It's about action now: not in 2025

Green transition 11 November 2020 Mathew Riley Philippa Spence Bram Miller

The world is facing a climate emergency. While climate related targets are set with a 20+ year timeframe, businesses are already being impacted today by climate change. It’s clear that businesses must adapt now: not only to provide the best possible chance of reaching zero carbon targets, but also to ensure they remain successful and profitable in a climate-impacted world.

Expert columns
6 min

The world is facing a climate emergency. A new study published by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) just this summer underlines the scale of the challenge: it supports predictions that the Arctic could be free of sea ice as soon as 2035. This prospect should be focusing our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as is feasible.  

Of course, around the world, commitments have already been made. Many countries have set legally binding targets on net-zero emissions, including Sweden which has pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2045, and the UK, France, and Denmark all aiming for 2050. 

Yet, while these targets are set with a 20+ year timeframe, businesses are already being impacted today by climate change. It’s clear that businesses must adapt now: not only to provide the best possible chance of reaching zero carbon targets, but also to ensure they remain successful and profitable in a climate-impacted world. 

Go beyond net zero and think climate resilience

Our view is that while zero carbon aims are important and worthwhile, we will not see the benefit for more than 50 years. We must do more than simply sign up to long-term goals, especially those with a single focus on ‘zero carbon’. Companies, governments, societies, must take action to minimise the severity and impact of climate change. Now is the time to move from planning and target-setting, to execution. More than that, everything business and society does in relation to climate action must be holistic. Yes, reduce carbon, but in parallel, improve climate resilience and adapt to climate change hazards and events. 

Set clear leadership and empower the organisation

We understand that this is not an easy proposition. To move forward, businesses must tackle the challenges that can impede immediate action, which range from lack of collaboration, to business models and procurement practices that were adopted long before the reality of the ‘burning platform’ was accepted. More problematic even than these factors, are the outdated industry standards, or even internal guidelines that have gone unchallenged for too long. These can be the biggest barriers to progress and even drive the wrong outcomes altogether. For example, we conducted a study in the UK a couple of years ago that showed that heating, cooling and electrical systems in new buildings are regularly designed with 30 or even 50% more capacity than they will ever need, because of slavishly sticking to existing standards and approaches. Adopting a different approach leads to a cost-effective leaner design with improved sustainability outcomes. 

For many businesses taking those first steps to move from planning and target setting to real action can feel hard: scaling up what they are doing in this space can feel daunting. The issues are complex and challenging, and it takes real bravery at the head of an organisation to move from short-term, profit driven priorities, to investing in solutions which will future proof the business for the longer term. There is a big gap between words and actions, and bridging that requires those in leadership positions to empower their organisation to take immediate, tangible action, at all levels. This includes recognising and harnessing the knowledge and drive of younger generations, who may not yet be in leadership positions but appreciate the challenges and requirement for action. We have an obligation to the next generation to create the environment for change.

 

Challenge conventional approaches

With so much emphasis on the assumed price tag attached to decarbonisation, for many businesses there is a fear that any action on climate will be detrimental to the bottom line. In fact, with the right technologies and expertise, making climate resilience and carbon reduction a priority can be the cost-effective choice.

We have made taking action on climate, and achieving a net zero climate resilient future for our clients, an organising principle for our business. We are bringing together integrated teams of scientists, engineers, economists, and digital experts to create world-leading holistic climate action solutions. 

A great example of what such integrated teams can achieve is the award-winning Intelligent Environmental Estate. Here, we created a digital tool that enables landowners to utilise multiscale imagery to monitor their environmental assets. The tool analyses satellite imagery via AI to accurately map habitats and automate decision making processes related to biodiversity and potentially other parameters such as carbon storage, through a machine learning algorithm that recognizes different habitats. Monitoring environmental estate through current traditional methods can prove very costly, for an organisation such as Highways England, which owns and operates a very large land estate with limited access meaning such monitoring could cost around £5m. Our tool enables organisations to monitor their estate more often, in more detail and much more cost effectively. 

Path to the white cliffs on the coast of Dover, UK. (c) Global_Pics

At Wembley Park, the urban regeneration scheme transforming the area around the national stadium, we helped Quintain realise their sustainability ambitions. Here, our approach to a single energy centre connected to a district heating system supplying 20 buildings took inspiration from our experience in Copenhagen to really maximise the energy efficiency. The solution saved in capital expenditure and reduces ongoing maintenance costs. 

We are also seeing clients such as British Land and Bruntwood showcasing a strong commitment to a sustainable portfolio and future and are delighted to be working with Bruntwood on Manchester’s first zero carbon building at the Didsbury Technology Park

Taking climate action doesn’t need to be put on the ‘too difficult pile’ or cast aside as too expensive in the current economic climate, it takes commitment, but there are solutions out there that make sense from both a commercial and sustainability perspective, Businesses will also find that sustainable projects are more attractive to funders and that more and more investment decisions will come with green strings and want to see clear alignment for how a project speaks to the Paris accord.

What about Ramboll's commitments?

For us, as for every other business, taking meaningful action on climate requires bravery across a number of fronts: we have to take long term, not short term decisions; create an environment where those with the knowledge and passion to make a difference in this field can step up to the most senior levels and move us forward; and challenge the perceived wisdom where outdated standards are actually working against the adoption of sustainable solutions.

The evolution our business towards a focus on Climate Action is a natural development of our 75-year heritage and legacy of Scandinavian solutions and our position as the sustainable society consultant.

 

We are developing our own commitments in helping to build a climate resilient future for all. This is being prioritised across all aspects of our business; from meaningfully reducing emissions from our own operations, to increasing investment into solutions that drive climate resilient outcomes for our clients, through to helping our employees lead sustainable lifestyles. We are in the final stages of formalising these commitments, in line with science-based targets, and will be pleased to share them soon.

Making the leadership commitment

This year’s pandemic has seen businesses rethink the way they work. Covid has shown us how quickly we can drive and adapt to change when we recognise the need for it. Behaviour towards the climate emergency has to change – not just with 2050 targets in mind, but because everywhere we live, everywhere we work, and every industry sector must make changes today to make themselves climate resilient. 

The right leadership is vital: our experience has been that when there is genuine commitment to making change amongst those at the most senior levels, then meaningful action will follow, but committing to those first few steps can still be daunting. In the first instance it may be as simple as knowing how to frame the right questions. Does your lead on sustainability sit at a senior enough level to drive change? Are you challenging your supply chain to provide climate resilient solutions? Have you reviewed the standards you work to, to see if you can go further? 

None of this will be easy, but it is needed, and is achievable. Wherever you are on your journey towards a net zero, climate resilient future, we have expertise and solutions, we’re ready to walk that path with you. 

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