The need for businesses to implement effective sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs has never been greater. The booming demand – driven not only by emissions regulations but also by increasingly environmentally aware and ethically motivated customers and investors – means the concept is no longer the prevail of PR conscious firms looking for that coveted green stamp of approval.
But the benefits of driving CSR and improving sustainability practices go far beyond regulation and client perceptions. Many big businesses have started to see beyond the box-ticking headaches of sustainability compliance, and are using sustainability data-gathering to add value to their enterprises and create efficiencies with trackable ROI.
In the reams of raw sustainability data, and the challenges it presents, these businesses are seeing opportunities to develop more streamlined, efficient processes, save on materials and transport costs, boost customer relations and even drive new product development, all of which are driving increased profitability.
You might stop short of setting your sights on the Global 100 most sustainable corporations in the world but, ultimately, if your business rivals are willing to rise to these challenges, getting to grips with your own data will prove essential if you are to maintain your competitive edge.
Effective data analysis is key to developing a working sustainability program, but it’s only half the battle. Before you can begin to harness the power of an ocean of information, you need to learn how to gather it.
There is no single one-size-fits-all solution to big data gathering and in large corporations it can prove a bewilderingly big challenge. In addition, sustainability is not always straightforward to measure; requiring complex calculations to wrestle meaningful information from a disparate range of inputs and outputs.
Consider what data you need to collect, how often and in what format, then think about who needs to see this information, and how to present it in a manner that is meaningful.
Breaking down your processes into smaller parts can make measurements more manageable. For example, measure energy or raw material use over a single production run then look at how reassigning your production resources and equipment might save you money. On a single batch run, the benefits might be small – but over a year and across multiple sites, the savings will soon mount up.
It’s also essential to evaluate your data resources from existing business systems, and examine how they can be integrated in your sustainability program. The chances are, a lot of the data you need to implement is already being collated for other uses. In an ideal world, it would stream seamlessly from departments and process into your sustainability management system, but the reality is a lot more complex. Sustainability software packages can go a long way in helping to automate the process and produce regular reports, but make sure you select one that is versatile and scalable.
Finally, think of ways to engage staff members in data gathering and communicate how the figures relate to their role and the business’s performance as a whole. Encouraging competition on sustainability key performance indicators within your organisation is one way to do this. Comparing the figures to industry standards as well as your own sustainability goals will also create a strong sense of ownership and pride in what your business is doing. Your staff are important stakeholders in your sustainability, so don’t disregard them in favour of business partners and customers.
To become an organisation which people are proud to work for and buy from means embedding sustainability in your organisation from the ground up, and then communicating your sustainability successes to every stakeholder possible in a way that addresses the environmental and social issues that matter to them.
As a starting point, do some research and work out what successful measures your business peers have implemented to operate sustainably. Doing so will help you avoid any future pitfalls and identify best practices.
Pick something that is easy to do, such as setting predefined limits for raw material and energy use, benchmarking against industry standards or your own ideals. You can track performance against these profiles as you tweak your production strategies, adapting existing procedures to save money and resources, and build on this new information by feeding it into the development of new products.
Above all, look for initiatives which are visible to your workforce and to your customers, or which show tangible results that you can easily communicate. Working towards certification from an organisation like the Carbon Trust would be one example. Check out their suite of downloadable tools to help you kick start your sustainability drive.
About the Author: Joe Jones is a sustainability expert at SustainIt Solutions, and has many years of experience talking about data driven systems and strategies to drive cultural change and engagement throughout the corporate world. SustainIt are a global sustainability, EHS and risk data consultancy based in Bristol and providers of the free and independent sustainability software comparison service, GoMarketWise. You can connect with SustainIt on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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