On the same day Verra (business carbon offsetting) was revealed to be doling out credits for trees not planted, I was starting my carbon literacy journey. It was a deeply thought-provoking – and action-provoking – course delivered by Manchester's sustainability superstar, Hannah Cox.
Our day started with hot drinks in paper cups. Hannah was, quite rightly, disappointed the venue hadn’t acted on her request for proper cups. Proper cups to go with the proper tea (a Manchester blend that tasted great). The venue was spot on for the event. From the window I could see Manchester's rapidly scaling skyline. A few trees were visible in roof-top gardens. And window cleaners were doing a spectacular job of making the windowpanes sparkle.
I'll stop romanticising about the Manchester skyline. Because the people – and an incredible work ethic – are what really make Manchester special. Human creativity is woven into the heart of this city. Right now, we need some global objectivity. And it seems this city has an infectious energy. It’s sending a carbon conscious shock wave into the local business community and far beyond
This article is my perspective on the potential of machines and the humans that power them and rely on them. Before I get started on why your email cadence funnels are huge energy eaters, here are some reasons to be cheerful.
10 positive changes for the environment
#1 An increasing amount of our energy comes from renewable sources and there’s capacity to do more.
#2 Access to this technology is improving and it's getting cheaper. We now have a legacy of provider-knowledge to tap into. Norway is leading the world with hydro-engineering and India is leading solar engineering. Here, in the UK, we’re making progress with wind power (that windswept look will be in vogue again).
#3 It's okay to invest in your old car and ensure it does the mileage it’s built for. It’s better than
switching to an electric vehicle unnecessarily early. We can’t do everything. We all just need to do enough.
#4 Traditional farming isn’t damaging the world. Intensive farming is. Shorter supply chains and reduced waste is key.
#5 There is an enzyme variant that eats plastic. So, if you're infuriated by the colossal use of plastic – despite better alternatives – there’s progress here.
#6 Technology that can assist with carbon capture is improving at scale.
#7 The most effective carbon cleaning processors occur naturally – trees. The same technology that revealed large-scale removal of centuries old ecosystems now shows we are counteracting
#8 The first electric plane has crossed the channel. And Airbus is making progress with battery- powered planes. But UK train providers must get their act together if their marketing is true (and one train can mean 200 fewer cars on the road). As that makes their current, drastically under capacity, service an environmental disaster.
#9 Whales are great carbon processing machines. And whaling is now illegal in Iceland.
#10 Tweaking the way we run our homes and industry will have a cumulative effect. And we can make that positive impact, as we hold the power to make it desirable.
This leaves me wondering whether we’ve the appetite to make tweaks to the way we live. And could doing more with our human energy make us happier?
The environmental problems we face
Now you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll move on to why we need to start to do our bit now. The Met Office, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Japanese Meteorological Agency have unequivocal evidence that human activity is changing weather patterns globally. As populations continue to grow, we must reconnect with nature locally and globally. We need to be gentler and conserve more in our energy transfer processes. We also need businesses that help us satisfy our consuming desires in an environmentally conscious way.
Floods, ice melts and expanding oceans. They all have big downstream impacts that will hit our kids and great-grandkids. The United States has its first climate refugees. Louisiana is shrinking fast. It’s losing an area the equivalent of a football pitch every 60 minutes.
The number of places becoming so hot they’re uninhabitable is expanding fast – worsening the
social and political displacement of people. There’s also an impact on the ecosystem – with lost
wildlife and changed earth processes. These impact food availability and our systems are becoming increasingly unmanageable.
Even worse, scientists are concerned we might reach a tipping point. A point when the earth’s processes will start a chain reaction of epic proportion (making your local park resemble the Sahara and travel impossible). I’ve never met anyone who wants to emigrate to the Sahara Desert.
Another deeply troubling fact, is that air pollution kills over 10 million people a year. Whilst there’s
air in our lungs, air pollution will continue to impact our quality of life. For me, these last two trends are serious game changers.
Okay, that was scary to read. Let’s look at how the business community can help sort this mess out.
How can businesses help the environment?
Emails aren't great for the environment.
This was music to my ears. I'm constantly unsubscribing from businesses that attempt to convert me into their ideal client by dumping all their consumable content in my inbox. I also know many office workers who'd love to tackle email etiquette in the name of the planet (and their own energy).
Focus on supply chains and reduce the wasted energy in them.
Hallelujah! Use data with your suppliers to strengthen your sustainable business relationships. Audit them to ensure you’re making the right moves.
Buy refurbished technology.
This wasn’t on my agenda, but I do have an alarming amount of technology amassing in my home. It’s exacerbated by two tweenage cyborgs. As a society we struggle with addiction to technology. Technology that becomes obsolete too fast and is redundant in its infancy.
If we all over-index on locally sourced veg, our carbon footprint will shrink.
Better for you and the planet.
Video streaming is incredibly energy consuming.
Turning your camera off on video calls will reduce your personal carbon footprint. Talking on the
phone might become trendy again. We can help our kids to appreciate their cumulative carbon
shadow. And I now have an environmental angle to bargain with when discussing screen time.
Data literacy and carbon literacy
For me, data literacy and carbon literacy are inextricably linked. That knowledge creates my own
climate anxiety. All our activities have a ripple effect. Technology isn’t going to solve everything. The people using the technology are going to solve it. The undeniable, top-line data from weather records is increasingly bleak. You can argue with predictions for the future of the planet. You can’t argue with the past and the present.
Hannah Cox's Better Business carbon literacy training boosted my confidence. I’m ready to have
conversations about sustainability. I know the difference between carbon neutral and carbon zero. And between carbon footprint and carbon shadow. I'm better informed about what I can do as an individual and what we can do as a collective. These can be highly explosive conversations, as they come with economic and political noise machines.
If you have any energy in your tank, the next challenge is where the money will come from. I like a phrase I heard during my day learning about carbon literacy: “The cost of action is dwarfed by the cost of inaction.” So, let’s be having it! It’s not cool to be ignorant about nature anymore. Every activity counts.
Demand better. Where there’s demand supply will follow.
My next blog post will uncover why information technology is so important. Important enough for me to wear a T-shirt in my profile photo with the slogan ‘IT matters’ printed across my chest. And to point enthusiastically to it in case you missed the pun. Shops, retailers, warehouses and logistics are key players in this jigsaw. Consumers must demand better. Because behind the screens and behind the scenes, our workforce is at tipping point. And without work nothing works.
If you're ready to take action on the waste in your supply chains and you want to talk about your current teams channelling their energy into more sustainable and enjoyable business practices please get in touch.