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Playing our part in combatting the defining crisis of our time

By Alistair Cox, CEO of Hays

 
“Climate change is the defining crisis of our time and it is happening even more quickly than we feared.” That stark quote from the United Nations could not be clearer. We are in the midst of a catastrophe, and how we react to it will define not only our future, but the future of generations to come.

But despite this, António Guterres, Secretary General of the UN commented in 2021: “The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win”.

Now, the United Kingdom is preparing to welcome the world to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). Hosted in Glasgow, the summit will bring stakeholders together to action the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

One of these Agreements is to “secure global Net Zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach.” Net Zero. You may have heard of it, but do you really understand what it is and how you can play a part in achieving it?

The most recognised and respected definition of Net Zero is written by the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). Put simply, Net Zero refers to a state where absolute emission reductions have been made to a point where further reductions are not technologically possible, and any remaining greenhouse gases produced are removed from the atmosphere.

At present, 130 countries have set, or are planning to set Net Zero targets. The UK and USA aim to be Net Zero by 2050, whilst China is reaching for 2060. The UK government have just released further details of their “Build Back Greener”strategy ahead of COP26, which is based on attracting £90bn in private sector ‘Green’ investment by 2030 and for the country to be powered entirely by clean electricity by 2035.

Tomorrow’s workforce cares

I am sure most of us understand why these targets are important for the future of our planet, but as business leaders I think it is important to understand why this is important to each and every one of us. The Future of Work report by the Princes Trust recently polled 6,073 people aged between 18-35, in Canada, Ghana, India, Pakistan, the UK and the US. The results found that 74% would be interested in a green job which helps tackle climate change. On top of this, the graduate recruitment app Debut found that 89% of female and 80% of male students and graduates say they want to work for an organisation with a strong environmental policy. It is obvious that if businesses are to attract and retain talent, a clear and concise sustainability strategy is vital.

Consumers care about sustainability and who they shop with too. According to a 2021 report from Deloitte: “Consumers want to do more but many want brands to take the lead with 64% of consumers wanting brands to reduce packaging, 50% want information on how to recycle and 46% need clarity on sourcing of products.”

Economics of climate change

For the 130 countries who have committed to a Net Zero plan to reach their target, investment will be needed. However, as Chris Stark, CEO of Climate Change Committee (CCC) notes: “There are savings too. Particularly because low-carbon technologies are much more efficient than their fossil-fuelled cousins. And they typically use green electricity that gets cheaper and cheaper over time (on the government’s own assessment). The net position is an aggregate ‘cost’ that’s less than 1% of GDP each year.”

The alternative to this investment is alarming. According to insurance provider, Swiss RE, climate change could reduce the world economy by 11-14% by 2050. That accounts to a staggering $23 trillion! As stated in their report, The economics of climate change“Climate change poses the biggest long-term risk to the global economy. No action is not an option.”

This supports a study from University College London (UCL), who recently stated that economic damage could be six times higher than originally estimated. “The study shows that by 2100, global GDP could be 37% lower than it would be without the impacts of warming, when taking the effects of climate change on economic growth into account.”

Ambitious plans for business leaders

Getting to Net Zero requires ambitious plans, with no single easy fix. Chris Stark has advised the British government on what is needed to hit their target. In the CCC’s report, ‘The Sixth Carbon Budget’, they note that by 2035, the UK government will have to cut the country’s emissions by 78%, 15 years ahead of the initial plan.

At Hays, we aim to be the first global company in our sector to reach Net Zero – we have already quickly hit our initial goal of being Carbon Neutral, but we know we need to go further. To do this, we have enlisted the expertise of ClimatePartner and Ecometrica to measure and audit our carbon footprint and advise us on reaching Net Zero.


Here are some steps we have taken that your company may find useful when starting your own journey:

Carbon neutral today, Net Zero tomorrow

Step 1 – Measure your carbon footprint: It is said that what gets measured in life, gets managed.Therefore, for Hays to reduce our carbon footprint, we first needed to understand what that footprint was. Calculating your Corporate Carbon Footprint (CCF) provides an overview of your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as showing you where carbon hotspots lie in your business.

According to the internationally recognised GHG Protocol, carbon emissions across businesses can be measured via three scopes:

  • Scope 1 – direct emissions you produce as a business (e.g. your company vehicles)
  • Scope 2 – indirect emissions from what you procure (e.g. your building’s electricity usage)
  • Scope 3 – a wide range of indirect emissions along your entire value chain, including raw materials, logistics, business travel and how your employees commute to work.

