While the covid-19 pandemic has rocked the global economy over the past 12 months, the issue of climate change and how the business world responds has been around much longer.
The public and private sectors have been working to combat the effects through a range of means such as developing electric vehicles, clean air zones, carbon offset initiatives and projects to make homes greener.
So how can the business world respond in a post-pandemic environment as the economy slowly gets back on its feet and climate change comes back to the forefront of the debate?
BusinessLive teamed up with NatWest to bring together a panel of ‘green business’ experts to discuss the topic and what impact employers can have on the future of the green economy and recovery from the pandemic.
– Will Broad, low carbon manager with Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership
– Rose Deakin, founder of The Crop Club
– Alistair Houghton, editor of BusinessLive and panel chair
– Melissa Mooney, director of EQS Management Systems
– Dominic O’Brien, director of Experienced Energy Solutions and Birmingham Net Zero
– Pam Sheemar, entrepreneur development manager with NatWest in Birmingham
Will Broad is an account manager for the low carbon sector at the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and offers guidance to businesses transitioning to a clean economy.
He told the panel he felt the emergence from the pandemic was in many ways a “hugely exciting” time for the green economy and business world in general.
“What was thought of as well-established practices and forms of energy use have been questioned,” he said.
“We have a really good opportunity at this stage to come back with a renewed sense of responsibility, both on a consumer and business technology level.
“Technology obviously plays a huge part in recovering from this pandemic and hitting our green targets but we can’t see technology as being the magic bullet that is going to save us in the future.
“It really is going to come from a consumer and personal level and the fact people are beginning to think about ways of using materials in a circular fashion and the circular economy is becoming normal in some situations.
“Initiatives that make businesses think about and reduce their energy consumption is really where the crux of it lies as well as making people aware of how they’re using energy and reducing their consumption.”
Pam Sheemar is the entrepreneur development manager at the NatWest hub in Brindleyplace, Birmingham. She works with start-up and growing companies on a mentoring and development programme aimed at helping them grow.
She told the discussion that green businesses were a lightning rod in terms of how the economy and companies grew, developed and came out of the pandemic.
“If we’re going to be sustainable as a country and an ecosystem going forward, we need to leverage and link in with businesses which drive sustainability, climate support and positive change,” she said.
“Everything from agriculture to reducing carbon to better environmental standards.”
Looking ahead, she said assumptions about how we worked had also changed as a result of the pandemic which could have a knock-on effect on climate change in the long term.
“There was an assumption that we’ve always had to be in the office to do our jobs, heating a large building with lots of people travelling at peak times, all heading for the city at a certain time causing congestion and a strain on the environment,” she added.
“One of the things the pandemic has shown is that actually we don’t need to follow that model, we can do our jobs effectively in another way. As a bank, we are majority working from home now but maybe there will be a blend.
“The worst thing we could do is revert back to the old normal where everyone has to be in the office for 9am which causes a mass exodus from our houses.
“There’s been a positive shift towards eco friendly behaviors since the pandemic and that’s driving a lot of my own behaviour now as well.”
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Melissa Mooney is a director of EQS Management Systems in Worcester which provides support and guidance to help businesses build good environmental practice and improve legal compliance.
She told the debate it was essential businesses played a “very big role” in the battle against climate change but the key was finding the right way to do that.
“Many businesses will see all the challenges ahead such as biodiversity and climate change, it’s not just one issue, and trying to find their way through those is difficult,” she said.
“This is where people like us can really help them find that way and realise everyone can play a part. In some industries such as food, which is my background, there are lots of challenges in terms of energy like heat treatment pasteurisation which is obviously important for food safety.
“How is the food industry going to develop that in terms of trying to achieve net zero? We need to help businesses find the way, collaborate and innovate for a better future which is going to be resilient and sustainable.
“The pandemic has shown people that change can happen and very quickly. Change has been forced upon people and it has really made them think and adapt very quickly.
“Hopefully, that will now feed into all the other challenges we face related to climate change. It is possible if we all work together for the greater good.”
Dominic O’Brien is a director of Experienced Energy Solutions and Birmingham Net Zero which work with businesses in Birmingham and the West Midlands to measure their carbon footprints.
He cautioned that the Government could not fight this battle alone so it was up to UK businesses to step forward and drive change.
“There isn’t enough investment and there isn’t one given technology out there to make everybody sustainable,” he said.
“It’s up to UK businesses to create these technologies and initiatives to help other businesses become more sustainable collectively. The energy industry is a huge contributor to carbon emissions but I see that as an opportunity to help and become more sustainable.
“Now we’re seeing the Government set targets of 2050 which is all well and good but a lot of cities like Birmingham are bringing that forward to 2030 which is just nine years away. If you were to ask how many businesses.felt they were in a position to hit those targets in nine years, the percentages would be absolutely minute.”
He said the pandemic had made him question the practices in his own organisations, adding: “I would normally be in front of people nearly every day up and down the country.
“I’m passionate about that so I’m a little conflicted about this but one has to look out for the greater good of sustainability and what the right thing is. Is it sustainable for me and my team to be driving around the country?
“Although we will be helping businesses become more sustainable, should we be driving around the country with the emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere?”
Rose Deakin founded The Crop Club which is a social enterprise helping people grow food in small spaces which she was inspired to launch while finishing a PhD in sustainable material selection.
She said it had thrived during the lockdown as more people looked to the natural environment for exercise and activities such as growing your own plants and food which had increased their appreciation of it.
But she cautioned that changing the mindset of the masses could be a slow process.
“I used to teach a module on sustainable behaviour change at university and the process and stages you have to go through to get someone to change their behavior is quite a long one usually,” she told the roundtable.
“Am I optimistic? It’s really hard because there’s been a lot of ‘this is happening and this isn’t happening’ so my faith and positivity in whether things will get better quickly maybe isn’t there. I think we might be in for the long haul.
“My positivity that people will find a way to make the best out of this and we will again collaborate and work together and try to make something good is there.
“However bad the state of the world is, the more there is need for people to try and help, particularly at that lower social level where often the kind of government support does seem to fall thin.”