Recently, I joined colleagues from across Impellam’s STEM brands (Carbon60, Lorien and SRG) to take part in Carbon Literacy Training, delivered by the fabulous Ilona Alcock from Elevate GM.
This was an eye-opening and thought-provoking day, where we all shared personal experiences and had some lively debates! I sincerely believe that this is going to have a long-term impact on the decisions that I make on a daily basis. So, I wanted to take a few minutes to share my key takeaways. I hope you find this an interesting read and please do share any thoughts that you have in the comments.
What do we know about climate change?
As the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases, the natural balance of our world’s environment tips. It is estimated that 1.16 million kilograms of CO2 are released into the air every second – and as this number rises, so too do the consequences for our planet. You likely know this phenomenon as climate change or global warming.
I don’t mind admitting that when I first heard that climate change has increased the earth’s temperature by 1.1OC since the start of the industrial revolution, I thought that doesn’t sound very dramatic (and frankly, on a cold miserable day in March, a good thing!). This was put into perspective when I learnt shortly after that a temperature increase of 1.5OC is the cliff edge and if we go over it, the consequences will be irreversible. And if that increase reaches 2OC, it will be catastrophic. The urgency becomes crystal clear when we realise that the temperature has increased by 25% in the last ten years. It’s commonly understood that global warming causes things like extreme weather events and the melting of the polar ice caps. But perhaps it’s less commonly understood that it can also lower the yield and the nutritional content of crops and cause lower economic growth. Governments across the globe have made various pledges to combat climate change but these can often feel weak compared to the magnitude of the issue and it is commonly agreed that we need to move faster as it’s estimated that we have roughly ten years to make a meaningful difference. And this is the crux of Carbon Literacy Training: each and every one of us can and should be accountable for lowering our individual carbon footprints.
Everything has a carbon footprint
It seems clear to me that there is common perception that global warming is a problem that governments and big businesses need to sort out. This is true to an extent but it’s only part of the solution. Whilst industries such as aviation, manufacturing, and cattle farming release the highest quantities of greenhouse gases, it is also true that every action that we take as individuals has an associated carbon footprint. Sending an email or text, walking through a door, and riding a bike all have a carbon footprint.
I don’t mind admitting that this revelation blew my mind- so let me explain a bit more using the example of an email. The footprint of an email is made up of the electricity needed to power the device that the email is written on, the data centre that it is stored on and device that recipient reads the email on. The size of the footprint is impacted by the time it takes to write and read the email, the size of any attachments, the number of recipients that read the email and how long they take to read it. One short email between two people has minimal impact but a reply all to a company email with a thousand recipients quickly becomes more significant. Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting that we ditch our personal or work emails, but this has given me an added incentive to reduce the size of my inboxes and I will think twice before clicking the reply all button in future!
If we agree that all of the actions that we take in our day to day lives contribute to our carbon footprint, then we can agree that changing these actions will reduce our individual carbon footprints. If we all reduce our individual carbon footprints, we reduce the global carbon footprint.
This is a textbook example of the power of marginal gains: the changes that we make as individuals may seem like they don’t make a difference, but the potential of the collective impact is huge.
Nobody’s perfect so don’t try to be!
We need to recognise the fact that no one is perfect, and no one ever will be! So, if eating a steak on a Saturday night is important to you, eat a steak on Saturday night, but you might want to consider having two or three meat-free days during the week as well. If your annual two-week foreign holiday is what you live for, keep on taking your two-week foreign holiday, but could you swap additional city breaks for a weekend in the UK? As individuals, we need to understand the specific factors that motivate us and make our green choices based on these. There is no one size fits all approach, but importantly, everyone can do something.
There are no shortcuts
We’ve all seen the “offset your carbon footprint” option when looking at flights, heard celebrities talk about how they offset the emissions when they use private jets and companies talking about how they will offset if other measures don’t quite get them to net zero by their target date. Whilst it’s really appealing to think that we can offset carbon emissions by planting trees, I’m afraid that it simply isn’t true. For the record, I’m very much in favour of planting trees but they just don’t offset carbon emissions in the timeframe that’s required - it takes a long time for a tree to grow!
Putting my money where my mouth isAfter the training, each attendee was invited to make two pledges or commitments (one personal and one group based), detailing the changes that they will make to support carbon reduction.
My personal pledge is to consider the carbon impact of everything that I buy and challenge myself to always make more sustainable choices. This will lead to lots of small changes that together will deliver a big change. I really see this as a lifestyle change - by considering the carbon impact of every purchase, I will make day to day decisions differently and I believe that it will soon become second nature to pick sustainable products and brands over their less sustainable counterparts. As a starter for ten, I’ve swapped my old shampoo and conditioner for one that are bars and I’ve swapped my dog’s dentastick with deer antlers. These are small changes, but if I make similar ones for the majority of things that I buy, the impact on my carbon footprint will be significant and I’m happy with that.
My group pledge is to, wherever possible, include a commitment about how working with Lorien can have a positive impact on the customer’s carbon footprint in every bid (Reach out to me for more information if this interests you!). I will work with colleagues to look at every step in the recruitment process with a ‘green’ lens, to see how we can work with our customers to make better and more sustainable choices. I certainly don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I can make sure that we have meaningful conversations.
What steps are you taking to reduce your carbon footprint this year? Let me know your thoughts and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.