May 18, 2024

First step

Don’t be daunted by the myriad of acronyms, measurements and accreditations, says Andy Conduit-Turner at Cartus. Just give it a go

Let’s begin by acknowledging the green elephant in the room. The world of sustainability is increasingly complex and for those not already embedded into the wealth of associated acronyms and measurement criteria, it can be pretty intimidating.

It’s certainly come a long way from my own experience as a child,  when my understanding of pollution was characterised by images of smoke-billowing factories and when my parents installing a wall-mounted can crusher in our garage to aid our recycling efforts saw me rate myself only just below Captain Planet himself.

Why open with a TV reference that firmly dates my childhood? It’s because I’d fear that starting with a statement on the progress against The Paris Agreement, and the level of business preparedness for the CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) may have seen many of you not already working on these topics bounce off this article hard enough to reach sufficient altitude to monitor ozone layer recovery.

For several years now, buyers of goods and services have needed to be cautious of greenwashing, with extraordinary levels of marketing spin and mental gymnastics labelling a myriad of approaches as being “green”. Today, with greenwashing being directly targeted by legislators, we also increasingly need to manage the other side of this bad penny – greenhushing – where even companies who have genuine goals may be hesitant to publish them for fear of scrutiny and bad press. Sadly, neither of these trends makes the job of selecting the most sustainable partners easier, but the solution lies in the questions we ask. 

It’s time to get specific and ask for adequate detail and context to guide your decisions. Where we may have once simply asked about any environmental goals, now we should be actively asking about targets based on science, or the proportion of a property’s energy generated by renewable sources. These are great ways to start getting a clearer picture of real engagement.

Knowing where to begin can be hard. While organisations like SBTi and EcoVadis publish rich content on this subject, for buyers not solely dedicated to sustainability projects even the reading can become a daunting task. If I could suggest only two things to anyone looking to take their first sustainable step, they would be:

Start: An imperfect start that can be built upon is infinitely preferable to a lack of engagement or progress until “everything” is worked out. Ask questions of your providers, find out what information is available. How consistent (or otherwise) is this information? What are your peers doing? Knowing where you are is central to deciding where you need to go.

Establish context: Numbers without context make driving actions and understanding progress difficult. Knowing the carbon emissions of a train journey or the gallons of water saved by reducing towel replacements in accommodation are just numbers when alone, but when you can compare these to the equivalent journey by car/plane, or a percentage of water saved versus annual consumption, even ahead of a developing a full suite of sustainability reporting, you immediately benefit from stronger messages on how changes of behaviours in travel are measurably supporting your company’s sustainability goals.

Don’t let a desire for perfection stop you from making initial progress. Whether crushing cans or crunching emissions numbers, never underestimate the importance of taking your first step.

Andy Conduit-Turner is Director of Sustainable Growth Enablement at Cartus, which provides relocation services to corporate clients and frequently engages with business travel teams on shared priorities and experiences.