Many large corporations’ environmental strategies focus on net zero ambitions. In 2019, 500 major companies had made a net zero pledge; by late 2021 this had increased to 1,500, with combined revenues of over £9 trillion. Climate Impact Partners report that 38% of Fortune 500 companies have already delivered a significant climate milestone or have committed to do so by 2030. 

It’s also encouraging to see the measures governments are putting in place, the levels of reporting organisations are now required to submit to regulators and the trend toward aligning executives’ salaries to net zero objectives, especially in organisations in “hard-to-decarbonise” sectors such as oil and gas, mining and transport, since just 100 organisations are responsible for 71% of global emissions. But it is mainly through the power of people, and changing how we approach net zero as a society, that we can truly force change by those organisations.

The challenges that many firms will find most difficult to address lie in monitoring and managing the reduction of emissions within their supply chains. Other measures many are already implementing, over which they have greater and more direct control, include reducing business travel, transitioning fleet vehicles to lower emission vehicles, encouraging employees to adopt more environmentally sustainable working practices and supporting hybrid and home working initiatives.

Beyond the big corporate picture

But beyond the corporate and management level, how do you embed net zero goals as an organisation? It's all very well to talk about what you do as an organisation at a high level, but this ignores the impact that individuals or colleagues can make on a day-to-day basis. Organisational-level issues such as low-energy light bulbs, renewable energy, hybrid working, business travel, etc, are decisions made above the ‘pay-grade’ of most individuals.

The strength of an organisation is its people. To really have a positive impact, net zero ambitions need to be embedded from the ground up as well as from the top down. You need to create a culture in which everybody is accountable for taking action that supports decarbonisation and aims to reverse climate change. Encourage everyone to ask themselves, “What can I do as an individual to match the accountability of the organisation that I work for? What contribution can I make – personally or as part of my community?”

Incremental changes everyone can make

Even within the increasing price of the fuel and the cost-of-living crisis, we can each make changes to reduce our own carbon footprints. Sometimes it just means thinking slightly differently, like looking at how we travel – using public transport or electric vehicles, for example – or what we purchase and when – buying seasonal, local produce rather than imported goods. 

So often it’s just language that holds us back. The stigma around charity shops vanishes as soon as you start to think of their wares as ‘vintage’. It’s still second-hand clothing, but vintage implies something precious and unique –- and supporting these businesses not only supports vital charitable work; it also reduces the amount of clothing going to landfill as well as our reliance on ‘fast fashion’.

A return to traditional activities

There are also opportunities to reduce carbon emissions in a return to traditional activities, like growing our own food. Not everyone has room for a vegetable patch, but small changes add up to big differences. The increasing demand for allotments and ingenious use of small spaces – like creating an edible roof garden on a houseboat – indicate that more and more people are keen to ‘grow their own’ to supplement what they buy. 

For those without access to private outdoor space, volunteering in a community garden is both therapeutic and rewarding, with the food grown being distributed between volunteers and the wider community. This has the added benefit of supporting people in communities where fresh food is less readily available or there is a cost-of-living crisis. Businesses as well as individuals should support initiatives in those communities, from planting trees to offset carbon emissions and promote biodiversity, to engaging in community outreach programmes. 

In addition to more sustainable commuting, the school run could do with a shake-up. Where it is safe to do so, children can walk or cycle to school; in other areas, setting up a car pool not only reduces the carbon impact per child, it makes a huge difference to the air quality around schools as well. 

Strategies organisations can implement

While linking exco remuneration to decarbonisation objectives is a good idea, it incentivises only senior management. Incoming cohorts of young professionals – Millennials and Gen Z – cite climate action as a top concern, and they are flocking to join companies with reliable, reputable green credentials. You can support and empower your people throughout the organisation to join the effort in a number of ways. 

Equip employees to reduce their own carbon footprint

The desire to take action is already there: according to The Carbon Commitment Report, “57% of employees say their organisation is not doing enough to involve them in cutting their carbon emissions.” This willingness, however, is thwarted when they feel excluded by “the cost, reliability of information or accessibility of the solutions”.

Empower your people to take action – normalising climate action goes beyond providing recycling bins and motivational posters. Give them the tools, education and solutions they need to reduce their carbon footprint. Promote and support ways to make their homes more energy efficient through insulation, renewable energy options and tariffs, low-energy lightbulbs and forming empowered communities.

Reward your people for taking action

Not enough companies offer benefits and incentives for making responsible choices. Discounts on sustainable travel, loans or subsidies for purchasing bicycles or electric vehicles (as well as on-site facilities for parking and charging) present great opportunities to help employees make a difference.

Encourage low-carbon holidays or offer employees a green pension scheme to support a better future. Sustainable rewards help to embed a sustainable culture – emphasising people’s contributions through bonuses, recognition or paid days off not only incentivises people to do better, it also reinforces the message throughout your organisation that sustainability is important. 

Encourage knowledge-sharing

Internal social media channels can bring people together and engage them, enabling special interest groups to form and grow organically. Communities of people with shared interests flourish in these forums – those interested in the environment, for example, ask questions around sustainable food options and gardening. People with no previous experience seek advice on growing seasonal vegetables, and old hands share their expertise and advice on the right plants to grow, when to plant them, what will give the best yield etc.

The collective knowledge base represented by the individuals who make up a thousands-strong organisation can’t be overstated. When colleagues engage, a multitude of positive, innovative ideas follow. To foster this kind of thinking, organisations should provide a forum in which people can share their thoughts and experiences. 

When people are encouraged to describe behaviour changes they’re making, or planning to make, towards combating climate change, it inspires others. As this knowledge spreads, these ideas take root and the culture evolves into one in which people understand their own accountability and adopt practical examples for making a real change.

See how you can motivate your customers in the race to net zero

Written by

Hannah Winter

Hannah Winter

Head of Responsible Business for Capita Experience

Hannah is a passionate advocate of Responsible Business. With experience across multiple sectors, she is using that knowledge to bring to life Responsible Business in Capita. After spending many years focussed on the social strand of ESG in areas such as early careers and supporting people some distance from employment, Hannah moved into Responsible Business. She recognises the environmental challenges that organisations face today and a need for a people centric approach.

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