Staff workshop kick starts climate change conversation

Kye Parkin
Communications Executive | Business West
28th February 2020

Scientific consensus is such that now is the time for action on climate change.

With the 2010s the warmest decade on record, businesses can no longer sit on the side-lines and drastic changes in the way we produce, move and consume are required if the UK is to meet its target of net zero by 2050.

Against this background, a number of businesses and institutions in our region have declared climate emergencies, prompting Business West to begin to take a serious look at what measures it can take to help combat climate change.

To kick start the internal discussion regarding the organisation’s stance on climate change and begin to develop and implement a wide ranging and comprehensive plan of action to get to grips with the problem, Business West employees were invited to take part in an ‘all-hands’ climate change workshop to facilitate dialogue and gain perspective from across the business.

Managing Director Phil Smith opened the workshop by urging the 50+ employees in attendance to think carefully how “Business West can play its part in growth that supports the environment”, stressing that alongside productivity and internationalisation, climate change is one of Business West’s key strategic priorities over the next five years.

After a brief speech by Chairman John Savage, Phil then outlined the format of the workshop. Two guest speakers would set the scene - outlining their experiences of working toward net zero carbon by 2030 targets. Estates Manager Sam Shinner and Nina Skubala, Initiative Manager would then describe what Business West has achieved to date on the climate change issue, before a brief policy update from Director of Policy Matt Griffith.

Having heard from expert guest speakers and colleagues close to the issue, employees would then work in groups and brainstorm ideas to improve our internal operations, support local businesses to make positive choices and encourage powers that be to enable and drive positive change for the region.

Simon Roberts OBE, Chief Executive of the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) - a Bristol-based charity that promotes energy justice – was the first of the two guest speakers and delivered presentation on the One City Climate Strategy. CSE were consulted by Bristol City Council (BCC) to identify what needed to happen in Bristol to achieve net zero by 2030, pinpointing the conditions for success and implementing immediate measures to set them on course toward achieving their target.

The headline recommendations CSE proposed were to phase out gas central heating, decarbonise electricity supply across the city, restrict petrol and diesel vehicles from entering the city centre, reduce waste and ensure net zero emissions from all new build properties - all of which have an economic upside according to Simon. Following a short Q&A We The Curious’ Chris Dunford took to the stage.

We The Curious was the first science centre in the world to declare a climate emergency, and as the Head of Sustainable Futures Chris used his presentation to demystify what the declaration of a climate emergency actually means in practice.  Chris said that the decision was taken to declare a climate emergency back in 2018 in order to communicate, in no uncertain terms, We The Curious’ position to internal and external stakeholders, as it set a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Chris outlined the three work streams that guide We The Curious’ drive to hit its net zero carbon emissions target, namely to take stock of their work so far, pledge actions for the future and inspire others to act. In a very practical sense, this involves an ongoing green ‘MOT’ for the organisation, reviewing achievement of its climate goals and setting new challenges as they work toward their goal. In doing so they hope to inspire other organisations to do likewise and help spread the word about the science behind climate change through its various exhibits and attractions.

Chris said that declaring a climate emergency had meant some tough decisions had to be made and that adapting to change hadn’t always been easy, but the response from staff and its customers had been largely positive.

Illustrating the point, Chris recounted the decision to cancel We The Curious yearly ice skating rink in the run up to Christmas 2019. Ice skating rinks are incredibly energy and resource intensive Chris said, and even though it was a significant source of revenue for the business, it was no longer a fit with the organisation’s climate goals and simply had to go.

For many families in Bristol visiting the ice rink is a yearly tradition, so We The Curious were expecting a backlash when it made the switch to roller-skating admitted Chris. Despite this, however, the response from the public was overwhelmingly supportive, something that Chris puts down to We The Curious being upfront and transparent about its climate goals and sticking to them even if this means taking the less attractive route commercially.

Chris rounded off his presentation by stating that: “Every organisation has its own ice rink.” A sentiment that offered food for thought as Sam Shinner, Estates Manager at Business West brought into focus internal measures the organisation is taking to reduce its environmental impact.

Despite operating out of a Grade II* listed building that dates back to 1814, Business West has made strides in recent years to reduce the environmental impact of its grand (if not naturally energy inefficient) Bristol headquarters said Sam. Recognising the pressing need to reduce carbon emissions, in 2016 Business West implemented an ongoing programme of energy efficiency initiatives, which has reduced CO2 consumption by a third. This was achieved by a reduction of mains voltage and energy consumption through a voltage optimisation system, upgrading lighting to LEDs and installing timers on electrical devices amongst other measures.

A raft of changes had been implemented recently as climate change soared up the agenda: switching to glass milk bottles and food recycling bins in staff kitchen just two of highly visible developments that Sam mentioned. Sam then identified short and medium term targets to improve energy consumption and reduce emissions across the site, before stating his long-term goal of transforming Leigh Court into the UK’s first carbon neutral business centre.

Switching the focus to Business West’s external lobbying and customer facing activities, Nina Skubala reminded colleagues that Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative’s support for a greener agenda dated back to the 1990s. More recently, Business West has an impressive track record of providing low carbon business support services such as Go Green, backed the successful European Green Capital bid in 2015 and joined the International Chambers Climate Coalition as recently as 2019. As businesses become more and more aware of the climate change problem, Business West will play a more and more central role in leading the way and challenging businesses to get to grips with the issue Nina remarked - roundtable.

Director of Policy Matt Griffith then gave a brief overview of the evolving policy landscape in relation to climate change and identified COP26 in Glasgow this year as make or break for the UK’s credibility on climate change on the world stage.

After hearing from a number of colleagues and climate change experts it was then over to employees to brainstorm how Business West can help tackle climate change through its internal processes and operations, business support services and influencing agenda. Lively discussions ensued with no shortage of great ideas.

Having gathered intelligence across the business on responses to this most critical of issues, a smaller working group will decide upon key priorities and formalise their recommendations to the senior management team and Business West board in March.

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