By Jill Barker, Global Marketing Executive, EcoSecurities
Now that climate change is firmly in the minds of governments, business and the public worldwide, companies find that they need to address this important issue in a more structured, transparent and effective way. Indeed, a “do nothing” approach is becoming less and less viable in today’s competitive and highly informed marketplace.
Broadly speaking, a company’s climate change strategy can consist of any or all of the following activities:
1. Assessing its carbon footprint;
2. Reducing emissions at source; and
3. Offsetting the emissions that cannot be reduced at source, or becoming carbon neutral.
Defining your carbon strategy
An effective climate change strategy can help organisations deal with the inevitable risks related to this important issue. There are many benefits of having a robust carbon management strategy:
- Cost savings. Actions to reduce emissions often involve improved efficiency, thereby reducing energy costs.
- Differentiation. With increasing competition, addressing the environmental impact of your products/services can provide a powerful means of differentiation in a crowded market-place.
- Recognition. Increased public awareness of climate change, combined with increased expectations of high Corporate Social Responsibility standards, will lead to your company being recognised as a leader in this regard.
- Limiting liabilities. Impending regulation of GHG emissions may mean that you will face future liabilities, but having a climate change strategy in place to address such risks will minimise your liabilities in the future.
Over the years we have learned that regardless of which type of category your business falls into, there are some fundamental rules companies should consider when developing a carbon strategy:
- Companies need to determine how ambitious they want to be. For instance, do you want to simply comply or be a pioneer in your industry?
- Your stakeholders and senior managers must have a long-term desire to promote and prioritise the issue of sustainability throughout your business operations.
- It is imperative that the company understands the regulatory framework surrounding its operations, especially now that carbon regulation is increasingly affecting more and more companies. In short, is your industry sector likely to come under carbon regulation in the near future?
- Timing is a critical consideration, particularly because companies can be “too late” to respond, resulting in higher compliance costs and competitive disadvantage, or they can also be “too early” to respond, risking the misallocation of limited funds and resources.
- Having flexible goals that can be adapted to internal and external developments (e.g. regulation, competitor activity, changes in the economy) can be particularly effective.
- Your climate change goals align with the culture and brand values of your organisation, and you communicate these clearly and accurately by engaging with and encouraging buy-in from your employees, and implementing appropriate educational and awareness raising activities.
- How and whether a climate change strategy will be communicated externally needs to be decided early on in the process.
- You measure and track the impact of your activities on sales performance, market share and shareholder value.
Assessing your carbon footprint
A GHG footprint is often the first step on the way towards broader carbon management and mitigation strategies. By giving a company more precise information on the volume of emissions and their sources, a GHG footprint facilitates strategic decision-making.
For example, corporate GHG footprints can set the stage for identifying emission reduction opportunities or establish a baseline against which to measure GHG emission reduction commitments.
Depending on a firm’s goals, and the characteristics of the company in question, GHG footprints can be either straightforward or complex. Establishing the appropriate boundary for a footprint is always a critical first step.
Other key variables include: the industry sector, size and scope of operations, information availability, how the footprint will be used, what competitors are doing and the available budget.
Because footprints serve a variety of purposes, it is important to match client needs with footprint accuracy. For instance, while some companies may be comfortable working in the range of 80% accuracy, others may want to spend the extra resources to increase the detail of the footprint.
Reducing your emissions
Taking steps to reduce your internal carbon footprint can provide multiple benefits:
· Some measures are very low cost and can save your company money in the long-term.
· Active steps to reduce internal emissions can help forestall less cost-effective regulatory measures.
· Reducing your operational emissions shows your employees, customers, investors and stakeholders that you are serious about reducing your environmental impact.
Once you have identified the main sources of your company's carbon emissions, a range of opportunities exist for reducing your carbon footprint in the context of your business strategy and operational profile – including changes to energy sourcing, travel, supply chain logistics and procurement.
However, it is important to consider that reducing emissions at source is not simple and generally does not produce immediate results. On the one hand, reducing emissions requires careful analysis to select the most cost-effective options and to decide the order in which they are carried out, not to mention finding the resources to make the capital investments.
On the other hand, the process for reducing emissions is a lengthy process that can take several years.
Carbon offsets are generated as the result of a greenhouse gas emission reduction project delivering measurable reductions in emissions through a variety of technologies, including renewable energy and waste gas to energy and forestry. These projects create emission reduction credits by displacing more fossil fuel intensive activities or by reducing the direct release of GHG into the atmosphere.
There are several reasons for offsetting:
1. Most companies today will, regardless of how successful they are in respect of implementing emission reduction activities, still have a carbon footprint, and so offsetting is an excellent way of balancing the carbon footprint that you currently cannot reduce by internal abatement measures alone.
2. Reducing emissions at source may require long-term development, significant capital investment, and/or behavioural change, all of which take time. For instance, a company may want to upgrade all of its buildings to become more energy efficient, but it may not have the capital to do so all at once. Offsetting, on the other hand, provides the short-term environmental benefits some companies seek.
3. Offsetting can facilitate employee and customer engagement in the process of developing and implementing a climate change strategy. For example, companies often purchase offsets from customised portfolios of projects that meet a range of stakeholder preferences. A successful offsetting strategy helps convey a company’s commitment to reducing emissions to employees, stakeholders and customers.
4. In cases where there is impending or likely emission reduction regulation, offsetting helps companies understand how carbon markets work and therefore gain a better appreciation of the risks involved.
5. Offsetting can position your company as a leader in the climate change field.
Employee and customer engagement
Underpinning a successful climate change mitigation strategy is the need to fully engage both internal and external stakeholders, including employees, investors and customers. The cornerstone of this process is the effective planning and deployment of an integrated communications strategy that delivers meaningful and relevant messages reflecting the brand values and culture of your organisation.
EcoSecurities’ top tips for climate change communication
1. Be open, honest and transparent. Be clear about your motivations and ensure they will stand up to scrutiny. Every claim should be backed up by easily accessible information. No matter how big or small your commitment, be honest about what it involves.
2. Make sure your company’s green messages effectively filter from board level to front line staff.
3. Educate employees and stimulate behaviour changes to guarantee buy-in and ensure that the messages conveyed to your stakeholders and employees are coherent and that your internal and external faces are aligned.
4. Examine your customer base: what environmental issues are important to your customers today, and how has their environmental behaviour changed over time?
5. Use this research to reduce the ‘gap’ between what environmental messages consumers expect and those you provide: apply your consumer knowledge to create messages that grab the attention of your target audiences.
6. Make it simple and easy for consumers, understand their level of knowledge and avoid jargon - speak a language that stakeholders will understand to add value to your brand and environmental efforts.
7. Ensure your communications align with the culture and brand values of your organisation – for example, Ben & Jerry’s “Lick Global Warming” and “Carbon Neutral from Cow to Cone” campaign, and the ongoing measurement of their climate “hoofprint”.
8. Get the channel (or mix of channels) and the timing right. Utilise the expertise held across the business on what will appeal to customers. Look at innovative tools to ensure your messages are conveyed effectively e.g. StonyField Farm, a US organic dairy company include green messages on their yoghurt cup lids.
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