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Becoming a Sustainable Business

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A recent Irish study found that over 80% of businesses do care and want to be more sustainable - but don't know where to start!

It's hardly surprising that businesses are bewildered, Climate Change is such a mammoth topic to get our heads around. And business is already busy, with many pulls on time, energy and working capital.

 

But, the writing's on the wall - Climate Change is real and business as we know it is changing rapidly.

All businesses, no matter how big or small, will need to adapt to these market disruptors to remain competitive and keep in the game.

Nature Days is here to help you kick start from a standing position, towards being a more sustainable business - to meet the demands of your customers, a more climate-conscious workforce, while improving your bottom line. The upside is these changes will help our planet too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are the benefits of being a sustainable business?

Remember there are multiple positive reasons for becoming more sustainable as a business, such as:

 

  • Cost savings and efficiencies in your operations

  • Improved employee wellbeing, productivity and focus

  • Meeting demands of a more sustainability-conscious consumer

  • Satisfying the needs of a more climate-conscious workforce

  • Recent survey findings show that over 80% of Irish business leaders say companies have a responsibility to ‘lead from the front’ with regard to implementing more ambitious environmentally friendly practices and Net Zero targets. Being proactive increases the positive perception of your business and brand.  

  • The majority of Irish businesses are working towards becoming more sustainable and believe it will bring positive improvements for their business. Retaining your competitive edge, together with staying apace with innovations, developments and market disruptors, are important for all businesses in this rapidly adapting business landscape. 

  • There are new emerging "green" markets and business opportunities to be harnessed by those adapting and preparing for it. 

What's the cost of inaction?

The reality is there is no choice to be made between protecting our businesses and protecting the environment.

Our businesses are all highly susceptible to the ripple effects from instability around the world, as we have seen with recent world events like the Covid 19 pandemic, the Suez canal blockage and the war in Ukraine. An escalating environmental crisis represents a very significant risk to future stability around the world, and in Ireland, and we need to face this fact.

Runaway Climate Change has the potential to create economic havoc, resource and raw material insecurity, social unrest and conflicts, disruption from unpredictable weather patterns, drought & famine, climate refugees on a huge scale, increase social injustice enormously, taxes will rise and costs will mount on all sides.

Even if these business disruptions seem far off to some, here's the business landscape that's emerging right NOW:

  • Customers care about your sustainability record NOW

  • Workers care about your sustainability record NOW 

  • Your business risks losing new opportunities if it stands still, while other forward thinking competitors adapt and pass you by. 

And then there's the fact we all have a responsibility when it comes to minimising Climate disruption!

It's not about how big or small any business is. It's about the fact the global tribe of humans have a responsibility to take action to try to avert runaway Climate Change. Action in our own daily lives, action in our workplaces, action in our businesses, action in our positions of leadership and governance - action everywhere! We owe it to the generations coming behind us.

What's the cost of action? Better to ask yourself - What's the cost on inaction! 

Reducing Carbon Emissions Will Pay Off For Irish Businesses In The Long Term - Irish Times

Being a Sustainable Business -

Take Action

Here are Nature Day's top tips for adapting into a more Sustainable Business:

✔️ Get Help & Train your workforce

You don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to finding your way around reducing emissions for your business. 

  • Nature Days has provided useful information below to bring you to a starting point and links you to useful resources needed in becoming a more sustainable business. If you have questions after reviewing this material, contact Enterprise Ireland. Your local business support office will be able to advise a business of your size of the relevant steps to take.  

  • Give your staff training to develop new skills - This resource was created by gov.ie and is a useful starting point when finding training for staff on sustainability. The supports include links to Climate Academy, Skillnet training, mentoring and more. Check out the Funding section below where costs are involved. 

  • Local Enterprise Office - Green For Micro - The objective of the Green for Micro programme is to help prepare small businesses for the low carbon, more resource efficient, economy of the future. This is a FREE programme, available to companies with up to ten employees. Download the brochure here.

 

✔️ Establish a Green Team in your workplace

Suggest an employee group come together to form a "Green Team." They can work together to promote Nature and Sustainability in your business. Find useful information here: CultivatingCapital.Com - "How To Start A Great Green Team For Your Business"

✔️ Understand your emissions

What types of emissions are there?

When it comes to greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions, "Scope" is the buzz word. The term first appeared in the Green House Gas Protocol of 2001 and today, Scopes are the basis for mandatory GHG reporting in many countries across the world.

