Few outright deniers remain when it comes to man-made climate change and the need to address it by reducing the carbon emissions that cause the greenhouse effect. But how should business leaders view the subject? Is it like charitable giving, where those with morals are expected to contribute and where those that are less scrupulous will save money and gain an unambiguous advantage? WCS doesn’t think so, and suggests why here.
A reminder of the issue
The Paris Agreement set ambitious goals for the world to cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 – only 7 years away. Just 20 years after that, we are to reach net zero, meaning carbon emissions are near to zero, with residual emissions all offset. Governments, including in the UK, have also set demanding domestic targets for 2030 and 2050.
Solutions – vehicle fleets as a case study
To make those targets reality, authorities subsidise carbon-helpful actions, and penalise or forbid problematic ones. Richard Williams, a management and business development consultant who advises WCS and other companies, says: “Obviously, decisions should be analysed in terms of lifetime implications not just immediate ones. As an example, look at how much less an electric vehicle fleet will cost to operate per year, and research the grants that will subsidise your charging infrastructure. The grant to help people switch to electric vehicles has been applied to more than 500,000 vehicles in total, amounting to an overall contribution of around £1.4 billion.”
It’s also the case that government tends to close such subsidy schemes when technological change means they’re no longer needed. Electric vehicles are competitive or cheaper now, and will continue to outpace older solutions regardless of government stance, as the technologies mature.
More reasons for companies to engage with net zero
In fact, there are many benefits to taking the issue seriously, aside from the clear moral imperative:
- Recruitment and retention – one thing your organisation has in common with every other is that your future is about your younger staff, who especially prioritise the net zero issue
- Reputation – customers and clients in the private sector increasingly consider your sustainability credentials, while public sector tendering already formally assesses these
- Supply chains – as companies to whom you will tender are more frequently required to consider their scope 3 emissions, i.e. emissions generated by one’s supply chain
- Investment – those from whom you seek capital are likely to check sustainability credentials
- Cost – who doesn’t want to pay less for energy bills or, as discussed, their fleet?
- Obligation – if government is going to mandate more and more, and it is, why not plan now?
“One piece of advice I’d give to any company”, continues Richard, “is to think about ways of doing things that are going to become standard. Every challenge is an opportunity; someone somewhere is going to deliver everyone the new solution. If you can present yourself as the specialist in that area, that’s a great position to be in.”
WCS and SustainableFuture
“In the early days of WCS, most of our focus was on the rail sector. Inevitably we were involved in rail electrification projects”, explains Managing Director Asa Whitfield. “We quickly realised the value of it, because clearly it was going to grow, as well as being something you could take pride in being part of. The UK expects to phase out all diesel trains by 2040, so who wouldn’t want to be the civils partner of choice for electrifying rail? But then you realise that not all the small branch lines are going to be electrified; they’re going to have to look at solutions like BEMU – battery operated vehicles – so it makes sense to consciously focus your recruitment and training to gain expertise there, because, again, it will grow.”
Rail electrification projects were the trigger for the thinking, but the strategy WCS outlined for its future, and codenamed SustainableFuture, was to identify and target those areas of civil engineering that were likely to grow in supporting the UK’s sustainability agenda. The power and energy sector was an obvious choice and, as a result, WCS is currently working on a range of sustainable energy projects including the largest offshore wind farm in the world.
“If you look at things on a national level, developed countries like the UK have accepted that they have to work harder at the solutions to climate change, at first anyway, than developing countries,” continues Asa, “and that’s fair. We’ve already reaped the benefits of industrialisation, and generated the associated environmental costs. But there’s advantage in being the forerunner in solving these problems. Huge economies like China and India are going to go through the same process, and if the UK has become a specialist in delivering the solutions, more so even than most developed countries, then they may turn to us for help. Similarly on the corporate level, you want to be on the forefront, anticipating tomorrow’s needs.”
WCS holds ISO 14001 accreditation that helps us formally manage our environmental responsibilities. But our commitment to net zero runs much deeper; we’ve written repeatedly on the topic of sustainability and we consider it a specialisation. Perhaps the sector you work in and the nature of your organisation aligns with a more active role, such as our SustainableFuture, and perhaps not. Either way, we know that positive engagement with net zero brings benefits that far outweigh the costs.
Contact us here at any time.