Gamma’s Environmental Data Manager, Callum Lydon. Callum has a master’s degree in environmental management and consultancy, and has been working in environmental advisory positions for over five years. In this frank piece, Callum calls on environmental supporters to change the climate change narrative, offering fresh insights and advice to inspire organisations and individuals to take more positive actions to save the planet.

Climate change opinion is a ‘hot’ topic

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) landed in April, and I’m sure you, just like me, were eagerly waiting to get stuck into the latest climate revelations.

Or perhaps not.

Even for me, someone who spent four years studying earth and climate sciences at university, and who now works in sustainability full time, these publications now fail to pack a punch. They go in one ear and out the other.

There are a number of reasons for this. The repetitive “now or never” slogan, relentless negativity, and the vacuous call on “us” to cut “our” CO2 emissions surely resonates with most.

But there was another issue with this report. Boredom struck quickly.

Fly less, eat less red meat and buy cleaner energy – great advice, but if you’re like me you’ll want to be stimulated by new material from time to time. There’s very little material of prominence in this report that we haven’t heard before.

Clearly, there’s an engagement problem, though to be fair this isn’t just limited to climate. It’s a challenge for scientists across the board to communicate the need for change and inspire the masses to get on board with evidence-based policy.

How can people working in sustainability update the climate change narrative?

But sticking with climate and business – how should people working in sustainability go about changing the tune?

This question brings me on to Earth Day, which is celebrated on April 22. Another meaningless day? Arguable. Although, even for a cynic like me, I would say not.

One particularly effective thing about Earth Day, in my view, is that it incorporates a key sustainability issue into its annual theme. In recent memory, oceans, trees, and clean air have featured, and while not solely attributable to Earth Day, there has been a palpable increase in public awareness around these issues.

It surely can’t hurt to champion a theme and listen to different perspectives in doing so – even if it can seem a bit ‘gimmicky’. Earth Day tends to do a good job of raising awareness, inspiring action and getting new ideas out there.

This year’s theme is ‘Invest in Our Planet’. From what I can tell, it’s the first time the private sector has been actively engaged. Long overdue, but better late than never.

I am hopeful we’ll all hear more about how businesses can address climate change and how investors, whether it be financial institutions, funds, or even individuals, can play their part.

Climate change opinion is quite rightly a sensitive subject and, of course, many climate purists will be horrified by this prospect – nothing other than economic degrowth will satisfy them in their pursuit of emissions reduction. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that in the absence of business and investor engagement, levels of carbon reduction will be inadequate to limit global warming to 1.5C, as per the Paris Agreement. Therefore, it’s really encouraging that business and finance is now being seriously considered in environmental discourse.

How can businesses become more sustainable?

So, what can organisations do, other than switching off the office lights, to support carbon reduction and international climate change goals?

In answering this question, I want to focus on risk management by facilitating greener investment. And yes, some admin work will be involved… but this action plan will be more than worth it.

We know that human activity poses great carbon risks and opportunities. First, consider an electric vehicle (EV) salary sacrifice scheme for employees. In doing so, you can incentivise the purchase of cleaner private vehicles, which will have the additional benefit of reducing your employee commuting emissions in your GHG inventory.

With the relatively slow uptake of EVs in the UK and elsewhere, it seems quite clear that motorists need some gentle encouragement in transitioning to electric. To help in giving a nudge, some schemes will offer perks such as the installation of a charging point at home as well as covering the skin-crawling ordeal of sorting out insurance, servicing, breakdown cover, etc.

You can also facilitate greener investment by engaging with your pension supplier to offer sustainable funds to your employees. There is copious information out there, and most major providers will offer this service, but it is well worth engaging to spread the message amongst your employees.

To a lot of people, pensions constitute passive savings for later life, so this can work well in your internal communications. Think something along the lines of: “Invest in a green fund, or you won’t be around to enjoy the money!”. You might want to soften up the sentiment, but you get the idea.

Lastly, I want to briefly talk about Environmental Social Governance (ESG), which will help to promote inward investments in businesses. Yes, there is always a commercial angle.

As more research goes into private sector ESG, the more we begin to conclude it’s a win-win. For example, companies who are committed to reducing emissions actively contribute to the decarbonisation of economies, but in doing so are also likely to flourish as businesses.

Studies show a direct correlation between sustainable business practices, share prices, and business performance. Companies that develop strong ESG standards tend to have better profitability, resilient stock performance and happier employees.

If you are starting to think about implementing an environmental programme, the first thing I would advise is to get a grip on your emissions, and you can only do this with good data. Target what is known as Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions (effectively what you are directly responsible for). For a standard operation, this will include things like company vehicles, gas, electricity, and air-con units.

Once you collate primary data, you can have a really good go at establishing an emissions baseline, working out your carbon pricing, and developing reduction targets to share with the world.

These ideas are obviously not exhaustive, but in order to support the aims of Earth Day, you should engage your employees, consider some new ideas, and have some fun doing it. Reimagine your business’s climate change opinion and leave the doom-mongering to the experts!