This is one of the many alarming facts that Sir David Attenborough quoted in a recent BBC documentary: Climate Change – The Facts. For years, we have been told about the prospect of climate change, and now, sooner than most expected, we are bearing witness to its effects. There is also increasing concern about the impact plastics are having on the world’s oceans. Nearly everywhere you look, human beings are having a devastating impact on the natural world, and it is only by acknowledging the danger and making changes to our behaviour that we can preserve our way of life for the future.
At ExtraMile Communications we are embracing the challenges and opportunities presented by these issues and making changes for the benefit of our business, our employees and the environment. What can your business and staff do to make those small changes that contribute to a big change to your carbon and plastic footprint?
What is a carbon footprint?
The term footprint is a metaphor for the impact of something or someone on climate change. The term carbon is used to represent the collective greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and therefore climate change. These include carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O) and refrigerant gases. As a single item or activity can produce multiple greenhouse gases in varying amounts, a carbon footprint is expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents or CO2e. ‘This means the total climate change impact of all the greenhouse gases caused by an item or activity rolled into one and expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same impact.’
Businesses and other organisations need to consider several types of carbon footprinting, including organisational, value chain, product and supply chain.
What is a plastic footprint?
In 2017, the BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary highlighted the disastrous effects man-made waste and plastics, in particular, are having on the world’s oceans. The images and messages conveyed in the final episode of the series resonated with people all around the world and sparked an immediate change in thoughts and behaviour regarding plastic use.
The term plastic footprint refers to the amount of plastic used and discarded by an individual or organisation.
Here are some facts about plastic:
- We produce around 335 million tonnes of plastic each year – roughly the same weight as all of humanity combined
- A massive 50% of the plastic we use is single use
- 13 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans each year meaning that there will be more plastic than fish by 2050
- Nearly all of the plastic that has ever been made still exists today as it stays in the environment for up to 1,000 years
With some relatively simple changes, we can massively reduce the amount of plastic going to waste.
Why does it matter to your business?
The effects of climate change and overuse of plastics will have an impact on all of us. Sea levels will rise, depriving people of their homes and destroying vital infrastructure; weather events will change and become more extreme, causing casualties and damage that will put pressure on healthcare services and public funding; plant and animal species may become extinct, not only reducing natural diversity but affecting the ecological balance in ways we may not yet understand; and plastics will enter the food chain, killing some species and contaminating others with toxicity levels that will affect human health. The damage we are doing will impact the planet and its populations for generations to come.
Businesses will be affected by many of the issues mentioned above, as well as others including, for example, government legislation imposing levies and restrictions, and increased insurance costs related to climate change impacts. How much your business is affected will depend on factors such as location, activities, customer base and supply chain.
It is also important to consider the other positive benefits to your company in changing attitudes and behaviours…
Companies can gain recognition as a result of changes to their environmental attitude and actions from clients, suppliers, competitors, industry bodies and the local community. It can be an important selling point, both for clients and employees, and can position your company as a thought-leader in your area of expertise.
- Reduced costs
Limiting the resources you use can help save costs as well as minimising waste. It may also be possible to receive tax breaks for reduced emissions.
You can adapt to changes on your own terms now which you and your competitors may be forced to make in the future. Businesses need to consider climate change as a strategic issue, with associated opportunities and threats, in order to really address the short-, medium- and long-term impacts. ‘The companies that will be best positioned to respond to the inevitable business and societal stresses imposed by climate change will be those that have recognised climate change as a strategic driver of business value, that have taken a longer-term view of the business implications of climate change, and that have built climate change into their capital investment decisions.’
Solutions to lessen your environmental impact
Do your homework
There are many great resources online with advice for reducing your environmental impact, both individually and as a business (please see the Useful links section below). The solutions for your company will depend on lots of factors, and you can adapt the advice to suit your needs. There will be many small and simple changes you can make straight away, and other bigger decisions that will need to be assessed and implemented over a period of time. Any change is a good start and will motivate you towards further advances. If you don’t have the in-house resource or inclination to assess your environmental impact and potential changes, there are companies designed to do this for you.
‘ISO 14001:2015 sets out the criteria for an environmental management system and can be certified to. It maps out a framework that a company or organization can follow to set up an effective environmental management system.’
As an internationally agreed standard, ISO 14001 helps organisations to improve their environmental performance through more efficient use of resources and reduction of waste. By working to this standard, companies can reassure management, employees and external stakeholders that environmental impact is not only being measured but improved. This knowledge and the fact that some clients are obliged to work with certified suppliers to satisfy their own credentials can also give you an advantage over your competition.
This environmental standard is suitable for organisations of all types and sizes; for example, at ExtraMile, we are relatively unusual in the online marketing industry for being ISO 14001 certified. Adherence to the standard requires an organisation to consider environmental issues such as air pollution, water and sewage issues, waste management, soil contamination, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and resource use and efficiency. The standard has also recently been updated to take into account environmental management within an organisation’s strategic planning processes.
While it is possible to adopt ISO 14001 practices without third-party certification, it is this independent analysis that will demonstrate to your clients, suppliers and other stakeholders that you have implemented the standard properly, and that you are meeting any regulatory or contractual requirements.
ISO has produced a handbook specifically for SMEs to help them address the short-term technical and financial challenges involved in implementing such a system.
Getting the support of employees is essential if you want to make genuine and long-term improvements to your environmental impact. Not only will your staff be the ones to implement any changes, but they are also likely to be the most affected by them, so it is vital that you gain their understanding and approval in order to progress. The best way to do this is to involve them from the start, in discussions and decision making. Their participation may lead to solutions not recognised by management, and the more influence they have, the more invested they will be in the success of your environmental plans. It is also worth noting that by valuing opinions in this way, you can increase employee engagement, therefore reducing staff turnover and recruitment costs. Younger generations will be more highly motivated by this type of policy, helping you to attract quality team members.
Here are some changes that you can make to start your organisation’s environmental transformation:
- Reduce the use of single-use plastics like disposable coffee pods and cups
- Encourage less printing, and printing double sided with multiple pages per sheet when necessary
- Use energy wisely: for example, energy efficient light bulbs, ensuring screens are turned off when not in use, unplugging electricals
- Allow remote working, reducing employee travel emissions
- Limit any unnecessary travel
- Change to renewable energy sources
- Reuse where possible
- Take part in community activities: for example, we will shortly be doing our first local litter-pick
Make environmental practices part of your training process and embed them as part of your company culture as much as you would the 11am/3pm tea break.
At ExtraMile, building on our ISO 14001 certification, we have recently launched a channel on our company messaging platform dedicated to climate change and the environment. Each week, the employees will be sent a particular fact followed by simple and realistic changes they can make to their everyday lives, both at home and in the office, to help combat the week’s issue. Everyone is able to contribute to the channel, sharing advice and resources to help support and motivate each other to become more environmentally aware and to limit our negative impact on the world.
It doesn’t matter how big or small you start (whether it’s taking meat off the menu like WeWork or bringing in reusable coffee cups for the van that comes around) – simply acknowledging the issues and the part you have to play in them will, hopefully, spur your interest and build the foundation for the future outstanding innovations to your company’s environmental practices.
Here are some resources you may find useful. If you have any of your own that you would like to recommend, please get in touch and we’ll add them to the list.
Climate change and carbon emissions