Firms and employees need to do more to address climate change

A new report claims to have found a lack of commitment amongst UK businesses to address their impact on the environment and contribution to climate change, with only 10 percent having set a carbon reduction target, while just under half of companies (49 percent) use even the most basic sustainability measures, such as recycling bins for office waste.

The findings follow the recent and most comprehensive study to date into climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which made headlines worldwide. The IPCC report was the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures, with leading international scientists saying it was the final call to save the world from climate catastrophe.

The Carbon Commitment report from Carbon Credentials, claims that out of the 1,000 heads of sustainability and business owners questioned, none had set science-based targets. Science-based targets demonstrate a company’s commitment to a low carbon future and reflect the level of action needed globally to help the world align with the Paris Agreement – the pledge by nearly 200 countries on tackling climate change and a commitment to keep global warming below 2°C.


Employees sceptical of sustainability claims

A further 1,000 junior managers and below were also questioned and more than half (57 percent) said their employers aren’t doing enough to involve them in cutting their carbon footprint at work.

While many organisations’ lack of transparency and engagement means that 74 percent of employees have no idea what their organisation’s carbon reduction targets are and 57 percent of those questioned said they don’t, or don’t always trust UK organisations to deliver on their sustainability claims.

Just 14 percent of large businesses with over 250 employees have set staff personal goals and targets to cut their own workplace carbon footprint, only 9 percent incentivise staff to save energy at work, and a mere 7 percent regularly communicate internally the energy savings made and the benefits of any savings to their business and environment.

Only 4 percent of employees said their organisation links staff bonuses to cut carbon emissions and to save energy at work (despite 66 percent of employees saying they’d support such a scheme), and only a few offered other incentives to reduce employees’ individual carbon footprint such as increased annual leave, or financial benefits for cycling to work. In fact, just 13 percent said they have an official company ‘car share’ policy and 12 percent have a ‘cycle to work’ scheme.


Employees should take personal action

71 percent of employees have resorted to taking their own action to cut their carbon footprint at work in the last six months, but not necessarily in the right areas.

When asked for their most innovative ideas for cutting workplace energy use the main ideas comprised, banning personal mobile devices (3 percent), or old-fashioned suggestions such as foil to cover walls (3 percent) or foil to cover wall spaces near heaters/radiators (2 percent) and mandatory screen savers and sleep mode on all laptops, tablets  and phones (1 percent).


More management support needed to drive sustainable change

Sixty per cent of respondents, including heads and managers of sustainability, environment and energy, said that a lack of leadership support, insufficient funding and competing inter-departmental budgets and resources were the biggest challenges preventing organisations from rolling out successful sustainability programmes.

A third of employees questioned said their organisation had acted to improve the sustainability of their procurement processes, but 16 percent said that engaging with suppliers on reducing emissions is also a major barrier to sustainable progress.

Paul Lewis, CEO at Carbon Credentials, commented on the findings: “Our report has shown that staff are engaged and willing to help organisations to be more carbon efficient, but that they aren’t being given the incentives, tools and sometimes the support to do this.

“46 percent of companies are rightly inviting staff to put forward sustainable ideas but it appears that few are engaging with employees to drive them through. Getting leadership buy in and the budgets to implement these energy saving innovations remains a challenge for many environmental and sustainability professionals.

Paul continued: “For there to be any chance in meeting the IPCC warming recommendations and to make a real dent in the side of climate change then organisations must play their part by having clearly defined environmentally sustainable policies in place that are centred around ambitious emission reduction targets. These targets should be science-based to give an organisation a well-defined pathway to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperature increase to 2°C or below.

“57 percent of the employees we interviewed said they don’t trust organisations to always deliver on their sustainability claims. Setting targets not only sends out a clear message on the organisations’ commitment to climate change but reduces energy spend; which benefits the planet, your people, your business reputation, and your bottom line.”