Magazine article Management Today

Greening Your Footprint

Magazine article Management Today

Greening Your Footprint

Article excerpt

Having committed the UK to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, the Government is applying a carrot-and-stick scheme to big corporate energy users that rewards frugality and punishes profligacy In time, this will encompass all businesses. But there's opportunity here too, as well as obligation. Ian Wylie explains.

To the surprise and consternation of the few remaining climate-change Jonahs out there, the demands of weathering the recession haven't led to businesses abandoning the green agenda in a desperate bid to survive. Rather the opposite, in fact: with the realisation that green initiatives can be as good for your bank balance as they are for the planet, going carbon-neutral has gone mainstream. Thanks to the recession, many firms are only too eager to make cost-savings - all in the name of the environment.

Take the example of print and packaging firm Roberts Mart. Its warehouse in Cross Green, Leeds, is only five years old, but for reasons that sales director Ben Roberts has never been able to fathom, it experiences power cuts with irritating regularity. 'It might last a second, or an hour, but, either way, we were finding that only 70% of the lights would relight. Each time, we'd have to move machinery to bring in a cherrypicker just so we could replace bulbs.'

So the existing lighting system - intended to run 24/7 - has had to go, replaced with a pounds 100,000 energy-efficient one that's designed to switch on and off, and paid for with an interest-free loan from the government-funded Carbon Trust. Roberts reckons his company will save pounds 3,000 a month on its electricity bill, so within three years the new lighting system will have paid for itself, just as the loan expires. The firm has also used a Carbon Trust loan to buy pounds 200,000 worth of drying equipment that reduces its consumption of gas required to heat its printing inks. It will save the company pounds 6,500 a month - another three-year payback - and reduce its CO2 emissions by 900 tonnes.

Roberts Mart, a 150-year-old family firm now in the hands of the sixth generation, hasn't been taken over by sandal-wearing hairshirts. It operates in an extremely competitive sector, trying to please supermarkets, food and drink manufacturers and pharma companies. 'We're heavy energy users - that's just the nature of what we do - and we're here to make money, so most of these things we've done are purely to cut costs,' admits Roberts. 'If we can reduce our carbon footprint at the same time - well, that's just an added plus.'

Whether we're mid- or post-recession, many businesses still find themselves in survival mode, interested more in chasing debtors and delaying creditors than saving the planet. But 'carbon footprints' are no longer dirty words at companies eager to improve their bottom line, and climate change continues to climb up the business agenda.

Last year's Climate Change Act, which aims to lower UK carbon emissions by up to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, challenges firms across the UK to change the way they use energy and looks to business to make much of those savings. Business activities account for roughly half of all emissions in the UK. Scotland's target is even tougher: 42% by 2020.

The UK government was the first in the world to introduce legally binding long-term targets on climate change, but next month the delegates from 192 countries meeting in Copenhagen are expected to hammer out a global agreement on emissions reduction - and perhaps arrive at a global price for carbon. Some business interests in the US and EU will lobby hard to keep targets low or vague. But Shell, BP, EON, EDF, Coca-Cola, eBay, Starbucks and Virgin are among big-name brands persuaded by the Prince of Wales to sign a declaration calling on world leaders to commit to cutting emissions worldwide by at least 50% by 2050.

Climate-change experts say businesses should aim for a minimum 4% annual reduction if they're to meet the UK's ambitious targets. …

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