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Over the years I have advised around 400 of the world's largest 2000 companies on a wide range of future trends including sustainable businesss, green tech innovation, reducing emissions and related issues.

As I predicted in my book SustainAgility, we are now seeing a global stampede by multinationals to make their products and services more sustainable.  

* "Life with AI - How to survive and succeed in a super-smart world" - Patrick Dixon's latest book on AI is published in September 2024 by Profile Books.  It contains 38 chapters on the impact of AI across different industries, government and our wider world, including the impact of AI on sustainability and reduction in carbon emissions.

Here are 10 practical steps to deliver this.

Boards are rushing to prove to media, customers, staff and shareholders that they are protecting the environment and reducing carbon emissions.  

But the world of sustainability is confusing, complex and controversial – with battles between different groups of green activists about how best to save our planet.

Despite all this, most global companies are changing faster than government regulation.  

This is nothing new. 

We have seen this many times before, for example in food safety, traceability and labelling, and in drastic reduction of plastic packaging.

And there are many compelling economic arguments for "going green' - not just seeking to increase sales.

Sustainable Business is now a huge industry in its own right

Every large consulting firm now has a rapidly growing Sustainability team, and most large companies now have teams of green tech specialists, to design sustainability strategies, track targets on energy, water use and so on.

Green tech innovation is accelerating rapidly.

Ten years ago, I wrote that that our world already had all the tools needed to tackle climate change effectively and to protect our future world. They just needed to be rolled out on a massive scale.

The truth is that the cost of most green tech innovation is falling rapidly for that reason. For example, solar cell costs fall by 10% or more with every doubling of production, and that’s without any major change in technology or design.  The same for heat pumps.

Ten Steps to Sustainable Business

Here are ten steps that any business can take towards 100% sustainability, with zero carbo emissions.

1. Board commitment

Lead from the front, and start right now. 

If you are the CEO, go public with your commitment to address climate change and other environmental issues in a fuller way – even if you don’t know yet what additional steps you will take.  

This is all about tone, integrity, passion, vision and purpose.  What you want to be famous for.

Don’t be embarrassed or shy about this.  

Too many CEOs fear that they will be criticized if they make vague statements. Yet they may be perfectly happy to make vague statements about other things – for example: “We see significant opportunities to increase market share in South East Asia over the next five years.”

So in the same spirit it is perfectly reasonable to say something along the lines of:

"We recognise major steps need to be taken in our industry to address the climate change emergency, and this is a very important part of our five year strategy."

Just be honest, open, transparent, clear.  If climate change keeps you awake at night, say so.  

If your children keep challenging you about what the company is doing in this area, say so.

If you think it will be a real challenge to create major change in your industry, in responding to the climate emergency, say so.  

If you find yourself in board debates on what steps to take without a clear way forward yet, then say so.  The key message is this:

"We are on a journey to become more sustainable as a business.  We have far to go, one step at a time, but our ambition and commitment to make a difference in this area is huge."

2. Go Carbon Neutral

This is a practical step you can take immediately.

Going Carbon Neutral can be a practical and tangible first step toward going Carbon Zero.

Offsetting is only a small part of the answer to becoming more sustainable as a company, but offsetting relatively low cost, while taking steps at the same time to review all operations with the aim of reducing emissions.

For example, the additional cost of offsetting a long haul flight is negligible compared to the total ticket price, taxis too and from airport, hotel bill and so on.

Offsetting without changing anything else is of course irresponsible since it does not really change company activity, and the concern is that it can just be a lazy excuse to carry on as before.

That is why some green activists hate offsetting, fearing that companies will stop there.  But offsetting is a vital first step to being sustainable, has positive outcomes, and should not be overlooked.

Offsetting usually means investing in new permanent woodland or forests, or providing finance for those in emerging nations to reduce their own carbon eg installing solar power for a remote village in Kenya, so they don’t need to use a diesel generator.  

It’s vital to use a reputable offsetting organisation who is properly audited and able to prove additionality – that funds used really are creating new carbon projects, which would not otherwise have come into being.

Going Carbon Neutral by offsetting means that the business has to start measuring emissions. This is really important, even at the basic level of counting up the number of flights that team members take each month.  

You will see more headlines about offsetting fraud, so take great care in who you partner with.

Once you have all your carbon calculations worked out, which you have to do in offsetting, it helps focus corporate attention on the size of what needs to be done.

3. Get independent sustainability advice

Sustainability is a specialist area open to all kinds of false claims being made, which can be very damaging to reputation of any company.

You must be able to validate any sustainability statistics you give about progress made to help create a better future for our planet.

And you also need to be able to justify the path you are navigating towards sustainability.  

There are many debates to be had about what is "right" and "wrong" regarding the environment - so best to refer to your "Expert Advisors".

In every industry there are choices to be made.  For example, with a limited budget, what’s more important in the next 6 months?  A major investment to clean up waste water from your factory, or installing heat pumps and solar panels to reduce future carbon emissions?

4. Set specific KPIs re sustainability / environment – Key Performance Indicators

Sustainability KPIs are vital, and should be part of the dashboard by which you run the business, against which you track progress in sustainable business each week or month.  

You will need several KPIs for Sustainability – for example tons of carbon emissions saved per year, or cubic metres of water saved, or tons of materials reduced and so on, compared to a baseline.

You can create Bonusable Objectives linked to these KPIs – financial incentives in each team for hitting their own Sustainability KPIs.

5. Sustainability Awards

Create a monthly award scheme to recognize people who have made outstanding contributions to your company’s sustainability agenda, through great ideas, smart innovations etc.

The whole idea is to generate ongoing interest, to show the entire company is mobilizing to be more sustainable, and celebrate innovation.

6. Carbon Offsets for Staff

Encourage all your staff to do their own personal carbon calculations and to offset all their personal emissions each year through your own company – perhaps even offsetting some previous years.  

Once again this is not THE answer, but at the very least it creates awareness of what their personal carbon footprints are, and also generates additional cash for tree planting and other offset activities, which is good for the environment.  

Your own company will be able to negotiate much better prices for bulk planting of new forests, than individual staff.

What is more, it’s a great statistic on your annual report – you may be able to double the hectares of new woodland each year linked to your company.

7. Loans for electric vehicles

You may be surprised how many of your team would like to buy an electric car, but can't afford to right now.

This is a brilliant opportunity - but do include charging points in your car park as part of the plan.

You may think providing practical help to go electric is a small thing but it really matters to your teams and their families, and will be talked about widely.  And it immediately reduces the carbon footprint of every new car owner.

8. Supply Chain Audit

Start measuring carbon in your supply chain, working with suppliers, logistics and so on, and encourage them to reduce their own emissions.  

Their carbon is your own carbon and should be reported by you. 

Sustainable supply chain management is often the single greatest step you can take to better sustainability.

9. Encourage Client Carbon Reductions

Offer a service to clients where there is opportunity, to work together in reducing their own emissions.  

You may be amazed at how open they are to help and advice, and you may be able to claim some credit in your own reporting for influencing other companies.

You may even be able to sell your advice and expertise as a service to them.

10. Take the Lead in your industry

Sustainabilty is a powerful theme for your website, for LinkedIn posts, Twitter feeds, TikTok, YouTube videos and so on.  

Show how you are leading the way in becoming more sustainable, and you will occupy the moral high ground.  

A powerful strategy is to make sure that in every area you are going beyond what environmental regulations demand.  

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