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Carbon footprint

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If you have employees and were to ask them whether they thought that you, as a business, could reduce your carbon footprint, what do you think the response would be? Or if you were to ask them about offsetting your footprint, how would that go down?

These two are, obviously, quite distinct, as is achieving net-zero, but how can we apply what may appear to us to be lofty ideals applicable to corporations and national institutions to our own much smaller businesses. What does being net-zero mean to us?

To help in unpacking this, allow us to bring to your notice a report published by a branch of the McKinsey consultancy, McKinsey Sustainability. In this (Growth within, a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe, June 2015) they reported on a study they had completed on 28 different industry sectors in Europe. They presented their vision for a circular economy, arguing that their ideas gave an inherently attractive alternative to what was at the time the current “linear” development path being followed and, at the same time, finding positive employment effects—0.6 percent additional annual growth, and 48 percent reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030.

Now, obviously the whole Brexit deal, plus Covid plus Ukraine plus whatever else you care to mention has put a kybosh on the projected growth figure, but it’s the 48% reduction in CO2 despite possible growth that is interesting. How’s that possible, how does it relate to us? And what is a circular economy?

Let me outline what McKinsey had in mind, and whilst doing so, have a think how any of the things you do in your day-to-day could be looked at and made more eco-friendly. Their first activity was called Regenerate, what can we do to replace whatever energy and materials we consume with renewables; can we swap suppliers or look to re-engineer products to be less wasteful?

Their next activity they called Share. Does each branch of our business really need its own x? ( x being anything from vehicles to equipment, tools or stock). What can we do to lengthen the product life span of what we make, or indeed the service we offer? Can we change our maintenance routines or design criteria to give an increased shelf life?

Then there’s Optimise. Have we any slack in our own supply chain? Is there any wastage? We’re all keen to improve product efficiency, is there anything else we can do? When did you last go through your complete business cycle, from ordering in raw material to delivery and cash-in-the-bank?

The next activity McKinsey identified may not be so applicable to many of us, but we’ll include it anyway. It’s Loop and in essence it’s a call for manufacturers, in particular, to be aware of and to control the after-life cycle of their products. In other words, if you made it, you take it back when the buyer is finished with it and you then re-manufacture it or recycle it, in other words a closed loop.

Then there’s Virtualise, something which in our Zoom based Covid world we’ve taken on board to some degree already. It’s the idea of delivering goods and services virtually. It’s when you see how effective we have been in doing this through necessity, that perhaps we can see the viability of making changes in the other activities listed.

Finally, there’s Exchange. Exchange takes the principle of Regenerate and applies it further. Can we replace existing materials with advanced renewables (Regenerate), and can we, in addition, apply new technologies such as 3-D printing to our processes?

Which completes the circle and brings us back to Regenerate.

McKinsey goes on to look at specific industries to exemplify their point, choosing PET bottle production, waste tyres and electronic scrap in particular. Did you know that some municipalities have been known to spend almost 40% on their budget on waste management? Or that pound for pound, there is more gold in electronic scrap than there is in ore? Nor did we.

Out of all the above the report suggests that it’s in Optimise that the greatest eco-savings can be made. For most businesses, our supply chain, whether it’s in collection or delivering goods, or just being out and about in a car, could do with a review. Do we need to buy new cars? How can we save on miles?

There’s an argument that says that until China, India and the USA get their house in order, no amount of footprint reduction by us will make a difference. It’s not a good argument. Ultimately, we’re responsible to our clients…and to our children. We all need to change.

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