Low Carbon Economy

There’s lot of challenges to making your business lower carbon, particularly in the depths of a global credit crisis and recession recovery.  You’re battling for Time, Attention and Trust, keeping your head above water and winning business.  People are distracted with the here and now, their own problems in their personal bubble.  Speaking to a roomful of businesses interested in the idea of a Greater Manchester Low Carbon economy this morning, I outlined some of the challenges with getting things going (see this link for some of the slides I used).

Civic leaders have had every report possible done.  The opportunity is clear.  The risks are clear.  The next steps for business are not.  Greater Manchester has lots of commissions and passionate people, however, I feel it is lacking “The Big Idea”.  i.e., What one thing could we mobilise a whole city region behind, in order to improve the lives of the people within it?  Whether that means cleaner air, better business, infrastructure or living environment.  The newly established Greater Manchester Chamber Carbon Reduction Groups aims to tackle that.

I gave a couple of examples today of great things that I’d seen.  One was about a City in France that has a huge balloon floating about the City Hall, connected to the power grid.  It glows red when high demands are being made on the grid, allowing everyone in the City Region to instantly visualise and take action.  That alone forced behaviour change, started people thinking about the things they could/should do.  It’s not always about telling people what to do, but motivating them to do something.

I also spoke about a clever little piece of software called Powerman from a company called Ergo Computing (details here) which actively monitors energy consumption of IT on a network.  A simple yet highly effective way to reduce carbon and costs.  Straight to the bottom line and ticking everyone’s boxes.

For business, you have to balance the economics of carbon reduction with the economics of running your business. I gave the example of having a large external salesforce, who are very motivated by cars.  We choose to offer a benchmark car with an industry leading CO2, yet still good enough to attract the right talent.  We then offer further financial incentives for them to go even lower on their CO2.  Around 25% of drivers choose this route, so it’s a way of still balancing our need for talent, with the need to be as efficient as we can be with our carbon.  If we offered a fleet of electric cars, we wouldn’t get the right people, that’s hard to swallow sometimes, but a fact of life, so you need to accomodate it and save additional carbon in other ways.

It’s not all easy though.  Going green can be an inconvenience to people because it requires changes in our behaviour, particularly when it comes to re-cycling.  When you’ve been running a sustainable business as long as we have, you have to search for the continuing wins, like squeezing a sponge.  That’s when it begins to hurt a little more as it becomes much more focussed on the individual doing different things rather than the organisation.  Levels of kickback increase when you reach this points, however, you get over the humps in time.

Behind the landscape of all of this, you also still have the disconnect between green dollars (procurement) and green ideals (CSR).  If it were a game of Top Trumps, the economic buyer always trumps the sustainability department.  It would be great to see organisations resolving this and having a more holistic view to their overall footprint, some businesses achieve this brilliantly, others not atall.  These are the simple steps that business could take to get on board.

Whatever happens, you have to do something as a business.  Public sector procurement and large companies expect you to be able to demonstrate your credentials when tendering as a supplier, we want to deal with suppliers with the same ideals.  If you don’t get on the (electric) bus it will leave without you!  Notwithstanding the fact that in Manchester that there is a £4bn economy to go at, see that made you sit up!

I could write a lot on this issue, I’m passionate about it.  However, taking my own medicine and wanting to keep my blogposts short(ish) so that they get read, I’m going to now hand back to you to go and do something amazing in your own business.  Start small.  Make it Easy.  Make a difference.