Beyond compliance: why companies are calling for a greener agenda

Today’s is, categorically, a low carbon world. Whilst climate deniers may exist, the reality in the corporate sphere is entirely different; low carbon is accepted.

Yet some firms are going even further, to the point where low carbon isn’t merely accepted, it’s evangelised. This new approach is seeing companies, not governments or environmental NGOs, calling for tougher stances on emissions or regulation.

What’s the incentive for these firms to edge the boundaries on carbon, and should your business be watching their lead?

Breaking the barriers; to compliance and beyond

Right now, some of the UK’s largest corporates are pushing for more environmental regulation, not resisting it.

This story in the Telegraph explains 20 British blue chip businesses have waded into the war between Michael Gove and the Treasury over tougher new environmental laws.

Top executives from major companies including Marks & Spencer, Ikea, Siemens and Nestlé have sided with the Environment Secretary in his battle to enshrine a series of green targets into law through the UK’s forthcoming Environmental Bill.

Mr Gove is understood to be at loggerheads with Treasury officials who would prefer to avoid strict legally binding targets to tackle pollution over fears they could prove to be anti-business.

But in a separate letter to The Sunday Telegraph, the group of business leaders said: “We believe that ambitious, well-designed and properly enforced environmental regulations make good business sense.”

Rather than seeking excuses to pollute, they’re after measurable targets to cover improvements to air and water quality, soil health, peatland restoration, net biodiversity gain and resource efficiency.

Mean and green; the new business agenda

Evidently, there has to be something in pushing carbon leadership for these corporates. For a start, they can achieve major reputational advantage by heading up the market.

This makes them more attractive to employees, more attractive to shareholders and more appealing to firms looking to partner up on long term, sustainable operations.

But equally there’s a solid profit imperative. On resource and energy efficiency, for example, it’s clear why top firms are leading the way.

According to a McKinsey report, while operational improvements can reduce energy consumption by 10 to 20 percent, investment in energy-efficiency technologies can boost that to 50 percent or more. It protects businesses from rising energy costs, and, according to the report, “could save industry more than $600 billion a year.”

Or from the planet’s perspective, as Chris Gorell Barnes, co-founder of the BLUE Marine Foundation charity, puts it, “Other big businesses will take an active role in reversing climate crisis, because no planet means no profit.”

Tomorrow’s sustainable revolution

Where business once sensed profit and leadership in harmful industrial processes some 200 years ago, today corporates sense the next profit revolution coming from insightfully building sustainability into their core business model.

And that’s why they are beginning to lead governments, rather than drag their heels on this pivotal agenda.

In terms of how this thinking drifts down, it could be as simple as a smaller business acting on its ESOS assessment findings, to build in the sustainable profit from saving energy and the sense of leadership the top players out there are displaying.

Either way, business as usual now means sustainable business. That’s a core realignment of yesterday’s business values. And every firm with an eye on success, and indeed longevity, needs urgently to get onside.