Norican sets SBT: Behind the scenes

Grzegorz Kalin-Czerski is leading our efforts to set meaningful emission reduction targets for Norican Group. Since we committed to setting science-based targets (SBT) last year, Grzegorz and his team have been busy working through SBTi guidance to find baselines and develop targets, alongside measurement and reporting processes.
We spoke to Grzegorz to find out what he’s learnt so far and what tips he has for organisations embarking on their SBT journeys.

- Gzregorz, before we go into the detail of the SBT project, tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Have you been involved in sustainability projects before?

Sustainability as a focus area for me is a relatively recent development, but makes a lot of sense in hindsight. My background is in continuous improvement and quality management across different industries. My official role at Norican is Global Lean Champion.

I spent part of my career in the wind energy sector at various companies, including SIEMENS Wind Power/Vestas. But I initially started out in financial auditing.

In what I do now – assessing processes, accounting for emissions, improving the sustainability performance of everything we and our customers do – I can draw from my whole career!

 

"If you’re genuinely interested in improving your organisation’s environmental performance, then the discovery process you’re going through with SBTi can really open your eyes."

- 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.

green forest trees

- 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.

- In addition to quirks like this one, what else have you learned so far, 7 months into working with SBTi on developing Norican’s targets?

In principle, the process is straightforward: you commit, define targets, and start measuring against them. In reality, you’ll quickly see that you lack a lot of information, that the data you have access to from corporate reporting does not always fit what you need. Seven months in - that’s a challenge I’ve encountered a lot. 

So we go back to what I said earlier – if you’re signing up for the right reasons, the challenges won’t bother you, but it’s certainly not an easy thing to commit to or an easy fix. But if you’re genuinely interested in improving your organisation’s environmental performance, then the discovery process you’re going through with SBTi can really open your eyes.  

You end up asking a lot of questions – of your own operations, but also customers and suppliers. It starts important conversations. And that’s how all change begins.

 

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