It’s no secret that sustainability and climate change is a hot topic all over the world right now. It’s a talking point within every industry, it’s a top story on every news channel and it’s becoming increasingly promised in discussions with world leaders (COP26 as our most recent, global example).

And while I agree it’s important to talk about the problems we face, I find it alarming at how much talk there is (in comparison to the amount of action taken) when it comes to the topic of sustainability.

Over the past five to ten years I have watched, along with the rest of the world, as we have navigated through global crises and national emergencies, all while our pledge to sustainability has taken an undeniable backseat, even when some of these crises are a direct result of climate change.

While it’s true that our ideas to combat climate change can sometimes require lengthy discussions to create much-needed long-term action plans, I can’t help but feel that events such as COP26 are merely a ‘tick-box exercise.’ After watching the indisputable greenwashing from huge energy companies and the sycophantic agreement from our global governments that ‘we must do something’, with no real action being reported, I can only class COP26 (on the whole) as a global embarrassment from those who currently hold the most power in actuating change.

It’s obvious that the momentum on sustainability must keep building if we hope to make a change and reverse our footprint on global eco-systems, before it’s too late. And, with regards to the governmental pledges of change in 10 or even 20 years’ time (by which time most of the planet’s land mass will be underwater anyway), I can’t help but wonder: if we don’t take action now, and rely less on our government for leadership, then when will we?

With respect to businesses, I do understand that implementing sustainable changes takes time and many discussions with key stakeholders – particularly in instances of large-scale enterprises. However, while these lengthy discussions take place, it’s often the case that no tangible progress has been made in the meantime to considerably reduce our commercial footprint on the planet. At such a pivotal moment in our history, there really is no time like the present.

So, I’m proposing we take back our locus of control and focus on what we can do this year, as businesses and as individuals, if we really do believe in the sustainable promises that we make to society. These short-term goals have been compiled based on the long-term targets of industry-leading, global businesses that are also committing to evolve their businesses in order to reduce their impact on the world.

1. Collect data and information to find a starting point for all improvements

How do you know that you’ve improved if you don’t know exactly where you started from? While not directly improving a business’ sustainability efforts, this is a crucial first step (if not already completed) in order to know what actionable steps need to happen and what areas of our businesses need improvement. A simple analysis of where we are weak versus strong in our sustainability efforts is a good enough starting point as any.

2. Prioritise sustainable materials in packaging

Do you sell a product or a service that requires sending items to customers? Most businesses will do, so this is a common problem. Consider if you really need that extra piece of plastic wrap, or if that bit of packaging can actually be recycled. For example, can cardboard replace that huge piece of Styrofoam? Assess the process, minimise waste and use up the packaging materials you have, but be sure to improve materials going forward.

3. Reduce e-waste

Emails also contribute to global warming due to the amount of electricity required to send it, not to mention the data centers required to host the service, the WiFi involved and so on. Sending emails are a must for most businesses, but sending untargeted, generic emails to a list of subscribed contacts on a mailing list (in the name of customer relationship marketing) is not. Consider your audience, ensure it’s essential content and use hyperlinks rather than attachments. This goes for both external communications and direct emails to colleagues. While it may be a drop in the ocean compared to the total carbon output of entire countries, it’s something to consider in the day-to-day functioning of a business.

To give an example, if you were to send around 15 emails a day, maybe five simple emails, eight with attachments and two spam emails, that puts your daily carbon emissions from emails alone at 401g, and annually adds up to approximately 146kg of carbon emissions every year from emails alone. This would be the equivalent of driving an extra 466 miles per year1.

4. Commit to a percentage of annual profit that can be donated to environmental charities

Post-pandemic, it’s easy to appreciate the financial struggle many businesses have faced over recent years, but hopefully we can appreciate the importance of future-proofing our environment. Can you support local initiatives close to your office spaces or manufacturing facilities, or can you commit to something on a larger scale? Ideas such as sponsoring a tree planting event, donating to a charity to save the bees, or even making your immediate workplace more eco-friendly would make a genuine impact to your immediate environment.

5. Maximise transport and distribution efforts

For instance, do you use transport companies to distribute goods and are these shipments full every time? Perhaps there’s a way to ensure that every shipment is full before it’s sent, to reduce the carbon footprint of fulfilling customer orders.

6. Recycling within office spaces, incentivise employees to walk or cycle to work

Self-explanatory, but let’s not forget that even by just commuting to and from work we’re producing masses of CO2. If you live locally to where you work, can you replace that 10 minute car journey with a walk in the morning? It seems simple, but this is another easy, low cost way we can positively improve our corporate sustainability efforts.

7. Speak to other companies and businesses within your business’s value chain

How can you work together to move towards achieving net zero? Communication is often key here to reduce logistical errors and improve internal production and manufacturing processes.

Ultimately, there are sustainable ‘quick fixes’ that we can action with minimal effort and resource expenditure, whilst we work towards those all-important long-term goals. The idea is that these concepts are simple, logical and environmentally friendly changes that all businesses can action this year (if they haven’t already) to ensure all of our businesses’s footprints around the world are running in the right direction.

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