Jemma Collins speaks with Jill Poet, whose network encourages small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to act more responsibly and ethically – simply because it is a “good way to do business”.
Jill Poet is the managing director of the Organisation for Responsible Businesses (ORB), which she set up in 2009. She wants to leave a legacy as evidenced by the company’s mission statement, “Changing the world – one small business at a time.”
At a basic level, ORB is a business membership for ethical small businesses. It aims to support and promote members and provides them with information and advice around the areas of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability. At a higher level there is an auditable certification, the Responsible Business Standard, designed specifically for small businesses.
SMEs are defined as any business with less than 250 employees and they play a huge part in the business sector, with recent government statistics showing they make up 99% of businesses in the UK. SMEs employ more than 14 million people and are estimated to make up nearly 50% of the UK economy, so the potential for growth and change in this sector is huge.
Research in January this year found that for a quarter of SMEs sustainability is among their top three priorities.
However, as shown by the research, small businesses often don’t include the wider concepts of CSR within their approach to sustainability. Poet believes there are millions of SMEs that could be encouraged to do more, which in turn would create positive change both for business and society.
“Considering people and the environment is just a good way to do business. Our research showed there was a huge gap in the marketplace. That’s why we decided to launch ORB; to drive that agenda forward for the small business marketplace,” Poet explains.
Poet’s background as a management accountant, working on a very hands-on basis with SMEs, was more involved with the financials of the business world. But various projects of her own created a greater awareness of sustainability on a broad, holistic level and seeing the gap in the market place, she was determined to show small businesses how important it is to embrace the wider sustainability agenda.
She adds, “If you want a profitable, sustainable business your reputation is key. Adopting an ethical approach to how you run your business is absolutely essential.”
Membership of ORB is for businesses with the right mindset – they don’t have to be perfect, but Poet says they just need to want to make a difference and be keen to make a positive step in the right direction.
“If a small business owner does care about people and the environment, as a lot of them do, but doesn’t know where to start, or feels they haven’t got the money or the time, we welcome them to come on board,” she says.
“If they’ve got the right mindset then we can nurture them and give them a bit of information and encourage them to improve.”
Potential members need to apply for membership by completing an online questionnaire. They receive an immediate detailed response and if they have attained the appropriate score they will be invited to join the organisation, use the Responsible Business Member logo and have an entry in the Responsible Business Directory.
Poet urges businesses to “be part of the movement”. She adds, “It shows that being a responsible business is important to you but actually you’ll get commercial benefits from membership as well because a lot of our members are on page one of Google.”
If businesses want something more substantial, they can take the separate auditable certification, the Responsible Business Standard. Businesses need to stay ahead of the curve and ensure they can demonstrate their ethical and responsible actions. Whoever their customer is, this can provide competitive advantage and could even help them win tenders for public or private sector contracts.
So what does the future hold for ORB?
“We’ll continue to show small businesses that considering people and considering the environment is just good business. There’s nothing soft and fluffy about it; it’s the only way forward. Sustainability starts with sustaining families, communities, sustaining businesses and this world for the future.”
Poet thinks the sustainability market will continue to grow, with a gradual move away from the old way of doing things. Customers are more aware than ever of environmental and ethical issues and this influences their decision making process.
She concludes, “You can’t just think about the bottom line without considering people, without considering the environment. People want to buy from ethical companies that support the local community.
“It’s often not that SMEs are not interested it’s just that it’s not their top priority. So we need to show them that by prioritising those things more it will actually help their business be more profitable, reduce overheads, increase their competitive advantage. All those things that will help their business.
“It is exciting, there’s a long, long way to go, but yes we’ll get there. We’re determined to leave a legacy.”
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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