Environmental issues must be a bigger business priority, business tracker report reveals

Climate change is potentially the most critical challenge confronting our planet. While there is evidence of some businesses stepping up to the challenge, it is far from being embedded as a priority consideration for all business. That’s according to the first Responsible Business Tracker report – published Business in the Community – The Prince’s Responsible Business Network (BITC).

BITC’s paper has considerable scope. It is the largest measure of responsible business in the UK, with 64 companies participating across 24 sectors with a combined turnover of over £105bn and employing over one million people.

It finds that already, 37% of participating companies chose circular economy and resource productivity, net zero carbon and/or healthy ecosystems as one of their top two highest priorities.

But a telling gap between environmental issues and health and wellbeing as high business priorities, the latter chosen by 52% of participating businesses, shows that the environment still has a way to go to get to the top of the agenda.

The deeper metrics

Encouragingly, 22% of participants named net zero carbon as a top two high business priority issue, 13% selected circular economy and 2% chose healthy ecosystems (totalling 37% choosing environmental issues).

Some 44% have carried out environmental lifecycle assessments for all/some of their products and services to understand their impact and inform resource productivity and circular economy strategy.

Respondents also had a good performance on monitoring their carbon emissions. 63% of respondents have set objectives, targets and KPIs for their carbon reduction strategy, and this rises to 92% for the Utilities, Energy and Transport sector. The strength in this area is no doubt in part to mandatory carbon reporting schemes such as ESOS and SECR.  But the report urged the focus on carbon reduction to expand to the whole environmental agenda.

It also found that less than half of respondents had involved their value chain in reducing carbon emissions: “Comprehensive carbon reduction strategies require clear long-term roadmaps and subtargets at department level. For many businesses their supply chain will be the largest contributor to their overall emissions; of the Forerunners, only 48% have collaborated with their value chain. Engaging with suppliers and encouraging innovation at this level is crucial for businesses to meet reduction targets.”

BITC argues that while it would expect leadership to be setting ambition and driving strategy, there is a big gap between what is being communicated and how it translates across departments and individual accountability and targets.

“Facing those threats head on provides some of the most exciting opportunities to create value in new ways and deliver resilient prosperity for businesses and communities,” said Gudrun Cartwright, environment director at Business in the Community.

Green trade media lays out the challenge

EDIE assessed the impact of the paper, writing that as news of net zero continues to dominate media headlines, the Tracker found the aforementioned 22% of businesses placed net zero carbon as a top two priority while 13% had focused on the circular economy and 2% on healthy ecosystems.

It notes that in sharp contrast to business priorities, two-thirds of the UK public have recognised the “climate emergency”, with 76% willing to vote and spend differently to help the planet.

The report findings were commissioned by Greenpeace and come as the group unveiled a detailed “climate manifesto,’ listing 134 key actions that policymakers should introduce to deliver zero carbon emissions.

In conclusion

It is evident that low carbon change is already coming to UK business. What is in question from this report is the pace of change, and the priorities of business combined with how carbon is being aligned strategically within firms.

Work on carbon reporting, aligned with actual business steps to deliver lower carbon operations, can only help firms down the transformational path. All the evidence suggests this is the solution to sustainable business productivity for the future.