- As part of your work on Norican’s SBT efforts, you speak to a lot of other companies around the world, customers and suppliers in particular. What are the attitudes and approaches to sustainability and SBT there?
A few years back, sustainability was a topic for the ESG section in annual reports. Now it has moved centre-stage, with businesses needing to reduce their emissions and willing to transform their operations to do so.
The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) was born out of the Paris Agreement in 2015 with the aim to drive corporate climate action. I would say it has been on people’s radar for maybe 5 years, possibly less. In the last year or so, it has gained momentum and I’m seeing big industrial businesses signing up. But it’s still a relatively small pool, globally.
In terms of attitudes in the context of SBT, there are three types of companies:
- those genuinely interested in proactively reducing their emission footprint, whether it’s because it gives them a competitive advantage or because it aligns with their mission and values;
- those reacting to government pushes and penalties, like carbon taxes, or to threats to their brand and reputation in the society/general public;
- those who simply have no clue and have not engaged with the subject matter at all.
Many of the customers I speak to realise that the transformation set into motion by sustainability efforts also has a positive impact on their bottom lines. As well as being the right thing to do.
- And that’s where you come full circle with your background in continuous improvement. Is sustainability and emission reduction just the new lean?
There are fashions with these things and sometimes a fashion or a buzzword helps drive action, as it’s simple to understand and easy to get behind. But I would warn against seeing SBT as a fashionable initiative that you can just bandwagon on.
It’s a big commitment and hard work, as well as tackling the very serious matter of preventing climate catastrophe.
In my experience so far, it really needs to be backed up by a genuine commitment to doing the right thing. In fact, there are quite a few little quirks in the SBT framework that are easier to navigate if your sustainability efforts are about more than just chasing a target.
- Can you elaborate on that?
The more you get into the detail of the SBT guidance and the GHG protocol, the more you see that SBT alone only covers a clearly defined, but important part of a business’s environmental impact. This can make it easy to forget other important issues, like waste disposal and the use of plastics.
Sometimes, it creates contradictory incentives, where obviously positive action that effects real change does not count - or even counts negatively towards your targets. To give an example, at Norican, we have a lot of digital products that help our customers save resources and energy.
They can have a serious impact on our customers’ GHG footprint, but that emission reduction doesn’t count against our own targets. What is counted, however, is the emission footprint of the cloud service we’re running to deliver those products. So helping our customers with their targets can have an adverse effect on our own. Does that mean we shouldn’t do it? Of course not.