If you’re hearing about Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions for the first time, it’s unlikely to be the last. Businesses are being asked to reduce emissions and their emission are categorised into three "Scopes" as follows;

Scope 1 and 2 emissions are derived directly from your own business operations. They are therefore within the direct control of a business to reduce and are relatively straightforward to account for too. Examples of Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions are emissions from your vehicle fleet, the electricity your business uses, energy used in running facilities and buildings etc. 

Scope 3 has a much broader emissions reach as it takes into account emissions for your entire value chain, much of which is outside your control either upstream or downstream. This makes Scope 3 emissions tougher to assess, monitor and account for. Examples are the emissions customers create when using your products or services, or the emissions built into the purchases you make from suppliers. 

Deloitte set out a simple explanation for Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions here

✔️ Establish Your Carbon Footprint

Government of Ireland Climate Action Toolkit - SME's & Larger Corporations - This is a good starting point. You'll find a practical resource created to help Irish businesses meet Carbon Zero targets. The toolkit centers around a Carbon Footprint Calculator which generates a report of identified areas of action for your business. This is a relatively simplistic tool but it will help you understand where your carbon emissions are coming from. 

  • Professional consultants:

Depending on the complexity of your business, you may need to engage professional advice to establish your targets by carrying out energy audits, waste audits and reviewing your value chain emissions in more detail. See below for funding options available.

✔️ Funding 

The Climate Enterprise Action Fund - The Climate Enterprise Action Fund supports Irish companies to build the capabilities required to deliver sustainable products, services and business models. The Fund includes three financial supports, depending on where you are in your sustainability journey:

  • Climate Action Voucher - The voucher covers consultants, either technical or advisory services, related to the Operations of the business from an approved service provider up to a value of €1,800. 

  • GreenStart - Up to €5,000 support to calculate the business Carbon Foot Print and improve environmental performance through greater resource efficiency. It also helps companies achieve competitive advantage and greater market share through enhanced credentials and cost savings.

  • GreenPlus - 50% of costs of developing a comprehensive climate change & sustainability plan and aligning to international standards. 

Citizen Information - Supports For Businesses Going Green - Hereyou will find information on other financial supports, including the SEAI EXEED grant scheme which helps fund the energy-efficient design of heating, cooling, refrigeration, compressed air and business processes . 

✔️ Use the power of Nature for productivity

Exposure to Nature has been shown in studies to increase employee wellbeing, concentration, focus and productivity. Bringing nature into the workplace can increase employees happiness and reduce stress levels.

With this in mind, how can you use Nature to increase employee wellbeing and also connect with the local community?

  • Use the power of Corporate Responsibility and Environmental, Social, Governance Policy for your business to support local community groups doing good work to protect Nature - Tidy Towns, Men's Shed, Women's Shed, Community Gardens, Wildlife Trusts, Nature charities or Irish Tree Planting organisations like Easytreesie, Crann.ie, Reforest Nation and more.

  • Have a noticeboard to tell staff and visitors what you are doing to encourage biodiversity on site or nearby. You could include a section on wildlife gardening (e.g. the best native species to grow; which plants to grow for butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects; and where to find the compost bins on your site).

  • Have a team conservation day to volunteer for a local wildlife trust, charity or engage in some local tree planting projects. Organise an activity for Earth Day, like Clean Up, Tree Planting, hold a talk on waste recycling etc. 

  • If your business has access to outdoor grounds and space, it's a good idea to make a long-term biodiversity plan for these areas too.

    • Consider setting up a wildlife garden and let parts of your grounds become 'untidy' for the benefit of wildflowers, birds and pollinators.

    • Consider converting large areas of lawn into Pocket Forests or small woodlands around your business site. Encourage employees to research these types of projects and, with permission, enact them.

    • Give employees access to Nature at work- views from windows, bird feeders within view, plants within the work setting, nature areas to walk through or sit in on breaks. 

    • Hang bird feeders, plant up some window boxes and planters with native species – they’ll both look great and encourage wildlife. Make sure you use peat-free compost in these.

 

✔️ Create your Net-Zero Target Policy

Once you have done the groundwork, start to put together your Net-Zero Target Policy. Once complete, celebrate your achievements! Publicise the policy for customers, suppliers and your workforce to appreciate and spread the positive perceptions about your business far and wide.  

