Recently, COP 26 got underway in Glasgow – welcoming diplomats, activists and world leaders from across the globe to tackle the worst effects of climate change. As a result of the two-week conference, sustainable and ethical issues have been placed firmly at the forefront of society’s agenda.
How ethically you do business is becoming a cornerstone of your employer brand as well as criteria for investment. Our expectations of businesses are changing and those that look to make positive changes associated with environmental, social and governance factors may carry an advantage in attracting the best talent and accessing funding streams.
As companies assess their options to tackle this newly emphasised responsibility, a solution unknown to many lies with their commercial and corporate lawyers. A capable external legal team can enrich a client’s internal resources and assist your business to understand, navigate and benefit from sustainability related issues and challenges which your business may face.
One of our IT and commercial team, Rob Court, had this to say: ‘In IT terms, sustainability impacts the whole of the IT supply chain and is already a material consideration at C-suite level with its importance only increasing. This year we have already seen the Cabinet Office issue guidance on how procurement teams should take account of carbon reduction plans when procuring major government contracts (PPN 06/21) and this approach is likely to proliferate through the wider market which will see suppliers embrace the potential to show off their ESG credentials as selling points for their services.
Industry leaders are moving beyond carbon neutrality towards carbon negativity and post COP26, we may see new and more extensive regulations focusing on renewable energy, material sourcing and the circular economy. Whilst decarbonising global supply chains will present significant challenges, we may come to see new local legislation compelling suppliers to target carbon reductions across their value or supply chains. Recent reports suggest that over 53 million tonnes of e-waste was discarded in 2019 (a figure that’s expected to rise dramatically rather than fall), and it’s arguably never been more important to double down and increase our collective efforts in relation to sustainability.
One industry that I expect will continue to see significant growth is that of IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) where corporate buyers may be starting to question long-held views that new equipment is materially more capable, reliable and energy-efficient than recycled, refurbished or remanufactured kit. At Harper James, we’ve got experience in assisting buyers and resellers in this space and we expect we will be doing more work in this sector over the coming months.’
Businesses can also use green incentives as part of their wider company narrative. Commenting, Ian Fraser an employee incentives specialist at Harper James, said: ‘Targeting employee incentives on green issues can be a very effective and practical way of promoting a green agenda and enhancing a company’s green and eco-credentials. This can then also become part of the company’s public narrative. Companies can set performance criteria for bonus plans or enhance entitlements under flexible benefits packages to encourage certain behaviours, so annual cash plans can be structured to set green and eco targets and promote the activities a company wants to encourage. This is probably most applicable to large mature private companies or stock exchange-listed companies which operate annual cash incentive arrangements.
Start-up companies and growing SMEs tend to conserve cash by using share options and other equity rights to encourage employees, directors and some consultants, so where a company’s activities are focused on green and eco issues, aligning employee equity rights with the company’s plans for growth can create a direct link between the company’s successes and meeting green and eco targets. This can be highlighted as part of the message the company builds with the public. Similarly, the remuneration committees of listed companies operating long term incentive plans (LTIPs) for senior employees can align some or all of the LTIP’s key performance indicators with green and eco targets and publicise that to institutional investors and the public generally, to enhance the company’s green and eco-credentials.’
Abby Watson, a corporate law expert also added: ‘Companies should also consider becoming a certified B corporation – this is the only certification that measures a company’s social and environmental performance. Such companies strive to balance profit with purpose and are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.’
Seven tips for making your business greener
- Incentivise and reward staff – introduce green incentives for staff and reward employees who deliver on it.
- Create a green team within your business – involve staff at each level of the company and share their ideas and suggestions.
- Review all your suppliers – are they providing services in a sustainable way? If not, could you switch?
- Introduce a recycling scheme – businesses who don’t practice what they preach in their office or HQ can’t claim to be truly eco-friendly.
- Think about switching more to remote working – the pandemic has changed the way we work and reduced a lot of traffic on the roads and overseas business travel. Review how many of your staff actually need to be coming in each day or getting on a plane for a meeting that could take place via Zoom.
- Survey your customers about sustainability – often consumers will be willing to pay a little bit more if it means the product they receive is being delivered in a more eco-friendly way.
- Constantly review your technology – new and energy-saving ways of working are emerging every day in industries across the world. Make it part of your annual business to run an MOT on the green credentials of your tech and whether you can do better.
Are you looking to operate more sustainably? For advice on how to operate your start-up in a greener and more sustainable way, get in touch. We can advise you on the best legal course of action to make your business greener.