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Best Companies, The Climate Crisis insight session at Best Companies Live Q1 2022 event
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The Climate Crisis: Commitment and action in the workplace

David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’ series, the COP26 Summit and Earthshot Prize have all put the climate crisis firmly in the public domain, with each acting as a catalyst for conversation and action around what is arguably one of the most pressing topics of our time.

But how can making organisational commitments to protect the planet benefit both business and engagement? In the following article, we review the highlights from our panel discussion during Best Companies Live as to why being environmentally responsible matters. If you would prefer to watch the full session, please click the video above.

When it comes to differentiating a world class organisation from the rest, there’s one factor which stands out against all others, and that’s ‘Giving Something Back’.

This factor – one of the eight that makes up great engagement based on Best Companies’ unique methodology – is made up of questions relating to how an organisation contributes to the local and wider community, whether it helps people from disadvantaged background and, finally, how it treats the environment.

Over the last couple of years, one of the questions asked in this factor, “This organisation does not do enough to protect the planet”, has seen a significant rise in prominence – something that can be attributed to the ‘Blue Planet’ effect – namely the rise in public awareness of the damage being done to the world around us.

This initial catalyst, followed by the COP26 environment summit in November 2021, and the Earthshot Prize designed to incentivise change to protect the planet over the next 10 years, has only served to raise the value that individuals place on organisations that truly care about lessening the impact of climate change.

But just how does an organisation turn commitment into action and demonstrate to its employees that it is committed to doing the right thing? And how can having a clear environmental plan help bolster both engagement, and business?

“Very aware of climate change”

For Phil Steele, Future Technologies Evangelist at Octopus Energy, a commitment to being ‘green’ is not only at the heart of the organisation – thanks to its aim to make energy better and drive a greener, fairer energy revolution – but embedded throughout. This, he says, helps not only engage its people with the products they are selling, but also helps attract and retain new customers.

“At Octopus, we’re all very aware of climate change and we want to do our bit. And of course, where we’re a green energy supplier, dealing in 100% renewable energy, it’s important to us,” he explained.

“Everything we do, whether it’s electric cars, heat pumps, or investment in renewable regeneration, it’s embedded in our organisation that we are creating technology that drives down prices and engages the consumer in renewable energy – and we see that in the number of customers that have switched to us recently.”

“Consumer demand is significant”

Engaging the consumer is also a priority for Simon Mellin, Founder and CEO of Modern Milkman, whose inspiration for stating the business came from the public reaction to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series of television programmes.

Thanks to a background in food and farming, Mellin recognised that most single-use plastics were concentrated in the food supply chain and wanted to find a solution that moved away from a ‘take, make, dispose’ model to one that focused more on return and re-use.

Once he’d had his ‘lightbulb moment’ for the new business, it wasn’t difficult for him to attract interest from consumers keen to act with their feet, yet he knew he had to make it easy for people to move away from the norm.

“Consumer demand is significant. I think everybody really cares about environmental sustainability, but it’s a big challenge for people to make a switch. It’s not an easy thing to change – and, as a business, we’ve got to make it simple for consumers to make that switch,” he explained.

“We have to look in the mirror”

For Rob Boughton, CEO of property developer, Thakeham Group, pioneering sustainability is something he admits is not normally associated with the industry.

However, he said a realisation that his organisation could be the change that not only breaks the mould for the sector, but inspires others too, was the reason for “shaking up” its approach to the environment.

“We've made a commitment that every home we deliver by 2025 will be net zero in lifetime use, every home will be carbon neutral in production, and we as a business will be zero carbon as well,” he explained.

“Further to that, looking at the environment and the spaces we’re creating, we’re embracing biodiversity net gain. This means we will leave each development more biodiverse when we finish, with a better footprint on the planet, by 20% above where we started. I think that’s a real difference from the norm, and we want to push the industry around us to do the same.”

Asked about the inspiration to do things differently, Boughton said it was the exposure of the next generation to the issues facing the planet, as well as demand for change from employees, that forced the organisation to ask itself where it could act.

“I guess for me it was my kids. They are exposed to it [climate change] through education at school and they would come home and ask, ‘what are we doing?’”, he explained. “At that point I think we have to look in the mirror and work out what it is we can do and how we can all make changes".

“For our employees – the culture changed – and people wanted to know more about the action we were taking for the environment. We embraced the WWF’s ‘carbon calculator’, as well as surveying our staff to understand what it is they want to do.”

As a result of the survey, Thakeham discovered 65% of employees wanted electric cars, so an incentive was put in place to support employees taking advantage of Government grants by installing charging points at their homes. The number of charging points at the firm’s offices has doubled, and they’ve even been installed on development sites.

It’s initiatives such as this, said Boughton, that helps all the team embrace change on their journey to becoming more environmentally sustainable, something he said is “really exciting”.

“How do we make an impact?”

Someone else looking to make a difference within his industry, Joe Buzzard, SEO Content Director at RocketMill, said it was important for the digital marketing agency to firstly figure out how it could make an impact on the environment.

“As an agency, we naturally can’t do some of the things that other businesses can – the likes of renewable energy production or reducing packaging waste - so we needed to understand what we are able to do. For us, it’s about making little improvements to our day-to-day activities – as employees and as a company.”

As a result, RocketMill’s employees set up a ‘Planet First’ initiative, highlighting their commitment to reducing the organisation's environmental impact and improving environmental performance. This, said Buzzard, not only helps it as a business, but also opens up discussions with its clients to find out how they are trying to improve their environmental credentials.

“Just having those conversations and constantly talking about what we are doing – and can do – is really important,” he added.

“This is the challenge of our time”

Joining the panel via Zoom, Thomas Ball, Head of Business Advocacy at WWF, shared his insights on the latest research from the organisation underlining the urgency with which the climate crisis must be treated.

When asked what his advice would be to organisations looking to increase their environmental commitments and put action into place, he said that time is of the essence.

“This is the challenge of our time. Being able to make these difficult decisions now and make change will see us reap benefits in the future – but transition needs to happen more rapidly,” he explained.

“For businesses that are worrying about the cost benefit, or the challenges of making those difficult decisions, I would really encourage them to look hard at what the costs will be in the future if they don't make those decisions now. And of course, the benefits are for all of us, not just for the business, but also for the future of our natural world, our families, and our children".

“We know the employees want it; we know the public wants it. So, leaders need to step up and deliver on their commitments and targets.”

To enjoy this session in full, see the full recording here.

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