What first steps must businesses take towards a low-carbon future?

20 Jun 2019

From left: Feargal O’Rourke, managing partner, PwC; Kari Daniels, CEO, Tesco Ireland; and Tomás Sercovich, CEO, BITC, at the launch of the Low Carbon Pledge report. Image: Jason Clarke Photography

The BITC Low Carbon Pledge asks companies to commit to lowering their emissions and working towards a greener economic model.

Earlier this week, the Irish Government launched its Climate Action Plan. In it are more than 180 actions to bring Ireland on course to meet its 2030 emissions reduction targets. The key targets are a 30pc reduction in emissions by 2030, with a view to becoming a carbon-neutral nation by 2050.

There is an unmistakable global need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide) and keep global heating to a 1.5 degree minimum, and businesses must step up to this challenge.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s last report makes a clear warning on the need for far-reaching and unprecedented changes in society and the economy to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios of climate change. We, therefore, believe that a 2050 strategy for Ireland of net-zero carbon emissions would not only be welcome but it’s essential,” said Tomás Sercovich, CEO of Business in the Community Ireland (BITC), a business network working with companies transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

Ireland is set to support a long-term strategy for the EU to be carbon-neutral by 2050 at a summit in Brussels today (20 June) and tomorrow, but there is no question that this net-zero emissions plan would be a highly ambitious target.

“The climate action agenda needs global leaders and we must have a total system transformation. The detail of how this will be achieved is yet to be seen, whether through reductions and offsets or just reductions of emissions, as is the case with Norway’s roadmap to net-zero emissions,” Sercovich added.

The Low Carbon Pledge

Ahead of the Climate Action Plan announcement, BITC released the report, ‘Business Working Together for a Low Carbon Ireland’, evaluating efforts made by almost 50 companies that have signed up to the network’s Low Carbon Pledge.

These pledge companies come from carbon-intensive sectors such as agribusiness and energy, as well as the pharma, transport, communications, technology and professional services industries.

The Low Carbon Pledge is a commitment by businesses to reduce their carbon footprint between now and 2030. The report, completed by PwC, checked up on actions taken under this commitment and their impact on emissions.

The report found that, on average, pledge companies reduced emissions intensity by 36pc. It’s a good start, but more companies will have to kick-start their efforts. Here are some of BITC’s recommended first steps.

1. Determine your carbon footprint

First off, before you commit to reducing your carbon footprint, you need to size it up. This involves identifying carbon emission sources and determining your most carbon-intensive operations (which will make the most impact if tackled).

Some organisations that can help include Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) Ireland Network and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

Additionally, carbon management companies such as Quantis and Natural Capital Partners can measure carbon impacts, report on your carbon footprint and help you find solutions to set you on the road to net-zero future.

2. Record, report and review

The ‘three Rs’ espoused by BITC are to record, report and review your carbon impact. Both the business network and PwC acknowledged that the recording and reporting of emissions data is a critical first step in the commitment to low-carbon business.

Transparency is key and communicating to all stakeholders, both internally and externally, is critical in the current climate crisis conversation.

3. Get third-party validation

If you externally validate your carbon footprint, you can ensure that the data you report is accurate and complete.

This will prove financially beneficial, too, when carbon taxes begin to take a bigger financial burden on businesses.

4. Put it in your business strategy

Review your business strategy for carbon impact in all aspects and see how you can address consequences of the climate crisis in your day-to-day business.

This is a first step in creating a resilient company ready for current and future risks. It’s culturally significant, too, as it clearly communicates your commitment to change to your staff and stakeholders.

5. Invest in low carbon

A low-carbon commitment comes at a cost, but businesses are running out of excuses not to invest in low-carbon initiatives and technologies. These investments need to be significant, too.

Also ensure that the companies you do business with and invest in are similarly committed to a low-carbon future. Making that a condition of working together is a way to ensure that change ripples across other businesses, too.

6. Collaborate to accelerate climate action

As a highly complex concept, tackling the climate crisis will require a vast number of organisations working together for solutions. The reduction targets required of the IPCC report will not be achieved alone but in cooperation. Working together will better activate knowledge and accelerate action.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.