Sustainability: Is 'we would if we could' good enough in 2021?
Sustainability is likely to be somewhere on your agenda as a business owner in 2021, but how high up is the question. It’s a subject that’s become hard to escape from, and for good reason too because as the current crisis lingers, it’s clear that it’s not the only one we’re facing.
The Met Office predicts that the average global temperature for 2021 is to be between 0.91 °C and 1.15 °C meaning this will be the seventh year in succession where temperatures have exceeded or been close to 1 °C. To make change, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we must limit global warming to 1.5 °C to reduce the risks linked with long-term or irreversible changes to the earth’s atmosphere.
With this comes unavoidable pressure and calls time for business owners to evaluate their corporate social and environmental responsibility; which begs the question – is ‘we would if we could’ good enough in 2021?
"Sustainability will redefine itself in the COVID-19 era." - Bloomberg.
A recent article from Bloomberg suggests that sustainability will “redefine itself in the COVID-19 era”. After all, it’s been highlighted as an area that can aid businesses recovery and resilience in a post-pandemic economy. Pressure has already mounted in the past year for CEOs to put purpose-driven leadership into practice, with transparency and authenticity being key. As the crisis lingers, so too is a critical period to instill resilience, trust and optimism in employees. Re-focusing on CSR can help leaders to build momentum back up for the future and for employees to gain a new sense of hope and shared duty.
In a recent episode of The Professor and the CEO, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and expert in crisis management, Rachel Doern, describes how the pandemic has presented organisations with a unique opportunity to reset and rethink both their purpose and values. This is where, for many, sustainability aspirations will come into play to encourage better and more environmentally-friendly practices – something that future clients, investors and even employees will look to be associated with.
The rise in B-corps
Likely driven by environmental trends and changes within the corporate sector, there has been a rise in B corporations – a movement that sees for-profit companies achieve the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance and legal accountability. Their mission is for business to be what Fair Trade is to coffee and LEED is to buildings.
The UK is now home to the second-largest B Corporation community in the world (with over 440 B Corps across 48 industries and counting) and it’s clear to see why. Not only does the movement entail environmental benefits, which is a given, but also financial and growth opportunities. B Corporation’s own research shows that between 2017 and 2019, B Corp SME’s average annual turnover was 24% compared to an average of 3% for all SMEs. Year-on-year growth and annual employee headcounts were both greater too.
That said, you don’t have to become a B-corp to make a difference. In fact, any level of improvement is positive no matter how small it may seem – for example, even turning the thermostat down by just 1 degree can reduce energy consumption by 10%.
Here are some of the changes we've been making:
- For every fruit bowl we order through Fruitful Office (twice weekly) a fruit tree is planted in Malawi, Africa to provide fruit, firewood and in some cases income generation for families. Something we’ve been doing since early 2018.
- City Pantry helps us to deliver our team Monday and Wednesday lunches in an eco-friendly way through low emission deliveries, bio-degradable packaging and zero plastic.
- We’ve swapped ordering from supermarkets to Fed, Abel & Cole’s office-specific food and drink delivery service. Our everyday kitchen stock is now organic, sustainably sourced and reaches us on zero-emission bikes.
- For the times when we can celebrate our successes, our bar is stocked with beer and spirits from the nearby Crate Brewery and East London Liquor Company. Fewer deliveries and less mileage mean a reduced carbon footprint.
- We’ve also switched our paper supplier to Harriers who offer rainforest alliance certification, FSC, Carbon Trust and 100% Eucalyptus Fiber helping to reduce the impact of our necessary printing.
Building the future
The built environment accounts for 45% of total UK carbon emissions whilst 40% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions comes from building construction alone. Although the statistics for the construction industry are worrying, behavioral change within the sector has already begun, with much already underway prior to the pandemic.
Greener cities and more energy-efficient buildings are already on the agenda in many cities around the world. Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) is now seen as a crucial part of designing more resourceful and high-performance buildings that not only suit the need of owners and occupants, but also the environment. At Thirdway, we encourage clients to choose from either BREEAM, SKA or LEED accreditations with every project we work on, with environmentally friendly materials and forward-thinking design playing a huge role in achieving this.
Most recently, our Architecture team has been working with Sustainable Workspaces, Europe's largest ecosystem of sustainable businesses delivering solutions to climate change and resource scarcity. Since 2014, they have developed three workspaces in Central London; each completely unique but all designed to bring together the sustainable community in a unique and vibrant experience for both resident companies and guests.
The brief for the latest office space is driven by the same principles but with the ambition to create a more efficient model in terms of the build and design. The all-new materials will be completely sustainable and range from wall tiles made from recycled household plastic waste to insulating materials created from mushrooms. The site will also aim to implement zero waste construction.
Sustainability business trends we foresee this year include:
- An increase in the use of green materials within build projects to help achieve LEED certification
- A renewed connection with nature and passion for the environment that will feed into and inspire interior design and building features
- An increase in Government-led renewable projects
- Increased adoption of everyday sustainable choices
- Rise in use of technology and digital insights – from monitoring energy usage within buildings to on-demand, eco-friendly apps such as Olio and Ecosia.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
The United Nations sustainable development goals have taken on even greater importance in the last year and many companies adopting the same goals are already making a positive impact on both the environment and society. It’s a good place to start for those who are developing or updating their CSR strategies as the UN aspirations will help to shape and drive initiatives.
We’re currently working towards the UN Global Compact initiative – the world’s largest and most renowned sustainability initiative operating under the key principles of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-corruption. Last year we began establishing our own objectives to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and now we’re developing plans to address the business and culture shift that will necessitate. We’ve formed an in-house sustainability committee and we’re kicking off with an audit that will highlight areas for improvement and give us a benchmark to measure ourselves against.
There’s no time like the present
Circling back to where we started lands us back with the question: Is ‘we would if we could’ good enough in 2021? We don’t think so. Especially when it’s been shown that sustainable-centric business models can aid recovery and resilience which is even more valuable as we move out of an economic crisis.
So, over to you. What can you implement this year to help improve the green credentials of your company? And who else might you inspire to make a positive change by doing so?