Marks & Spencer recently received the accolade of being the first UK retailer of its size to achieve full carbon-neutral status. Five years on from the launch of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project, Plan A, the company has accomplished the bulk of its original 180 aims and commitments, enabling the firm to achieve its environmentally friendly status. Since then, many other businesses have looked at the value of carbon neutrality to decide whether they should follow suit, but is this strategy right for all businesses and what does it mean exactly?
Why go green?
More cynical observers will note that the commitment to carbon neutrality is often pursued for marketing and PR gains. Customers increasingly value environmentally friendly business practices. The drivers for pursuing such a strategy are therefore compelling. Whether a carbon-neutral status is pursued for moral or commercial reasons, the outcome is always positive for business, customers and the environment. It also signals that the business operates according to modern business principles and understands its position within the wider world.
What does it involve?
Carbon neutrality can be achieved in a number of ways, because every business will take a different approach to pursuing a green agenda; for example, airlines ‘buy back’ carbon miles by supporting tree plantation projects, although this can be viewed in a mixed way by eco-conscious customers, who might prefer to see fewer planes than more saplings. Logistics firms can reduce their carbon footprint by organising deliveries more intelligently and perhaps by teaming up with other suppliers to ensure that lorries are full, thereby minimising road trips. This can also reduce fuel bills.
Businesses can implement their own carbon neutrality schemes using different approaches. Striving to go green is also a great staff engagement tool; for example, a company might launch a staff ‘bike to work’ scheme with bike vouchers given to those who participate. Equally, size doesn’t matter when it comes to carbon neutral schemes, as even a sole trader can make a difference by switching to green utility tariffs.
Other strategies to employ, depending on business size, include better waste management and recycling, buying Fair Trade products, sourcing sustainable wood products, utilising green energy tariffs, partnering with local charities on environmental projects and switching off lights in unoccupied rooms.
Keen to get started?
There are many small not-for-profit consultancies that will work with businesses to help them achieve carbon-neutral status. Environmental credentials and accreditations can be gained along the way, which show customers and stakeholders the positive role that the company is playing within the community.
Many businesses actually find that they save money while reducing their carbon footprint, which is a huge benefit for those looking to operate more efficiently in the current economy. This is largely because a cornerstone of carbon neutrality is the minimisation of waste. This tends to result in a preservation of resources, which in turns leads to reduced costs and a better, healthier business all round.