Karen Smith, SAN Director
With the devastating floods in Germany, heat domes in North America and average global temperatures rising faster than they have ever done, the Climate Crisis has never been more prominent in our minds. Add to this the pressures of global and national net zero targets and you’d be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed.
Luckily at the Social Audit Network, we have a long history of helping organisations focus on what matters, providing the frameworks and tools for you to Prove, Improve and Account for the difference you make.
Our recent online gathering brought colleagues from around the world together to share their experiences of accounting for environmental impact.
We want to share some of this learning with you and continue this important conversation by suggesting 10 steps towards accounting for action on the climate crisis, embracing the principles of social accounting and audit.
1. Get Started
It sounds obvious, but sometimes the first step is the hardest! If this is the beginning of your journey then why not start by talking to your staff and other stakeholders. Find out what matters to them and get their ideas for action. Whether its cutting down on waste, reducing energy consumption or planting trees, making changes in one area will catalyse action in others, identify your champions and find the approach that’s right for you.
SAN has a really simple Green Office Checklist which is a great place for you to start within the workplace. https://www.socialauditnetwork.org.uk/san-toolkit
WWF also offer a carbon footprint calculator; a great tool to use to encourage colleagues and other stakeholders to start thinking about the changes they can make in their own lives.
2. Align with your values
When the challenges are so global, it’s easy to think that there is nothing one individual or organisation can do to make a difference, but as Mike Berners-Lee points out in his climate change handbook, There’s No Planet B, we need to see everything as part of a bigger game. What’s needed is systemic change and everyone needs to ask themselves:
“How can I create the conditions under which the world I want to see becomes possible?”
This question is at the heart of many social economy organisations who are driven by their social mission and values, and taking action to tackle climate change is no different.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. The above ‘wedding cake model’ developed by the Stockholm Resilience Institute presents a holistic view of the SDGs, showing that the prosperity and wellbeing of societies depend on the health of the planet.
Can organisations with a social mission really afford not to take environmental action?
3. Get measuring
There’s an old cliché, ‘What gets measured gets done’ but it really does hold some truth! Regular measurement and reporting keeps you focused and gives you the information you need to make decisions.
This doesn’t need to be about measuring everything. Choose some key indicators and track them over time. Share the results with your staff so they can see the results of their efforts.
Reporting on environmental impact is growing in importance and if you are an organisation bidding for public sector work, you can expect to be asked about your environmental performance.
When bidding for work, remember to not only include your initial/ baseline measurement, but also to talk about what you changed and then how that led to a reduction in energy/ carbon. For example, you installed a water meter to measure your consumption, you discussed ideas with colleagues of how you could save water (catching and reusing rainwater, swapping to a low flush toilet, checking pipes for leaks), you put some of these measures in place, and your consumption has now reduced by x%.
As importance as measuring is, there is little point in measuring something if you don’t do something differently as a result.
4. Make the most of existing tools
Whilst the most accurate results will likely come from investing in an Environmental Management System and/or an environmental consultant, there are some fantastic online resources out there to help you account for your environmental action. One of SAN’s favourites is Emission Possible, a set of resources from WWF - https://www.wwf.org.uk/emission-possible
A well as a more comprehensive toolkit there is this simple step by step guide to emission reporting.
We also like the One Planet Living framework from Bioregional - https://www.bioregional.com/one-planet-living which helps you work towards an action plan for your organisation.
There are manuals and toolkits for a variety of different types of organisations that give you everything you need to create your action plan, including how to monitor and report on your impact.
5. Make comparisons
Benchmarking is an important element of social accounting, allowing you to compare your progress against your own past performance or against other organisations. Organisations can become a member of the Carbon Disclosure Project and find support to measure and disclose environmental impact. The Carbon Disclosure Project also publishes data that could be used to draw out comparisons. https://www.cdp.net/en/companies-discloser.
Benchmarking with other organisations can also be really effective for understanding your data. When you compare your performance with another organisation of a similar size/ similar sector and see wildly different results it could well flag up an error in a calculation or a different calculation entirely, rather than a difference in performance.
Sharing progress with others is a great way to build collaborations, which leads us nicely to the next step.
Taking steps to account for climate action should not be a solitary journey. Collaboration within your organisation is vital and building collaborative networks with external organisations is also important. Collaboration allows you to learn from others, find best practice examples and find the mutual support needed to overcome challenges.
No matter what sector you are in, or which region or country you are from, there will be opportunities to collaborate with other like-minded organisations. Business networks, industry bodies and local authorities are great places to find your support network. If you aren’t sure where to start, get in touch with SAN and we can point you in the right direction.
7. Play to your strengths
There are countless ways you can improve environmental performance and as with social accounting more broadly, remember you don’t need to tackle everything at once!
Decide on some key areas for action that make sense for your organisation. Within those decide on some relevant measures that are meaningful and straightforward to report on.
Maybe one of your team is a cycling enthusiast and keen to lead on an initiative around sustainable transport. Maybe you have flexibility around your energy provider and switching to a renewable energy company is an easy change to make.
Once you have the quick wins under your belt, you’ll pick up momentum and the more challenging changes may become easier to make.
8. Education and Training
A great way to get buy in and engagement from your stakeholders is to offer training to build awareness about the climate crisis. Often, climate change can seem like something that’s happening to other people, or we feel defeated by the scale of the problem.
Training can help and SAN is a keen advocate of the Carbon Literacy Project, an organisation that aims to offer everyone a days’ worth of carbon literacy training covering climate change, carbon footprints and how everyone can do their bit, at an individual and organisational level. Training toolkits are available for most sectors and to date 1400 organisations have undertaken carbon literacy. Find out more at https://carbonliteracy.com/about-us/.
9. Verify Your environmental accounting should be included in any social audit you undertake. The independent and rigorous verification of your social accounts tells your stakeholders whether your social accounts are robust and present a true picture of your work. Get in touch with SAN if you’d like to discuss the verification and audit process.
10. Share your story
The more we can raise awareness of action being taken and the impact it has, the more we can inspire others to do the same. Celebrate the difference you make, share your story on social media and shine a light on environmental impact within your social impact reporting.
Increasingly customers value organisations with strong environmental ethics and according to HSBCs 2020 Report, Navigator: Now, Next and How for Business, 86% of companies expect their sales to grow over the next year, from a greater focus on sustainability.
Demonstrating environmental action is also great for recruitment. According to research by Global Tolerance, almost half the work force (42%) now want to work for an organisation that has a positive impact on the world.
At SAN, we’d love to hear some examples of how your organisation has accounted for action on the climate crisis. Get in touch if you’d like to share your journey, we’ll be running a gathering about this topic in December and we’d love to get your input.
Finally, SAN also recommends two books by Carbon Footprint specialist Mike Berners-Lee:
· How Bad are Bananas gives you the carbon footprint of almost everything and is a great read to help get perspective around the everyday decisions we can make to reduce our environmental impact.
· There’s No Planet B is often referred to as a climate change handbook. It provides the knowledge we need to fully understand the science of climate change as well as the tools we need to take action. Importantly its tone is one of positivity and hope and its full of inspiration.