In an era where sustainability is no longer an option but a necessity, businesses are increasingly turning their attention to understanding and mitigating their carbon footprints. Julie Winnard, a former data manager, and a seasoned sustainability expert specialising in carbon footprints, brings valuable insights to the table. In this interview, she provides comprehensive information on the services she offers, the criteria for businesses requiring a carbon footprint, challenges faced during the process, and upcoming changes in regulations.
What services do you provide to businesses?
My array of services revolves primarily around the intricate processes of calculating and reporting carbon footprints. Whether it's aiding companies in establishing emissions targets or formulating robust carbon emissions reduction plans, my expertise is employed across the spectrum. This spans from large corporations and multinational entities down to local SMEs and even individual entities. Depending on the scope and nature of the project, I may work independently, collaboratively with other experts, or even subcontract certain aspects. Additionally, I offer ad-hoc support to businesses grappling with the complexities of sustainability, serving as a first port of call for those facing questions like "We don’t really know what this question means, please help us answer it for our customer/regulator/investor" or "I think I’ve got a problem or want to do something better, but don’t know where to start."
What criteria qualify a business for requiring a carbon footprint?
The landscape of carbon footprint reporting has evolved significantly. Many companies begin reporting voluntarily before it becomes mandatory. For SMEs, this is often driven by customer demand, but regulatory capture is progressively extending its reach to smaller entities. Initially, only publicly traded companies on the London Stock Exchange were mandated to report in the UK. However, with the advent of Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) in 2019, large private organizations, meeting specific criteria such as a turnover of £36 million or more, a balance sheet of £18 million or more, or having 250 employees or more, are now required to report. Notably, this also applies to Academy trusts. Other regulations, such as the upcoming UK Sustainability Disclosure Standards (SDS) and the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), further shape the reporting landscape. The criteria set out in these schemes aim to standardise reporting practices, extending beyond climate-related data to include social impact and governance metrics while necessitating the establishment of Net Zero targets and published reduction plans.
What challenges do businesses face when producing a carbon footprint, and how can they prepare ahead of time?
The journey toward creating a comprehensive carbon footprint typically commences with the compilation of a simple footprint using existing data. The challenge lies in ensuring the availability, accessibility, and usability of all necessary data. To prepare ahead of time, businesses contemplating the creation of a footprint should ensure they have accurate records of utility bills, refrigerant maintenance data (particularly for greenhouse gas leaks), and details of fuel consumption in vehicles or company buildings/processes. Annual data on energy use, water use and discharge, and waste details, all quantified in litres, tonnes, or kWh of use rather than just monetary spend, are critical. Additionally, meticulous documentation of business travel, encompassing transport modes, hotel stays, and employee commuting and homeworking details, is vital. Planning ahead can significantly alleviate the complexity of the process, which typically spans about 18 months from data collection to reporting, target setting, and reduction plan creation after year-end. Engaging with a consultant early in the process can help businesses focus on the most crucial areas, avoid wasted efforts, and receive guidance on acceptable estimation practices.
Are there upcoming changes in regulations businesses should be aware of?
The regulatory landscape is dynamic, with significant changes on the horizon. The EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is gradually expanding its applicability from larger to smaller firms and subsidiaries between 2024 and 2028. Simultaneously, the UK Sustainability Disclosure Standards (SDS), set for release and implementation in 2024/25, is still undergoing finalisation, subject to potential adjustments in the current political climate. Despite potential variations, the global trend in reporting is toward greater standardisation, and large customers will continue demanding uniform information. Over time, regulations will extend their reach, requiring more suppliers to adhere to stringent reporting standards. Even individual freelancers may find themselves subject to these requirements for certain contracts.
How can businesses prepare for regulatory changes?
To prepare for regulatory changes, businesses should proactively seek an understanding of the regulations applicable to their industry and specific sector. Engaging with a sustainability consultant, especially one with expertise in reporting or the specific industry, can provide valuable guidance. Collaboration with customers, fellow suppliers, and sector organisations facilitates the exchange of best practices and insights. Joining sector organisations or green/sustainable business groups offers additional support, and many consultancies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provide both paid and free training. While the long-term goal involves updating organisational skills for day-to-day sustainability management, planning for access to the right resources is equally critical. Instead of the challenging task of recruiting one full-time individual with a comprehensive skill set, businesses can consider part-time roles, external consultancies, or support organisations offering varied services on demand. This approach ensures flexibility, access to expertise as needed, and the ability to adapt seamlessly to evolving sustainability requirements.
In a world where sustainability is not just a buzzword but a fundamental aspect of responsible business practices, Julie Winnard's insights provide a roadmap for businesses aiming to navigate the complexities of carbon footprinting and stay ahead of regulatory shifts. By understanding the criteria, challenges, and proactive measures outlined in this interview, businesses can embark on a sustainable journey that not only complies with current regulations but also positions them for success in an increasingly eco-conscious world.