Step 2 – Immediate Reductions: The most effective tool Hays, and any other company has in reaching Net Zero, is to reduce GHG emissions. Strong policies at an early stage of your company’s sustainability programme shows you recognise the urgency of the problem and therefore will start making the more obvious reductions today, ahead of announcing a more detailed strategy.

At Hays, we have set a target of reducing our GHG emissions by 50%, versus a base year of 2020, by 2025. To help us achieve this, policies we have implemented so far include a target to reduce flights by 40% by 2025, and a material reduction in business driving miles. Learning from how we operated in the pandemic, does that meeting really need to happen in person, or can the same results be achieved via Teams or Zoom?

We have also committed to using renewable energy in our offices and moved desktop computers to laptops, which can reduce energy by up to 65%.

Of course, the above plans throw up other issues. As the world re-opens, getting out and visiting customers and colleagues is clearly important. Getting the balance right is key though, as is the importance of clear communication – this improves employee buy-in and shows you understand the scale of the problem.

Step 3 – Offset your current carbon footprint: Carbon offset projects aim to compensate for the release of GHG emissions, whilst improving the livelihood of communities across the world. While offsetting is by no means a complete solution, it is part of the solution, because it accelerates the avoidance, reduction and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Hays has purchased certified carbon offset credits from an Afforestation project in Guanaré, Uruguay. This project converts grassland, degraded by grazing, into permanent forest. The resulting areas will be sustainably managed according to the FSC guidelines and in total will store about seven million tonnes of CO2 equivalence over the project lifetime.

Step 4 – Build and announce your Net Zero plan: Hays is currently at this phase of our Net Zero journey. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), in their own words: “Drives ambitious climate action in the private sector by enabling companies to set science-based emissions reduction targets.”

With the SBTi’s support, businesses can have a credible Net Zero date and plan, that can be announced to stakeholders and customers alike. At Hays, we are currently submitting our plans to the SBTi.

Step 5 – Tackling the most challenging aspects: This part of the journey to Net Zero will take time and investment. For businesses, these are the reductions that will not happen overnight. Electrifying your company car fleet is one example of a more sustained challenge.

Hays is committed to significantly increasing the proportion of hybrid and electric cars in our fleet, as well as reducing overall miles driven.

This stage is also an opportunity to challenge your supply chain, as written about previously by my colleague, David Phillips. We all have a significant role to play in combating climate change. But by working in unison, we can deliver even more.

This will also be the right time to consider what your business will need to reach your goal, and what risks and opportunities the green economy presents. The creation of greener, more sustainable ways of living will render some industries and their roles obsolete. At the same time, there is already a significant green skills gap, which is only going to increase.

In 2018, the International Labour Organization predicted that the green economy would generate 24 million new jobs by 2030, should governments implement the right policies. To achieve this, there will need to be a huge amount of upskilling and retraining, particularly in the construction industry. In the UK, across the construction landscape, the Construction Leadership Council estimate the need for “an additional 500,000 trade positions, more than double the existing workforce, to meet even a minimum EPC targets by 2030.” This is more than the 440,000 quoted in the UK government’s October 2021 Net Zero strategy report.

Step 6 – Complete your journey: Once we have done the above, the hard work does not stop. Hays will continue to re-measure and quantify what we have done, to ensure we are on the right path to Net Zero. Depending on your industry, it may take many years to reach Net Zero. Will it be worth the hard work? If we have managed to achieve what is set out in the Paris Agreement, then yes, of course it was worth it.

I have personally been delighted with the reaction of our colleagues in Hays to our Net Zero target. The reaction highlights how important it is for us, as business leaders, to play our part in combatting the crisis. The pandemic has taught us that global problems need global solutions. It’s only right that we ask ourselves what more we can do to help combat climate change. Is your business on the road to Net Zero? Are there lessons that we can all learn from your experiences? Please leave a comment here on LinkedIn and share your findings.

About this author

Alistair has been the CEO of Hays, plc since Sept. 2007. An aeronautical engineer by training (University of Salford, UK, 1982), Alistair commenced his career at British Aerospace in the military aircraft division. From 1983-1988, he worked Schlumberger filling a number of field and research roles in the Oil & Gas Industry in both Europe and North America.

In 2002, he returned to the UK as CEO of Xansa, a UK based IT services and back-office processing organisation. During his 5 year tenure at Xansa, he re-focused the organisation to create a UK leading provider of back-office services across both the Public and Private sector and built one of the strongest offshore operations in the sector with over 6,000 people based in India.

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