In a recent article by the Project Management Institute’s Ashwini Bakshi, the managing director made a resonant point that rings true with us as a sustainable company…
Do British businesses have the skills, awareness and ambition to carry their company forward into a net zero economy?
At last year’s COP 26 (the UN climate change conference), UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans for companies to submit carbon footprint data. This is an encouraging step forward, and a step towards net zero for businesses, but it’s not perfect.
Primarily, it is not mandatory to submit emissions reports, and we also fear that the misuse or misunderstanding of offsetting could skew figures and give an inaccurate picture of how things are looking on a more local level.
Where Ashwini’s article really hits home is his concern around the inevitable lack of responsibility within companies. After all, net zero is a relatively new concern, regrettably so. We would have liked to have seen conversations around carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions finding their way into boardrooms and business breakfasts far sooner than 2022.
In fact, sustainability and net zero-thinking is an entirely new skillset and one that workforces perhaps won’t come to terms with for some time. We’re not just talking about switching your lights off when you’re not in a meeting room, or changing bottled water for cans. It’s a culture shift and one that needs to be driven from the top, and all through a business.
Over longer periods of time, we’ve seen the inevitable change of workplaces as products and services evolve too. As the internet has grown, we have swapped phone calls for emails. As software has improved, we’ve seen Figma replacing old-school drawing boards. As banking has evolved, payments can happen in milliseconds, and in many forms too; cash, credit or crypto.
But none of these happened overnight. Evolution, whether cultural or technical, has been a gradual process and moves in tandem with consumer needs.
Wouldn’t it be great if climate action worked like this too?
Sadly, that’s not the case. We find ourselves in a position of urgency. We find ourselves needing to take drastic action or risk making further damage to the world around us. Industrial and commercial sectors are immeasurably more forgiving than the environment.
Is your banking experience hampered by legacy systems? No problem, move to Monzo and experience the relative ease of a neobank. Is your smartphone coming to a halt? No biggie. Grab the latest model and away you go.
When the planet, the environment, our oceans and our wildlife begin to degrade, we don’t have such luxuries. There’s no alternative planet. And here is the crux of the issue: it’s mission critical, and for a mission to be a success, everyone needs to pull together.
We simply can’t rely on our individual actions (bamboo toothbrushes and bags for life are great, but we’re not going to save the world) or industrial actions (there’s never been more choice for vegans, but it still comes at a cost). And then there’s the finger pointing. Why should I walk to work every day when BP continues to destroy habitats in their greed for fossil fuels and profit? Yet we are told by consumer brands that we are the problem, and it’s us who need to change our spending habits.
Truth is, everyone is right. Everyone needs to work together
So let’s bring this back round to the original point before we go entirely off piste. To make a significant change to how business, companies and organisations think about net zero, we must urgently address the shortage of ‘green skills’ in the UK.
This sense of ownership is something that everyone should be thinking about in their workplace. But let’s be clear: it’s not on you as an employee to learn how to save the world overnight. It’s on businesses to invest time, money and expertise into building collective and collaborative skill sets at a cultural level.
How can we get companies talking about net zero?
According to Ashwini, it’s about power skills and a gymnastic approach:
- Understand the problem: Why are we here in the first place? As Simon Sinek has uttered countless times now, ‘start with why’.
- Try a new approach: Don’t apply the same logic that you might use in say, a digital product build, or user testing. This is a very different problem, so it could benefit from a new approach.
- Construct a collective skill set: As we’ve said before, diversity is key. Diverse groups produce better, more balanced and less biased outcomes.
- Soft skills become power skills: Net zero thinking, whilst backed by science, doesn’t require you to be a scientist. Soft skills such as adaptability, innovation and collaboration are now considered ‘power skills’ and should be embraced.
- Become changemakers: You may have heard our rallying cries in our recent writeup of Greentech Festival: be a changemaker. Net zero is certainly daunting, but it’s also an exciting opportunity. Create a space where your teams can feel inspired and driven.
We’d also like to add our own here, which we feel is vitally important:
Be transparent. This works internally and externally. As a leader, be clear on your strategy with your teams, whether immediate or remote. Provide regular updates, milestones, goals and actions that keep the ball rolling.
But just as importantly, use your platform for influence. Whether you have 25 followers, 25,000 or 25 million, sharing your progress and your mindset will inspire others, and help to drive that culture forward, not only in your own business, but others’ too.
I’m sure it’s pretty obvious by now, but this blog is just one way that we use our platform to influence change. We are changemakers.
So what can I do?
It can be difficult to know where to start. If you’re a leader, make a plan and address your team. Look at ESGs that you may be able to join, or perhaps explore bigger, more substantial endeavours such as Scope measurement or becoming a B Corp.
If you’re an employee, then a great start would be to set up a green group within your company. Put the feelers out and try to find others who, like you, want to make a change. If you’re not confident speaking to somebody more senior about this, why not show them this blog?
To wrap-up, project management principles and a structured, progressive approach to net zero targets is, in our mind, the only sensible way for a business of any size. It costs nothing to be a changemaker, but only by building a structured and culture of changemakers can we really start to shake things up.
Who’s with me?