Breaking Bad Carbon Habits in Business

Apologies for the lengthy gap between blog posts. I’ve been away from work on paternity leave following my second daughter’s slightly early arrival over the Christmas break. The good news is that, in between changing nappies and being woken throughout the night for the last few weeks, I have had some time to think about business carbon reduction: in particular how businesses can get started on the road to carbon reduction in 2011.


Can We Capture the Renewable Energy in Stirling?

Having previously run a small business myself (an organic food shop) I know that, unless environmental issues are a fundamental part of your business philosophy, it is very easy to think of sustainability as an add-on or nice-to-have. It is also very easy to get into bad habits, which you probably know aren’t the most sustainable way of doing things but which you justify somehow: maybe they offer a perceived time or cost saving (or the alternatives would take too much time or money to implement) so you carry on doing them.

The trouble with this is that add-ons are easily forgotten about in the whirlwind of your “normal” business activity and bad habits quickly become normal behaviour; helping to reinforce the idea that your business is somehow separate from the environment around it. You forget that apparently small decisions made on a day-to-day basis to keep the cashflow going and drive profits up can have a significant impact on resources, people and ultimately our climate. Even when you do remember, you find it hard to break the cycle of behaviour because it has become ingrained in your business policies.

It’s a difficult cycle to break. People like me tend to assume that all businesses want to reduce their environmental impact, but in reality it’s not that simple. The bad habits that have turned into normal behaviour are often defended by the people doing them to protect the business from challenging changes. Business owners and managers attempt to maintain the status quo, particularly if they feel the business is doing “well enough, thank you very much”. Change involves risk after all, and who needs that? So it’s not enough for us to offer businesses advice on reducing carbon or energy consumption, even if those changes will result in a monetary gain. The money by itself is not enough. We have to show that real, fundamental change is essential. Which isn’t easy.

But, just as we have come from being a society that sends 98% of its waste to landfill to one that recycles 40% (and more), change is possible on a big scale. We know that, once the infrastructural changes are in place and the alternatives made clear, we can achieve substantial behaviour shifts across businesses and communities in Scotland.

But how do we do that for carbon in businesses? How can we persuade and help businesses to reduce the energy they consume, both directly through on-site energy and commuting and indirectly through procurement, events and business travel?

I think the first thing to recognise is that it won’t happen overnight. The second is that business owners, managers and staff are increasingly aware of rising energy/fuel prices and that consumers are making environmental concerns a key part of their own purchasing decisions.

The third thing is that alternatives are becoming more and more easily available. Energy can be sourced more easily from renewable resources. Sustainable procurement, where the products and services you buy have less impact on the environment, is also easier than ever before as companies offering environmentally friendly/low-carbon options spring up all over the place.

However, all this won’t help you break the cycle of bad habits. Only you can do that. What I want to make clear is that when you are ready, we are here. Kind of like a Carbon version of Alcoholics Anonymous – we can be a support vehicle to shake you free from your carbon addiction and readjust your bad habits to create new normal behaviours based on known measures that reduce carbon consumption.

My view is that businesses need a forum: a place to come to when they are ready to try to tackle some of these issues. This is why we have set up the Low Carbon Alliance as a forum for businesses of all types and sizes in Stirling. Through this network we can share ideas and knowledge in a practical way. We can help start the conversation and let you take it forward.

So, wherever you are on the low-carbon journey, we are here to support you. As I continue to promote the Alliance to businesses in 2011, I hope that you will join us and offer your own story to help both yourself and others as we share the journey. After all, most bad habits are broken one step at a time.

To join us click here.

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