 

Here are some pointers to get started:

  1. Identify why it is important for your consumers, employees, stakeholders, business and wider community that you have this Net-Zero Target Policy. Let these stakeholders know you understand their needs.

  2. Ensure your leadership team understands what "sustainability" really means and understands Net-Zero. Provide an opportunity and plan for training sustainability leaders within your business. Include this in your policy. 

  3. Set out where you are right now as a business - Using the resources above, calculate your Carbon Footprint and resources inefficiencies. This is your starting position.

  4. Identify your Targets - Use credible, science based information to set your targets. Science Based Target (SBTi) is fast becoming the bench mark guide for companies in setting targets that are aligned with current climate science. Over 69 of Ireland's largest companies have already signed up to take the #LowCarbonPledge with Business In The Community Ireland, using SBTi to arrive at their targets. The science-based approach helps to ensure you achieve what you're trying to do and show that you have a workable plan in place. The SBTi initiative has resources that can help smaller businesses with this process. Find more practical information and explanations about using SBTi in this online Origin Green Seminar.

  5. Take the #LowCarbonPledge with Business In The Community Ireland. Publicise your commitment and generate buy in from customers, suppliers and your workforce.

  6. Set out a clear pathway for reaching the agreed Net-Zero targets.

  7. Include clearly identified milestones so you can measure your progress and highlight your successes along the way. Positive communication of your organizations' efforts throughout the process will maintain motivation and engage all your stakeholders. 

  8. Set out a clear time scale for meeting the Net-Zero Targets over a period of years. Try to be as realistic as possible, considering all your stakeholders. Within this longer term strategy, initiate short term actions you can take immediately to drive towards your targets on a consistent basis. 

✔️ Don't Wait - Take smaller actions NOW!

For many businesses, it will take time to establish your SBTi targets and carry out all your emissions assessments. Don't defer action while this process is ongoing or if this process stalls altogether!

Use Community Repair Network Ireland to take smaller actions now and grab some immediate wins for your business:

  1. As with any new regulations and policy, time demands will be a major factor for leadership and management when it comes to taking actions in your business. As part of sharing the load, take the opportunity to engage with your employees and, in so doing, deepen their alignment to your business.  Bring together a motivated small group of employees to develop your workplace sustainability plan with management and give them scope to implement ideas which benefit the business and employees. PlanetGroups - A Not For Profit & NGO based in UK and Germany may be a useful resource in getting your business more sustainable and also engaging a motivated employee group. 

  2. Chambers.ie Sustainable SDGs Toolkit for Business - Includes a very useful Getting Started document (for the small enterprise or large corporation) with a checklist of actions to take. It also contains 77 suggested actions for implementing the sustainability goals of your business across areas like Health  & Wellbeing, Equality & Diversity, Conscious Consumption, Well-Rounded Workplaces, Implementing Innovation, Community Collaboration, Protecting The Planet and Leadership & Integrity. 

  3. Switch your energy supplier to the most renewable energy supplier in the market.

  4. Minimise obvious WASTE across your business -

    1. Install energy saving light bulbs and install lighting that switches off when there is no one in the room. 

    2. Have temperature control in the workplace and review energy use on heating. 

    3. Have a visible campaign to reduce energy waste within the workplace - such as lights left on unnecessarily, standby lights on appliances and tech, chargers left plugged in etc. Educate your workforce on Energy Vampires and encourage workers to "power down" to stop standby settings sapping energy.

    4. Encourage reduction in wasted water.

    5. Encourage reduction in wasted paper. 

    6. Carry out an energy review of your server and tech systems. Technology is a huge absorber of energy in business. Data Centres are huge energy users and our device and technology use at home, and in businesses, contributes towards the amount of energy they use. Use cloud storage to minimise your own infrastructure costs and energy needs. Also consider whether you need equipment upgrades or whether they can be postponed so as to use existing adequate equipment. 

    7. Use SEAI grant support to retrofit facilities to conserve energy.

  5. Establish a clear and visible recycling system for your business and employees use. Introduce compost bins on site.

  6. Phase out Single Use Plastics in your business and workforce by promoting the Conscious Cup campaign, reusable drinks & lunch ware and having water refill stations on site for workers to use. Having a Tea & coffee station can encourage workers to make their own drinks on site and save money too. 

  7. Develop a policy to repair instead of replace where possible. Buy repurposed second hand equipment, furniture and products where possible. 

