From “KPMG Becomes Final Big Four Member to Commit to Net Zero” to “CMS Unveils Targets to Reduce Carbon”, the headlines would certainly suggest that professional services firms are beginning to place reducing their environmental impact higher on their boardroom agendas.
More generally, a survey by the Business Roundtable (BRT) in 2019, published in the Harvard Business Review, found that 99% of CEOs (1,000 were asked) believe that sustainability is key to the future success of their business.
The Current State of Play
It’s true that as a sector, professional services is far from being one of the worst offenders but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t enormous potential for change or that the issue should be ignored.
When it comes to larger firms in particular, especially those operating internationally, the impact of business travel will of course be the largest contributor to their overall emissions. More generally, firms’ premises, their use of energy and other resources and the waste they produce will be the other major contributors.
Offsetting Alone Isn’t the Answer
You will find organisations in all sectors paying to offset the impact of their operations, all whilst continuing to illuminate empty office buildings, to fund international business class travel and to shower clients with promotional materials and expensive corporate gifts. Offsetting can be part of the solution, at least for the time being, but it is not a get out of jail free card.
If firms are to avoid simply playing lip service and to properly tackle the issue, the subject has to be aired for discussion at every level and the agreed commitments embedded in the firm’s strategy, operational plans, culture and values. Seemingly smaller changes can matter as much as the substantial ones and their cumulative impact can be sizeable.
From the get go, stretching but realistic targets must to be set, with all stakeholders buying into the plans and the reasons behind the decisions that have been taken. Progress needs to be measured and reported on cyclically, with processes and practices adapted and evolved as necessary to ensure continued momentum.
The concept is exactly the same as in day to day life.
To help ensure a lasting impact, organisations should aim to ensure that proposed changes are:
genuinely a greener alternative, based on discussion and careful research
as simple and easy as possible to implement and sustain
cost-effective and on budget
likely to meet the needs and expectations of all involved
bought into by key decision makers and relevant stakeholders
The fewer “barriers” there are, the more likely it is that changes will be accepted and continue to be adopted over the longer term.
Areas to consider reviewing, and some examples of how, may include:
Avoiding non-essential business travel (including between offices) by being more selective about attendance or communicating virtually, reducing commuting (including through flexible working practices that allow for increased homeworking or the avoidance of rush hour journeys) and promoting the use of public transport (including through subsidised travel or interest free season ticket loans).
Take steps to ensure that all premises are as heat and energy efficient as possible, well insulated and (ideally) powered by renewable energy. Maintain a sensible workplace temperature – don’t waste energy heating or cooling buildings excessively. Utilise water efficient sanitary ware and systems and encourage employees to use water sparingly. In larger, modern buildings this may be a given but build this into any discussions with landlords, particularly when taking or renewing a lease. As above, also consider how clients and colleagues will travel to and access your premises when looking at locations.
Minimise energy wastage by implementing effective power management solutions and invest in energy efficient devices when the time comes to replace them. And, where possible, do so less often. Avoid lighting premises (partly or fully) when not in use and don’t allow computers, devices and equipment to be left on unnecessarily.
Only stock essential stationery items and provide the ability to recycle them on site. Set paper reduction targets and encourage only essential printing. Make double sided, black and white, draft quality printing the default standard and aim to only buy paper that is recycled or from a sustainable source (i.e. FSC certified). Minimise postage, the use of couriers and the footprint associated with any form of deliveries by communicating electronically wherever possible and only sending things that are essential.
Stock vending machines and in-house cafes with eco-friendly and ideally locally sourced offerings – far more of a treat and a boost for staff during a busy working day. For example, offer free unwrapped and locally sourced fruit throughout the week and aim for Fairtrade and plastic free tea and coffee and milk delivered in glass. Significantly reduce the amount of plastic and other packaging used and ensure that everything that can be recycled is. Utilise a food waste scheme (with that waste being diverted from landfill to create bio energy and various by products). Provide reusable kitchenware and eradicate the likes of plastic cups and disposable cutlery. Ensure that kitchen appliances are as energy and water efficient as possible.
Waste and recycling
Ensure everything that is recyclable is recycled. Consider making use of schemes run by Teracycle where certain items cannot be easily recycled locally or commercially, or to broaden significantly the range of items that be recycled by employees. Be sure that you know where you recycled waste is going and will be processed – aim to find a supplier that will ensure little or none of the material will be shipped outside of the UK. The same is true of your non-recyclable waste – aim for a contractor that can ensure everything is dealt with at a waste for energy plant rather than being placed in landfill.
Seek to minimise the amount of printed brochures and other materials produced and instead provide this information online and electronically. Where materials are printed, aim to use recycled or sustainable paper (for example, FSC certified) as mentioned above. Eliminate promotional items or find eco-friendly alternatives. And try to do the same when it comes to corporate (and indeed staff) gifts. An environmentally-conscious option is always likely to stand out more and make a greater impact in today’s climate.
AUTHOR: David Lamont
David is the founder of online community Plastic Free Home and a writer and speaker on environmental topics. He is also Head of Marketing at a leading regional law firm.