Emission possible: three small and meaningful tactics all CEOs can use in pursuit of a net zero reality

Thibaud Hug de Larauze, CEO and Co-founder of Back Market, the refurbished tech marketplace, explains how business leaders can make an impact on formidable climate targets.

Business is responsible for around 17% of the UK’s net greenhouse emissions, which means it has a major role to play in the mid-century net-zero target set out by Cop26. If Britain is to successfully decarbonise by the year 2050, a huge wave of innovation is required – from startups to established players.

According to the World Economic Forum, the decisions taken by CEOs are critical in ensuring rapid progress on this goal. In fact, the non-profit suggests that leaders should be asking themselves, “What changes should I make now to prepare for success?”

Yet, with stakeholder pressure to act on sustainability greater than ever, many business leaders still lack clarity in how to perform their part in ensuring a safe future below the 1.5°C mark; and in a way that is actionable (rather than vague and non-binding).

Just as in life generally, however, the impact of small daily habits cannot be overlooked. It may feel counterintuitive, but when it comes to the mammoth task of cutting carbon emissions, slow and steady could be the way forward, setting in motion a bedrock of efficiencies to enable radical change.

Get a foothold on transport and energy emissions

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to transform wasteful office practices overnight, so start with the path of least resistance. Take the question of transport. While a fully electric fleet with charger parking could be a longer-term goal, a cycle-to-work scheme is something that you can action straight away.

Figures from Cycling UK show that “a dramatic, worldwide increase” in cycling by the year 2030 could cut CO2 emissions by about 7%, with the average person saving 6% of their annual carbon footprint by cycling a daily commute of four miles each way. Allowing employees to effectively “hire” bikes and accessories through a salary sacrifice scheme may be just the incentive needed to kickstart this habit change, especially given the increased interest in cycling sparked by Covid lockdowns.

Meanwhile, with UK businesses wasting a staggering £60million a year in avoidable energy bills, an energy audit is a simple route to curbing your output. This will help you identify changes with the most impact; whether that’s correcting inefficient lighting, or installing motion sensors to modulate energy use in different parts of your building.

Take aim at plastic and paper waste

Just 10 plastic products, including plastic food containers and plastic lids, account for an astonishing three-quarters of the world’s ocean litter – putting the takeaway industry that so many offices rely on firmly in the crosshairs of the climate battle. Of course, food businesses are coming up with their own ways to reduce this devastating toll, but UK campaign group Less Plastic also suggests “slowing down to properly taste and appreciate our food” as a means of weaning our reliance on takeaway.

As a business, you can encourage this habit by reinventing the office lunch break. Put a full hour aside for people’s lunch break for them to leave the office, and think about introducing a weekly meal out in a restaurant, or perhaps a Friday community lunch cooked by different team members.

Moving onto paper, there are so many ways you can avoid adding to the 136 million+ tons of paper produced so far this year, including using an electronic signature system or outsourcing print requirements. Paperless meetings are a great idea, too: participants rarely keep the handouts they’re given, and it’s much more practical to present or send notes digitally, before or after a session.

Don’t underestimate the impact of small actions: one study from a Finnish logistics services company saw a 63 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per invoice as a result of sending e-invoices rather than paper versions.

Reuse and repair

The world produces around 50 million tonnes of e-waste a year, only 20% of which is recycled. As a business, you can push back on this entrenched problem by refusing to buy into the new-tech hype. The fact is, we don’t need the latest-edition monitors, laptops and smartphones to thrive in business. Second-hand tech, when it’s meticulously tested and verified, is a solution that’s just as effective, cheaper and far more friendly to the climate.

If you think that between 70% and 80% of the carbon footprint generated by personal computing devices occurs during the manufacturing stage, your company can adopt a significant role in giving pre-used gadgets a new lease of life. Equally, it’s worth thinking about selling or donating old office devices to increase their lifespan. You could also arrange regular tutorials for your staff so they can learn how to repair and protect key electronic equipment.