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Sustainability in the South West

The effect of coronavirus on sustainability practices in the South West.

The Covid 19 pandemic this year has been an unexpected shock to us on an individual, local, national and global level causing sudden and significant changes to the way we live and work. We will be continuing to adapt as we return to work, finding new ways of going about business to limit the risk of further spread of the disease and protect colleagues and clients.

It is possible that new ways of working will be with us to stay, at the very least until the risk of this virus is past, and some may stick for good, so future proofing is important. We are committed, as a country, to having “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 under the Paris Agreement 2015 – a global, legally binding agreement between 195 countries aimed at avoiding irreversible and dangerous changes to our climate. 

The cost of bringing the UK to a net zero position is unlikely to be fully met by government ‘savings’ in other areas, particularly with the prospect of a global recession as the sting in the Covid 19 tail so businesses and consumers are likely to share the bill. Factoring this into current decision making will help to avoid any future costs of redesigning and reimplementing systems or incurring additional future spend.

Take travel and transportation in the post Covid-19 world as an example. A quarter of UK household emissions are produced from cars, vans and HGVs, of which a significant proportion is the daily commute to work and business travel, so it is inevitable that travel habits will need to change to meet the targets. At the time of writing the government is actively discouraging the use of public transport as a way of maintaining social distancing. In the short term this may mean that individual car journeys may increase, but this isn’t sustainable in the long term, given our 2050 commitments. So businesses that are changing working practices as a result of Covid-19 should also ensure that the change has the dual benefit of helping employees work and travel safely ad well as contributing to a reduction in your organisation’s carbon footprint. Doing this will help to avoid the pain and cost of future compulsory or legislative changes as the years tick by towards 2050. Some businesses in the South West are early adopters and have already implemented initiatives to change business travel behaviours as part of a wider strategic plan on emissions reduction. For others, the changes brought about by Covid-19 will be a springboard to begin developing that plan and capitalise on changes already made.

Spotlight on: Cornwall Council

The Council are accelerating their climate action plan as part of their Covid-19 recovery process. The Council reports that Covid-19 has caused a “transition to new ways of working in a manner unimaginable before the pandemic” and returning to business as usual would be a missed opportunity. The Council are aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. The Council calculated a saving of 42,000 miles a day in commuting travel for its workforce during the Covid 19 lockdown.

No matter where you already are in that transition here are some practical examples of steps that businesses across the South West are taking and potential KPIs for incorporating these changes into a longer term route map to reduce organisational emissions: 

Create and commit to a new travel plan:

  • First set aims and measures for monitoring progress – the Carbon Trust’s publication “Practical steps for reporting on greenhouse gas emissions” is a useful reference document.
  • Identify budgetary requirements – some changes will result in cost savings which can be used to invest in other changes.
  • Include and motivate your employees - consider offering rewards to employees who come up with innovative ideas.
  • Publicise your intensions and report on progress – increasingly businesses want to work with others that have green credentials. Employees are more likely to join and stay with organisations that are striving to do the right thing by their people and communities.

Reduce unnecessary journeys:

  • Make video calling the default option between sites – Video and teleconferencing have rapidly replaced face to face meetings during lockdown. This has resulted in a mass technological up-skilling of staff and trials of new systems and technology. The amount of working time saved from not travelling between meetings is an added benefit.
  • Implement flexible or home working on a more permanent basis – an average journey to work in the UK is 11 miles. A full time employee working from home two days a week instead of driving a car would save 0.8 tonnes in carbon emissions per year, the equivalent to 32 return train journeys or boiling a kettle 54,000 times. A reduction in office space can cut overhead costs as an added benefit.

Measuring progress

 Obtain software usage reports to report on:

  • Total number of virtual meetings per month
  • Number of participants

Combine with internal data on locations and distances to estimate:

  • Number of working hours saved travelling to meetings

Use HR data to report on:

  • %/number of employees with flexible working agreements
  • % of workforce home working per day

Combine with internal or national data on commuting distance to estimate:

  • Number of miles saved per month/quarter/year
  • Total CO2 saved per month/quarter/year

Encourage alternatives to vehicles:

  • Sign up to the Government’s Cycle To Work scheme – enabling employees to get a new bike and accessories tax free. If you’re already signed up – re-promote it to staff to capture new joiners who may have missed any previous publicity.
  • Provide facilities for cyclists and those travelling on foot – with more of the workforce working from home, invest in converting excess space into facilities for those who are office based: a safe place for bike storage during the day, lockers to stow away helmets, bags and trainers, changing facilities and showers. Work with landlords to get facilities installed.

Incentivise responsible travel:

  • Employee mileage allowance payment rates do little to incentivise non-car travel, with the car mileage allowance payment of 45p being rather more valuable than the 20p per mile when employees use their own bike for business journeys, even in situations when bike journeys could be a viable replacement. However, the bike allowance does exist - promote this to employees and ensure that it is incorporated into expense claim forms and travel policies.
  • Implement a payment scheme to reward walking and cycling to work.
  • Provide electric pool vehicles for use by employees who need a vehicle for work during the day to enable them to travel to work in a low carbon way.

Measuring progress

 Use travel reports and HR data to report on: 

  • %/number of workforce take up
  • Number of miles saved per month/quarter/year
  • Total CO2 saved per month/quarter/year

Spotlight on: City Science

City Science is a young innovative tech company in Exeter, they have a Green Travel Plan that financially incentivises employees to use ‘Active Travel’ (walking or cycling) and public transport as an alternative to private vehicles for commuting. The incentives have been taken up by 54% of theworkforce.

If you have any examples that you’d like to share, please get in touch (via trudi.coles@icaew.com). Collaboration as a business community will better enable us to navigate and overcome the challenges of Covid-19 and Paris Agreement targets successfully.