In mid-September, ENDS (Environmental Data Services), in conjunction with Forum for the Future, released their Sustainable Business 2011 report, the first of its kind in the UK. Unfortunately, you have to pay for the full version, but blogger David Bent gives a good summary of it in his follow-up article.
It states that within the UK, the use of sustainability reports by businesses is up by 20% in 2011 compared to 2010, while environmental management system certifications have seen a growth of just under 14%. It seems that despite the bite of the recession, organisations are starting to see the short and long-term benefits of operating in a more sustainable way.
There are clear warning signs, however, that this isn’t going to be enough. Not by a long shot. Climate change and resource depletion are pushing us towards the edge of the cliff at a seemingly unrelenting pace and humanity is not pushing back hard enough. The UK’s Met Office warns that global carbon emissions need to peak within the next decade and soon thereafter show a reduction of 5% per year after year after year. Current trends show that this is unlikely to happen.
The most interesting outcome of the report is that it highlights the important role that government has to play in helping businesses to meet their carbon reduction targets, allowing them to become more sustainable in the process. Through legislation and financial incentives, our political leaders can show business leaders that the light at the end of the tunnel is green. Innovation and collaboration are two of the best tools we have for decoupling growth from destruction and breaking free of the old business model.
It is also interesting if you happen to have just started a new consultancy service, which specialises in the creation of sustainability strategies for small businesses, as I have. The increase in the use of these frameworks is an encouraging sign, as is the call for stronger government backing. Although the financial support for businesses like mine is lacking (we visited an Invest NI business adviser yesterday), one can only hope that the importance of the service we provide is recognised and prioritised in the not-so-distant future.
The solutions for the biggest problems of the 21st century not only exist, but are known by the many graduates we have coming out of sustainable development courses from universities in countries all around the world. The knowledge just needs to be shared amongst everybody else, and the consultancy pathway is a great avenue for enlightening business leaders, especially those with smaller enterprises.
Freddie Harris has an MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development from Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His undergrad is in Tropical Environmental Science. Freddie writes about his experiences beyond graduation, giving others an insight into what is perhaps one of the most interdisciplinary subjects out there. He has recently started a sustainability consultancy business and has high hopes for the future!