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Doing business differently is key to recovering from coronavirus and ending the climate crisis

Research by Zero Waste Scotland has suggested that continuing with homeworking after lockdown would cut its carbon footprint by nearly 75 per cent because most of its emissions are caused by staff travel.

27 May 20

The circular economy expert revealed its findings as it urged the public and private sector to use what they’ve had to learn through lockdown on how to do business differently to help them find the best way to rebuild after the pandemic. 

It said the circular approach – keeping resources in a loop of use – was the key to building back better by creating more green jobs and companies to overcome the coronavirus and the climate crisis together. In that way the environment could recover and grow in harmony with the economy, not in conflict.

In a blog on the subject, Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Lockdown has given us a glimpse of a better, brighter future with clearer skies and cleaner waters as the natural world takes advantage of the respite these strange times are providing. Many people are making understandable links between all these changes and the climate emergency, which indisputably remains the greatest threat we face long-term. 

“Lockdown has also shown just how much we could all do differently, and given us a chance to assess the impact of these sudden widespread changes on the economy and the environment, both now and into the future. 

“From our own experience we estimate that after the first two weeks of lockdown the benefits of eradicating all staff travel versus the extra emissions caused by one-off investments in extra home office equipment cut our organisation’s carbon footprint by 25 per cent compared to the same period the previous year. 

“But more importantly we have now estimated that if we continued with homeworking and remote meetings the benefits of that would shoot up to nearly 75 per cent as the ongoing reduction in travel emissions far outweighed the initial rise in emissions from the additional technology we had to make available.

“Having clear information on the practical, economic and environmental impact of this kind of dramatic operational switch is invaluable to any chief executive in Scotland making tough decisions on what they can feasibly do differently as we rebuild to recover while also delivering the greatest reduction in carbon emissions. We all have to do that to collectively end our nation’s contribution to the climate crisis by 2045 under the Scottish Government’s landmark net-zero pledge.”

Michael Lenaghan, Zero Waste Scotland environmental policy advisor who led the lockdown research, said: “The reason for the bulk of this saving is because, like many office-based organisations, commuting and business travel are by far the greatest cause of our emissions. Like many other organisations, none of our staff are travelling anywhere for work currently.

“A few months ago, it was almost unthinkable that businesses across the country could be in a position to wipe out a huge chunk of their carbon footprint. We know working from home isn’t the answer for everyone, and the coronavirus crisis has devastated many companies. But the lockdown has given us valuable insight into different ways of working which can make a huge difference to how some organisations can meet the net-zero targets which we all still have to achieve by 2045. 

“For many office workers, avoiding the daily commute is putting more time and money in their pockets.  Businesses like ours have also made significant savings on corporate travel costs by making better use of remote meeting technology, which is having a positive impact on the environment.

“The reduction we have seen in our own carbon footprint is likely to be very similar for many other office-based organisations, so these findings will be relevant to a great many other bodies across Scotland and could inspire them to do things differently in future.”

Most of Zero Waste Scotland’s travel emissions before lockdown came from staff driving to get to work, or for work, as it already operated a successful no-fly policy for business travel across the UK and much of mainland Europe before the coronavirus crisis. 

Further detail on Zero Waste Scotland’s lockdown study is available here

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