  8. Promote travel by public transport, bike to work, car pooling where feasible. Use tax incentives & perks to motivate employee behaviour.

  9. Promote working from home where possible.

  10. Review your vehicle fleet and tap into current tax incentives for lower emissions vehicles.

  11. Source sustainable supplies for your business, from from coffee to paper. Start to use recycled office supplies.

  12. Develop a paperless office environment.

  13. Switch to chemical free cleaning products.

  14. Engage with Nature outside your business site and within the workplace. Have biodiversity, "use less" and sustainability talks for interested employees.

  15. Encourage your leadership and workforce to sign up to Count Us in as part of their own sustainability journey in their daily lives. 

  16. Encourage lunch break walks and time outdoors.

  17. Give back to your local community and support community groups.

  18. Support Tree Planting campaigns like Crann.ie, Easytreesie.com, Reforest Nation and Pocket Forests.

  19. Do business with other Eco-friendly businesses. This supports other businesses in their efforts.

  20. Buy local where possible or from within our country. This reduces transport emissions.

Further info

Lets Make Our Workplaces Sustainable -WWF

Engaging Employees To Create A Sustainable Business - Stanford Social Innovation Review

6 Examples of Sustainability In The Workplace And Their Impact - Recycle Coach

✔️ Engage EVERYONE in your organisation and beyond

Encouraging buy in and ownership of your Net Zero targets across your entire organisation has benefits for all involved. Create a culture of sharing ideas that can be implemented in your employees' own context, across all departments and the wider corporate structure.

Focus on the outcomes: using less energy, for example, has financial benefits whichever industry you operate in. Highlight benefits to all your stakeholders to show opportunities that can be unlocked as part of the transition to Net Zero.

Engaging with employees and suppliers will also help you meet your Scope 3 emissions targets. Some interesting suggestions might be:

  

  • Employee Green Behaviour "EGB" contributes to an organisations environmental impact so harness the motivated minority within your workforce to push your sustainability objectives forward. 

  • To cultivate EGB in your business, training is key. Put your employees in a position of understanding climate change and climate action, and enable them to act themselves. This will help reduce your organisations Scope 3 emissions too. 

  • Work with local transport authorities to improve access to public transport for employees. 

  • Increase carpooling or bike to work schemes for employees. 

  • Establish energy saving targets within your business for employees to achieve within their own context.

  • Work with employees to establish waste reduction practices. 

  • Develop robust processes to promote remote working and online meetings.

  • Reduce business travel, in particular air travel.

  • Increase the lifecycles of your products and their end-of-life treatments.

  • Reduce the waste generated by your organization as much as possible. 

  • Work with your landlord, if relevant, to reduce the emissions of your premises.

  • Work with a local cafe or shops to promote reusuable cups and lunch ware for workers. 

  • Work with suppliers to decarbonize purchased goods, such as IT hardware, telecom, and other business services.

  • Your suppliers must be a key part of your reduction strategy because they most likely contribute to much of your value chain’s emissions. Find some more ideas here. This can be a highly technical area, depending on the size of your business, so contact your industry association for guidance as to how to progress with supplier engagement within an Irish context.

 

Further resources:

Citizen Information - Supports For Businesses Going Green - There is a wealth of information in here, from funding, training, waste management and general advice. A must read.

SEAI - Whether you are a large, medium, or small business, you will find advice and useful information on how to become more Energy efficient in your business. This overview will provide you with quick and useful feedback on what you can do to make your business more efficient and reduce costs. Look into the Excellence in Energy Efficiency Design (EXEED) grant scheme to promote energy efficiency in business. Successful applicants can get grant support of up to €1,000,000 per project. 

Environmental Protection Agency - The EPA have a survey tool to help your business analyse the level of resource (energy, water, waste, management systems) efficiency within your organisation. 

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What is a "Sustainable" business?

A sustainable business is one where profitability, concern for the environment and social commitment are in harmony. 

"Sustainable" for the UN Sustainable Development Goals ("SDGs") relates to making a better, fairer, and more sustainable future for all. It is not merely about reducing energy consumption and waste, but a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
 

The "Triple Bottom Line" measures business "success" across the three metrics of:

  • People

  • Planet &

  • Prosperity

This moves away from measuring business "success" soley from generated economic profit, leaving room to measure environmental impacts and social impacts of business also.