I’d like to place a bet with you. I bet that if you pick up or scroll through any newspaper, magazine, or social media feed you will come across an article or post about sustainability, carbon neutrality or renewable energy. The popularity of these topics is being driven by individuals, communities and our governments as they recognise the need to leave behind a better future for future generations. To achieve this we—as businesses and as a society—are setting ourselves strict goals: the U.K. has a legally binding goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and the Irish Government has a goal to cut emissions by 51% by 2030.
So, you may be surprised to learn then that only 46% of businesses in the U.K. have made plans to go carbon neutral by 2050. Even more surprising is that one in every three say they have no plans at all to be net carbon neutral.
Why, despite the evident need and constant conversations around climate change and net zero, is more action not being taken? I believe that it’s down to a lack of clarity, with many businesses simply not knowing where to start to make goals such as running an office on renewable energy a reality. In this blog—the second in a new series looking at the increasingly popular and at times complicated topic of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)—I share my experiences on achieving that reality.
Let’s Start with the Evidence of Success
Sky went carbon neutral back in 2006 and switched to 100% renewable electricity in 2016 with on-site wind power. Innocent sources two thirds of the electricity used in production from renewable sources, and it uses 100% renewable electricity and biogas to heat and power its head office. At VMware, we met our goal to have 100% of our operations powered by renewable energy one year early in 2019—all part of our collective efforts to drive toward net zero emissions in our operations and sustainability in our product solutions as part of our 2030 Agenda.
And I am proud of the role that our site in Cork, Ireland, played in achieving that goal by running an office of 900 employees solely on renewable energy. But how did we achieve it and what did we learn that could help you pursue the same goal for your offices?
1. Build Your Case
As my colleague Joe previously discussed, any ESG programme has to prove that, as well as being the right thing for the environment, it also has to be commercially sound. So as business leaders, we have to build a case for this change and put our support behind it to show that a move to renewable energy is the right choice. That includes being able to demonstrate that the impact of any changes we introduce is measurable; from energy saved and the cost savings it has enabled to the people and community benefits of supporting local providers. Prove to employees and prospective employees you are a credible sustainable company with the evidence to back it up.
2. Champion the Curious
On our Cork campus, our employees are hugely socially conscious and passionate about how we can best protect the community and environment we live in. And they’re not alone: 63% of employees say that working in an environmentally sustainable office is very important to them.
Champion this curiosity and passion. Get employees on board by finding out what is important to them and what drives them through internal audits, focus groups, and regular opportunities to brainstorm and debate. Use this insight to help you build your plan. Task yourself and colleagues to challenge the way they think about the things used every day, how they use them and the energy they consume. One simple but significant change for us was moving to use fresh, clean Irish air to help cool our data centres.
3. Understand Your Local Market
Our first step was to look at the energy market in Ireland, to understand who the local renewable energy providers were and what type of energy they could provide. Like us, you may decide you need expert help to better understand the options. Our external consultants offered recommendations on the type of contracts we could enter into, what they would deliver, how much it would cost and what the ROI would be.
This ultimately helped us identify and lock in the source of 100% of our electricity needs for the next few years—with a local utility provider supplying 100% renewable electricity.
4. Interrogate How You Operate
Audits conducted by third-party experts can also help you understand how to optimise your energy consumption and make power savings throughout your existing building. This is especially important for less modern structures that aren’t LEED or BREEAM certified—as ours wasn’t. Because it’s not enough to just consume renewable energy, we also want to consume as little of it as possible.
It’s Time to Power Up and Make a Change
Be better than the 31% of British firms that have no plan to go carbon neutral. You don’t need to change everything at once. But a plan is better than no plan at all. And I hope these tips will help you start on the path to making renewable power a reality on one of your sites.
So, gather the curious, make your case, and deliver the change that will protect the community and environment we live in now and for the future.
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