Measure to manage decarbonisation

A panel discussion hosted at Innovation Zero set out to explore how and why SME leaders should think about measuring their carbon footprint and the challenges they face in doing so.

Choose the content you want

Get business inspiration and practical tips straight to your inbox 

In seeking to lower their emissions, businesses in attendance at Innovation Zero were urged to:

  • Start with measurement
  • Identify the quick wins
  • Take their people on the journey
  • Close the feedback loop by showing results

Why measure carbon footprint?

Not surprisingly, the old mantra of ‘what gets measured is what matters’ was a recurring theme throughout this discussion panel at Innovation Zero. Moderated by Zara Janjua, the panel included Dr Maria Carvalho, Head of Climate Economics and Data at NatWest; Chris Spry, Head of Carbon Markets at NatWest; Jon Horsfield, founder and CEO, Diode; Emma Kisby, EMEA CEO, Cogo; and Scott James, Partner at Ward Williams Associates.

For Maria, a self-confessed climate data nerd, measurement is a vital first step to reducing carbon intensity. And in an era of wildly fluctuating fossil fuel input costs due to geopolitical shocks, she added it would be foolish not to seek to do this, because it will cost too much to rely on fossil fuel consumption, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Diode founder Jon Horsfield agreed on measurement as a crucial first step. “If you don’t measure, you don’t know how to do anything about it,” he said. “In the first instance look at measuring CO2 and what you can reduce. There may be ways to save costs within that. It starts with measuring and getting a roadmap and plan in place and working out what you can do.”

Cogo’s Emma Kisby agreed it’s hard to manage what you can’t measure. “You need an understanding of where your business is in terms of emissions,” she said, adding that not all SMEs are in the same state of readiness. “After 15 years helping SMEs, we’ve seen there are different need states. Some see it as a threat – maybe because they know a customer’s procurement team is looking at it,” she explained, while others are focused on the potential upside.

Seize the “thropportunity”

“There’s a big opportunity to build businesses and products around this need for action,” Emma added. “It’s what’s called a ‘thropportunity’ – both a threat and an opportunity. But the data isn't lying. SMEs have a massive role to play in helping reduce emissions and we all have a responsibility to take this seriously.”

Scott James at Ward Williams Associates is aware of this. “It’s a significant opportunity in our sector but it’s about step-by-step changes in the services you provide. Operationally, we must think how to take the right steps and measurement requires good data collection. It’s crucial we manage and monitor that data.”

The cost of inaction

Maria pointed out that businesses can’t afford to do nothing and be exposed to the fossil fuel price volatility. But also, she said: “Regulation and markets are changing, and customers are demanding more transparency on what companies are doing.” 

There is also a potential impact on a firm’s attractiveness to staff. “A lot more graduates are looking to work for companies with a strong climate strategy.”

Scott added that as a B Corp, inaction was no longer an option for Ward Williams Associates.

“Because we’re B Corp certified it requires staff engagement and getting everybody bought into the vision and doing things the right way. We get a lot of upward pressure from our team to make sure we do things the right way. A lot of initiatives are staff-led. And that ripples through into clients to make sure they do the right thing.”

Where to start?

Jon suggested SME leaders should focus on realistic, quick wins. He confirmed that measurement is a huge part of that. “The opportunities lie predominantly in the electric vehicle (EV) space, in solar energy and in your supply chain. If you can nail something there, you will make a huge difference to your carbon footprint.”

Chris said that as conveners and organisations working with lots of different parties, banks such as NatWest have a role to play in helping others start. “When we talk to businesses of different sizes, it’s easy to see doom and gloom. But there’s a huge amount of positive energy and willingness to invest time and resources in implementing transition plans. We’re moving from awareness to action. It’s about the concrete steps you take.”

What’s stopping SMEs doing more?

Emma said there are concerns that SME owners find it overwhelming. “It’s not core for most SMEs. People say they have no time or resource, and that they don’t understand, because it’s too complex. They want to do the right thing but are scared to act.”

One way to overcome this is to explain simple first steps and show that everyone can make a difference. “We need to show the difference [people] make. We talk a lot about the challenge with carbon literacy. People have good intentions, but don’t follow through with action, because there’s a gap. When they do start to engage and see results, everyone gets behind it; the staff get behind it and everyone feels empowered to take action.”

Jon agreed. “We find there is a compound effect. A member of staff becomes aware of their own carbon footprint and starts to be an influence on the business, calling for action and asking for more. There’s a chain reaction.”

Final thoughts

Asked to sum up the discussion and the situation, Maria suggested we should all be excited about the net-zero economy. “It’s cleaner, safer, healthier, less wasteful and makes the planet a beautiful place to live. If you were to see that vision, why not develop a business plan to achieve it?”

Chris opted for a simple call to arms: “If you have some changes that are objectively good, just get on with it.”

For Jon, what mattered is focusing on the opportunity. “If you focus on the opportunity, you'll get through the challenge.”

Kisby returned to the focus of the session – measurement. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Find out your carbon footprint and see where the opportunities are to reduce it.”

Ending the session, Scott agreed with the sentiment that it was time for action. “Just get on and do it. Whether it be an electric vehicle, LEDs in your office, staff engagement or voluntary work in the community, do it. Your staff will love it, you’ll love it, and the environment will love it.”

Do you know your carbon footprint? Sign up to the Carbon Planner today to find out more and see how your business could potentially reduce emissions.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top