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The Net-Zero business debate: Q&A with Callum Lydon

There’s a green industrial revolution afoot, and it’s needed now more than ever. Whether it’s overhauling business processes or simply cycling to work, when it comes to doing your bit for the environment, there’s a size that fits all.

So why is it so difficult to talk about? As the spotlight shines on some of the bigger players in the race to lower emissions, online communities are digging deep into Net-Zero Week messaging.

Gamma’s Environmental Data Manager, Callum Lydon, welcomes the noise. Today, Callum joins us to discuss ‘greenwashing’, Net-Zero business trepidations, and a fashion fact that’s sure to put you off denim for life.

What does becoming ‘Carbon Net-Zero certified’ mean for Gamma and why are we making this move?

Callum Lydon: When a business is certified as Net-Zero, it means the greenhouse gas emissions that the business is putting out into the atmosphere are equal to the gasses it has taken out. At Gamma, we’re making this transition because failure to reach Net-Zero is simply not an option. We understand it’s critically important to reach this goal by the mid-Century to reduce the rate at which the planet is heating up.

If Net-Zero isn’t achieved and we continue to warm the planet through our economic activities, science suggests we’ll witness more extreme weather, see more loss of species, and we’ll struggle to produce enough food to feed our growing global population. Of course, the economic and social consequences don’t end there.

These forecast impacts go a long way to explaining why we’re aiming to reach Net-Zero by 2042.

It’s an important time to share how we’re all aiming to achieve a more planet-friendly future, but what are your thoughts on greenwashing?

CL: Greenwashing is essentially distributing false information, or knowingly distributing false or exaggerated information to the wider world about all things environmental.

Businesses have been able to stretch the truth about their contribution to environmental prosperity in the past. I think that’s because legal instruments, accreditations, and even public awareness and knowledge of matters such as Net-Zero are still in their infancy.

Unlike reporting financial performance, there’s still a lack of accountability and governance over things like green claims and carbon reduction programmes, but I think that’s changing and it’s great to see. A lot of that, certainly in the private sector, is due to the interest that investors and clients have in such programmes, which perhaps they didn’t have five or ten years ago.

In terms of the net-zero debate, it’s important to distinguish the differences between certain claims. The definition of the two is clear: Net-Zero means reducing emissions as far as possible. On the other hand, carbon neutrality means offsetting carbon emissions without the need for emission reductions. Gamma has been a carbon-neutral company since 2006, but we’ve recently announced our commitment to become a carbon net-zero business by 2042.

A lot of businesses, in particular smaller businesses, will be looking at Net-Zero perhaps not knowing where to start and with a sense of trepidation around the greenwashing notion. My advice would be: don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

We’ve all started somewhere. Be ambitious, be proud of telling your story, and provide the narrative around it. Tell the wider world about the challenges you anticipate your business will face. I think that’s key because you need everyone on board with this.

Can you tell us a bit more about Gamma’s environmental impacts?

CL: Absolutely. The first thing to consider is our direct emissions – our assets we’re directly responsible for, such as electricity and travel. These are currently our highest sources of emissions.

If we take electricity consumption alone, we’re responsible for around 2,000 tonnes of electricity consumption in any given year. What does that mean? That’s the annual footprint of about 160 people just going about their daily lives.

While our direct operations are a key focus for Gamma, we understand there’s more to our emissions than that.

We’re aware that Net-Zero is the full monty and we’re not leaving out any emission sources. We’re factoring in all our indirect aspects as well. When you consider the scale of the business, our purchased goods and services alone will obviously be quite a substantial factor as well.

On average, a business’ indirect emissions measure around twelve times more than direct. Over the coming years, we will be focusing on understanding our indirect emissions, particularly in our supply chain, in order to take collaborative and meaningful action to achieve our net-zero ambitions.

What are some practical steps for individuals who are looking to play their part?

CL: It’s a great question and I think it’s important to say that these are just tips. We don’t want to lecture anyone, which can be how this type of discourse appears online nowadays.

Something as simple as switching off your device at the end of the day is the easiest first step to take. When it comes to the office we automatically think of things like lighting or air conditioning units, but don’t forget vampire devices. That’s essentially what we leave plugged in and on standby overnight, and these devices have a huge carbon cost. But a switch off mentality doesn’t just equal carbon reduction savings, it also saves pennies as vampire devices cost the average UK household around £150 a year.

The second thing I would mention is green transport. We’ve seen 140 of our employees pledge to improve their green transport habits. Let’s say, in a year, you enjoy a transatlantic holiday and possibly a European break. You rack up 10,000-20,000 miles. That alone is going to match the average UK emissions footprint.

While we wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from travelling, offsetting flight mileage is actually more manageable than you might think. The cost of offsetting my recent return flight to Rhodes came in at around £20. We’re seeing more people offsetting their travel now, both in and out of Gamma.

Cycling and walking more will improve your wellbeing, save you money and reduce your carbon footprint. Electric vehicles are also an area that people can be quite stubborn about. In the UK, and other European countries, you’ll no longer be able to buy a fuel-powered car by 2030.

When it comes to wider sustainability issues, fast fashion is a concept we’re all familiar with. 75 of our employees pledged to cut their fast fashion purchasing this year. Rightly so, as this issue is responsible for 10 per cent of global emissions.

I’d ask readers to be more conscious about what goes into the clothes they wear. I recently discovered that seven and a half thousand litres of water are needed for every new pair of jeans made – according to the UN, that’s what the average person drinks over seven years! That is appalling when you consider how many people don’t have access to drinking water.

All these points should help us to drive down our personal and business emissions in order to preserve our planet.