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How Small Businesses Can Make the Case for Climate Action

Melanie Wilneder | 12 June 2019 |

This buyer’s guide has been put together by Melanie Wilneder from our partner in South America, Carboneutral in Chile. Before moving to her current role, Melanie worked in procurement and this guide is designed to share that experience and help small and medium-sized enterprises reap the benefits of climate action.

The challenge

Across organizations around the world and in all business sectors, sustainability budgets are often constrained in comparison to other business areas. This is true even in companies recognized internally for their sustainability leadership.

In particular, programs to deliver on carbon emission reduction targets are often done last minute: final annual global GHG emission reports are consolidated in Q1, and the remaining budget is used to quickly procure carbon credits in Q2, ahead of the publication of a sustainability report and entering the budget-planning phase for the next financial year during the summer.

Even organizations that have a more-or-less dedicated budget for carbon credits, often find that it is too small. That may be because a company is not up to date with market realities and has unreasonable pricing expectations when wanting to support carbon offset projects delivering many co-benefits aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. Even when there is a good knowledge of the voluntary carbon credit markets in combination with a solid budget, actual emissions can be unexpectedly higher than the forecast, if there was a forecast to start with.

We have some suggestions to help senior sustainability leaders obtain further buy-in from the business leadership for the overall sustainability strategy and incorporate a carbon compensation allocation into their overall budget in a way that avoids last minute pitfalls.

The approach

The Basics:
Try to have a reliable forecast for the next two to three years, aligned with the trends from previous years, as well as any likely business developments such as planned acquisitions or divestments or other activities which will impact your carbon footprint.

These forecasts will allow you to plan your budget for a longer term, and enable you and your procurement business partner to negotiate better multi-year carbon offset deals. Multi-year purchases are likely to be a much better value than last minute one-off spot-buys.

Your carbon footprint and forecast provide a foundation for additional activities.

Building buy-in from the business:

Ensure you have a clear internal definition of sustainability which demonstrates the business benefits, links to the specific goals of your company and includes how carbon compensation of residual emissions fits into the picture.

This definition will ensure that all the teams you talk to, including Procurement and Finance, are on the same page about how your program fits into the company’s overall strategy.

When you talk to other internal stakeholders, have data on the number of times your customers have asked you for GHG footprint and related reduction activities. B2B companies are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their key suppliers. They don’t just want to know whether their suppliers report emissions, they want to see evidence of GHG management, in terms of both reduction and compensation of residual emissions. This is critical to making your case for budget, including the purchase of carbon offsets.

Present the case for carbon compensation within the context of business risk such as the likelihood of legislation to tax carbon emissions. By purchasing carbon offsets you are putting an internal price of carbon into the business, and carbon offsets are likely to be cheaper than regulatory measures.

According to CDP, close to 1,400 companies were already factoring an internal carbon price into their business plans in 2017, and governments are increasingly considering putting a price on carbon in one form or another.

Using your carbon footprint estimates, the cost of carbon to your company, and the number of times customers have requested information about your carbon management plans, you can drive support for your overall sustainability budget, ensuring you can finance your internal and external carbon reduction initiatives.

In turn, you can offer your internal stakeholders support by helping them use data to analyze the corporate cost of carbon and responding to suppliers’ questions on your carbon management program. Present yourself as a business partner to the teams you need to support your plans.

Successful implementation & engagement:
Once support from the finance and procurement teams is achieved, you need ongoing measurable engagement with all relevant stakeholder groups to ensure long term support for your sustainability budget including carbon compensation.

Put in place a communications plan to ensure everyone in your organization understands carbon offsets in the context of a price on carbon from legislation, your customers’ expectations of you, and the reputational and business benefits from taking action.

Carbon offset projects often provide a range of opportunities to engage teams. You can offer employees the opportunity to vote for their favorite carbon offset project in line with your company’s wider purpose as well as the related UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Using photos, videos, and personal stories from people running the project can help build greater understanding and interest.

Get employees involved by understanding how their department impacts the company’s total carbon footprint and what they can do to reduce it. Make sure they have everything they need to communicate effectively with customers and showcase the action and leadership of your company.

Create a plan to ensure consistent reinforcement throughout the year. It is not enough to share the carbon footprint and the compensation of residual emissions in an annual report, to have a vote on offsetting projects and to run a special campaign around Earth Day. Engagement needs to be regular across all communication channels to cement the sustainability vision, the different numbers and drivers backing it up, and the practical implementation ranging from internal reductions to the benefits of carbon compensation.

Executed well, your program can deliver competitive advantage and when your colleagues see that, ongoing funding may not be such a battle. Good Luck!