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How can businesses in Edinburgh lower their carbon emissions?

Posted: 14th October 2020

Edinburgh City Council has set an ambitious target of net zero carbon by 2030, presenting us all with the challenge of reducing our carbon footprint. Whilst many businesses in Edinburgh are undoubtedly facing an enormous amount of uncertainty and difficulty, climate change is a problem that faces us all, and the need to embed sustainability into everything that we do has never been so urgent. In light of this, at our most recent Partner and Corporate Roundtable, we invited Dr Kathi Kaesehage from the Centre for Business, Climate Change, and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh Business School; and Clare Wharmby, Innovation Manager at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation to come and talk to us about how Edinburgh’s businesses can work to lower their carbon emissions.

Dr Kathi’s explained the four areas that businesses need to consider to make sure they are protected against the impact of climate change: regulations, which may change in response to, or to try to prevent climate change; resources, which may become more tricky to access if they are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; market drivers such as demand, which may alter in response to the final factor; social drivers, including beliefs, values, and interests. With climate change rapidly moving up the agenda in recent years, it is increasingly beneficial for businesses to consider how their environmental impact may be viewed by their customers, whilst efforts to increase efficiency can give businesses a competitive edge too.

Clare Wharmby’s work at the ECCI looks at supporting the City of Edinburgh towards its 2030 target, and it was really interesting to see exactly where Edinburgh’s emissions come from. The three main areas of emissions are heating – both domestic and commercial, power use, and travel and freight. Clare warned against focusing only on the somewhat more obvious sources of emissions within a business however (such as transportation in company-controlled vehicles, or generation of heat in the office). She emphasised that other factors – which are often harder to measure – must also be considered, including the emissions from purchased goods and services.

So how can Edinburgh’s businesses work to improve their environmental impact?

One theme of this event was the need to look at emissions created within supply chains, which can add up to four times the organisation’s own operational emissions. However in addition to considering how supply chains could be more sustainable, Dr Kathi, also raised that business should consider how resilient their supply chain is likely to be in the face of climate change. For example, the cotton required for hotel bedsheets is vulnerable to changes in the environment, whilst salmon production will be threatened by rising sea temperatures.

Clearly, the purchasing power of businesses can be highly influential, and this is evident beyond the supply chain. Where firms decide to invest can also be important. Pension funds in particular can be a powerful tool if invested in a way that promotes sustainability.

With heating being such a major source of emissions this is evidently another area that businesses need to consider, with Clare pointing out that the current advice to work from home does present an opportunity to insulate office buildings without disrupting the workforce. Not only will this help to reduce a business’s carbon footprint, but Dr Kathi emphasised that measures such as insulation are a ‘win-win’ situation, reducing emissions whilst also saving money.

With so many people currently working from home, this may create a false impression that businesses have reduced their carbon footprint, but CO2 produced by employees working at home is still CO2 produced by the business. Particularly for businesses looking to move to a more long-term working from home model however, this can provide a good opportunity to lower emissions through providing incentives to employees to make their homes more eco-friendly, for instance by offering loans for solar panels.

However above all, businesses need to be honest and self-critical when weighing their carbon footprint, and take steps to reduce consumption units in targeted areas so that we can all live in a net zero carbon city.


Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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