In the world before COVID-19, the emerging global spirit of endeavour was focused on climate change and the environment. Now, depending on how you look at it, the immediate problem of the pandemic has either eclipsed our concerns for the environment, or brought them into even greater relief. With the scale of emissions falling to levels below those that climate activists could only have dreamt of a year ago – and with many businesses showing remarkable resilience, largely dependent on technology – are we seeing the start of real change?
As the efforts of individuals and communities to combat adverse environmental impacts have triggered shifts among some of the world’s largest corporate players to show that they too are playing their part, it stands to reason that these should be the two ends of the spectrum whose initiatives are most heard about. But what of small businesses? With fewer resources than larger corporations to afford time and attention on these issues, how can making organisational changes for the benefit of the wider environment work for small and medium-sized enterprises?
At Arlingclose, we are a team of just under twenty people working from our office in London (most from home during lockdown) and, as has always been the case, we also have colleagues working remotely, across the country, as best befits arrangements with our U.K. Local Authority clients.
A couple of years ago the company set out an environmental policy with the key aim of becoming a carbon neutral company by the end of 2019, an aim that we are pleased to report we have exceeded and are continuing to advance.
However, consideration within our team about being environmentally conscious is not a recent undertaking. In 2014 a review of how much we print had a surprising effect and led to the beginning of what has become the company’s ongoing ‘paperless office policy’. At that time, we produced all our meeting literature in printed packs, in which much of the information and data was both time-sensitive and quickly out-of-date. We decided to invest in iPads for clients to use at meetings and workshops to avoid excessive printing. This had the added benefit of ensuring that data provided at these sessions was current. We did not do away with paper entirely, but over the next twelve months, we saw a 40% reduction in the scale of our printing. As of last year, we were down to 10% of the original figure.
Moving to our new office in 2017 allowed us to make design choices to continue improving our green practices, including lighting and air-conditioning systems that run on motion-sensors and timed systems, minimising energy wastage. These and other improvements inspired us to challenge ourselves on the question of what environmental impact we now have as a company and whether it might be possible to go even further.
Working with Carbon Footprint Ltd, an environmental consultant, we estimated that across all our business activities in the previous year, Arlingclose’s carbon footprint equated to 70 tonnes CO2. In the U.K., an average person has a carbon footprint of 6.5 tonnes CO2, so perhaps our collective score may not seem too unreasonable. But it is still a significant figure and one that we felt could surely be driven down.
Our plan of action has been twofold. First, continuing to identify and rein in those activities most responsible for producing carbon emissions. And second, engaging with environmental schemes to help us toward neutralising our impact.
One of the major factors contributing to our carbon footprint score is travel and predominantly rail travel. The challenge here however is that as a company which exists to deliver services to Local Authorities across the length and breadth of the U.K., even allowing for our internet age (and pre-Covid-19 on-line requirements), meeting face to face with those we serve is a valuable part of how we like to work. One way we have sought to minimise travel is to encourage the practice of arranging multiple meetings in the same region of the U.K., where possible.
But given that a major contributing factor to our score such as rail travel remains essential for conducting business and maintaining strong client relationships, the question then becomes how we could offset the impact?
Our attention was drawn to an enterprising CO2 offsetting scheme emerging in the U.K. that provides a compelling solution:
What appealed to us immediately about the planting of trees was the ability to sponsor this project nationwide through Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Projects. We took the decision with Carbon Footprint Ltd to choose those regions of the country where our clients are based. Moreover, in each of those areas the trees are planted in schools and used as part of an environmental awareness campaign. Not only does this begin the process of ‘putting back’, but equally important, helps invest in children’s learning that through photosynthesis trees absorb carbon dioxide. The VCS project goes a step further ensuring that the trees planted are all high-quality, cell-grown ‘whips’ (year-old saplings) of native broad leaf species, which has the added benefit of helping preserve the U.K.'s biodiversity.
For every tree planted, one tonne of CO2 is offset. So, by planting 70 trees a year, the company could be considered carbon neutral. But, by extension if we planted more trees, we could become carbon negative.
To date we have sponsored the planting of 300 trees through VCS Projects. Some of these will be in your area. For Arlingclose it makes sense that in responding to environmental welfare issues any company, however large or small, should consider its geographic reach. This consideration provides a rationale and structure to how we go about playing our part, as well as helping to connect us with the areas we exist to support.
Taken together, the planting of trees and the diminishing of energy and resource consumption, as well as our newest initiative - the cycle-to-work scheme - make Arlingclose a carbon negative company. We are proud of this but are also conscious of the risk of soundbites. We recognise that these contributions are part of an ongoing movement and as such we will be maintaining our best efforts as a small but committed company to improve as and where we can. And however COVID-19 and its aftermath reshape our lives and working arrangements, the question of how we improve our environment will remain a key part of Arlinclose’s ethos.