Fresh eyes

The unavoidable challenge that is climate change

Written by David Adams,
Chief Operating Officer
and Head of Brand at Freshfield

In my capacity of Chief Operating Officer, I was fortunate to have recently been invited to sit on a roundtable discussion with leading national businesses to discuss how SMEs are tackling climate change ahead of COP26 which is currently taking place in Glasgow. 

Led by our banking partner NatWest, I joined the panel representing a business which it’s fair to say is very much at the start of its journey to net zero – acutely aware of the challenges we and many other SMEs face in becoming even more sustainable and responsible in the way we operate. 

Do it your way 

With a diverse range of businesses on the panel – from architects and colleges to leisure operators and food manufacturers, what became clear very quickly, was just how unique the journey to net zero is for each business.  

For some, it started many years ago, with business and investment decisions driven by the desire to be fully sustainable. Even though their businesses circumstances enabled them to take advantage of a growing range of green energy technologies and government initiatives, it wasn’t without risk or challenge. Such brave decisions require significant ongoing investment and cultural commitment to a long-term evolving strategy. 

For others, as for Freshfield, the challenges are different but none the less demanding in their own way. 

Being in rented offices means you can often have little or no control over the likes of the building’s energy provider or supply chain. While you may be in a position to exert some influence with your landlord, fellow tenants might not be as enthusiastic to embrace a greener agenda if it results in an increase in service charge or bills. This means you need to look elsewhere in order to help make significant inroads on your net zero ambitions. 

Quick wins 

Bottom up activities such as having a (DMR) Dry Mixed Recycling bin, turning down the thermostat, installing a smart meter, encouraging car share amongst staff and introducing a ride to work scheme, are all easy to adopt initiatives for the climate conscious business. In reality however, they only scratch the surface of what needs to be done. 

So, how can we have more of an impact on climate change in a way that is both realistic and practical for our business? It’s a question I have been asking myself and our senior management team a lot recently as we look to play our part in tackling climate change.  

Do we for instance look to carbon offsetting, reviewing our supply chain in favour of more sustainable partners or influencing clients by leading by example? In reality, it’s probably all three and more besides. 

The hard yards 

From a top down perspective, it is crucial to have a coherent long-term strategy in place with clear and achievable goals, albeit ones that will stretch and challenge you as an organisation. If they don’t, it is unlikely your strategy will have the desired impact. 

For companies such as Freshfield, this means firstly navigating the abundance of information available and then tapping into one or more of the many organisations positioned to help SMEs meet their carbon reduction ambitions – whatever they might look like. 

Read, then read some more and get some support 

From a personal perspective, I have found the likes of the 1.5°C Business Playbook which helps you establish a four-pillar climate strategy essential and compelling reading, as I have the Manchester-based Carbon Literacy Project whose aim is to advance understanding and action on climate change at both organisation and individual level. 

NatWest’s ‘A springboard to sustainable recovery’ which focuses on unlocking the net-zero opportunity for UK SMEs, also makes for an enlightening read, as does the Chamber Low Carbon website , the FSB’s Small Business Sustainability Hub and the SME Climate HUB. 

All of these organisations provide a wealth of practical information and support. Necessary ingredients for anyone such as myself who is in the process of committing to a climate action plan that will in its own small way contribute to having a positive and meaningful impact on the planet and its people. 

To this end, I wish all my fellow travellers every success in their net zero journey.  

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