From carbon neutrality to net zero: what do all these key words and phrases mean?
This year, RSK has taken further steps along its sustainability journey by signing the Pledge to Net Zero, committing to the Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi) and setting its first carbon reduction target. With our road to COP26 in November mapped out by a series of webinars, internal initiatives such as the #RSKGetCreative competition and the whole business invited to get involved in our monthly sustainability pledges, colleagues have been talking about sustainability and carbon reduction initiatives as we collectively work towards our targets.
But from carbon neutrality to net zero, many terms and key phrases are often used interchangeably to talk about sustainability. Check-in with RSK’s sustainability and carbon experts to find out what all these terms mean and how they relate to RSK…
Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. And it is not just about environmentalism. Most definitions of sustainability focus on three interconnected spheres: economic development, social equity and environmental protection.
Something is sustainable if it can maintain itself without causing permanent harm to the natural world, without using up limited resources or reducing people’s health or happiness. The global agenda for sustainability is defined by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Sustainable companies integrate long-term economic, environmental and social goals into their strategic decision-making. Making sure that habitats are not lost, that workers and local communities are well treated and ensuring the business is financially secure so that it can continue to operate are a few examples.
At RSK, promoting the concept of sustainability in all that we do is one of our nine guiding principles and long-term environmental, social and economic objectives are part of the group’s corporate responsibility and sustainability route map.
Environmental issues relate to the natural world around us and the ecosystems in which people, animals and plants live. Human activities can cause environmental damage and companies are facing increasing pressure from regulators and campaigners to reduce their negative impacts on the environment.
Many of RSK’s services help clients to reduce their environmental footprints and we have procedures within our group safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ) management systems to minimise the environmental harm resulting from our own operations. RSK is committed to environmental protection and enhancement.
Being nature positive means that negative impacts on nature are outweighed by efforts to enhance ecosystems and biodiversity. It is related to the concept of biodiversity net gain, which is typically associated with specific projects that aim to add value to their natural environment.
Things are described as ‘green’ if they have a positive effect on the environment or are at least better for the environment than the alternatives. Environmentally friendly products, for example, are often referred to as green products.
Binnies is providing consultancy services for a new integrated waste-management facility in Singapore that will sort 250 tonnes of recycled waste every day. Recycling helps to reduce carbon footprints and avoids the environmental impact caused by incinerating waste or disposing of it in landfill.
RSK is running a free webinar series this year in the run up to COP26 called Green Dialogues, covering initiatives that benefit the environment, such as renewable heating and transport.
Greenhouse gas emissions are a major contributor to climate change. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. This is having serious impacts on people and the environment, with effects such as more severe floods, droughts, storms and rising sea levels. To limit these impacts, it is critical that we lower the emissions of these gases directly, by consuming less fuel and electricity, and indirectly, through the purchasing decisions that we make.
RSK Netherlands has a target to reduce by 40% its own fuel, electricity and business travel emissions by 2025 (from 2018 levels). From 2012/13 to 2020, RSK has reduced the carbon emissions per employee from its UK offices by 22%.
An organisation is carbon neutral if its activities do not lead to an overall rise in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Reducing emissions can partly achieve this but in most cases it is not possible to reduce emissions to zero, at least in the short term. The remaining emissions are instead counterbalanced using a process called offsetting. This means paying others to emit less or to remove carbon from the atmosphere, for example through RSK’s business Nature Positive. RSK also offers services to help clients manage their carbon emissions.
Net zero is a broader version of carbon neutrality that includes all greenhouse gases as opposed to just carbon dioxide. It often means relying less on offsetting and thinking more about indirect emissions, which are the emissions released by other organisations but caused by your own actions (for example, the emissions released during the manufacture of a vehicle that you then purchase).
There is widespread debate about the effectiveness of offsetting, so focusing more on reducing emissions helps to avoid the issue. The Paris Climate Agreement sets a goal of limiting the temperature rise from climate change to 2°C, ideally to 1.5°C if possible, from a pre-industrial baseline. It also means we are aiming to reach net zero for the whole planet in the second half of the 21st century.
Many organisations are setting targets to reduce their emissions to put them on track to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement; these are called science-based targets. RSK is aiming to set science-based targets for its emissions by next year.
Renewable resources are part of the Earth’s natural environment and can be consumed at the rate at which they will naturally be replenished within a human timescale (for example water, wind power or biomass). Sustainability presumes that finite non-renewable resources should be used conservatively and that we should rely more on renewable resources instead. In the context of energy, for example, renewable energy comes from sources such as wind, waves and the sun, which never run out, as opposed to fossil fuels like oil and gas that will not be replenished for millions of years. Renewable energy technology comes with its own set of challenges, such as a reliance on non-renewable minerals.
RSK has been working on renewable energy projects for more than 20 years. In the UK, RSK uses a 100% renewable energy tariff for its electricity supply. RSK also supports renewable energy projects in Central and Eastern Europe, such as wind farms in Bulgaria.
Corporate social responsibility
A company with corporate social responsibility recognises that it has obligations to communities that go beyond solely making a profit. Being a socially responsible company means taking action to try to support society and the wider economy and to protect the environment.
RSK has a corporate responsibility and sustainability route map that will help it to improve in these areas by establishing 20 targets to meet for each year up to 2024.
This refers to the benefits to the community that are created by the activities of an organisation. The benefits can relate to protecting the environment and also to supporting the local economy or local people. An organisation that is focused on social value will try to make sure that the community benefits as much as possible from its operations.
RSK supports communities by employing and upskilling local people, using local suppliers and raising money for charities. Currently, we are raising money for Mind, a charity that helps people with mental health problems.
RSK business units aim to create social value in their local areas. RSK Tanzania, for example, has recently supported a secondary school near to its office with the purchase of science and maths textbooks. Furthermore, RSK’s joint venture in Tanzania, RSKeWATERservices, is providing social value by installing 650 solar-powered water meters and taps to help make low-cost clean water available to 164,000 people.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
Equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace means promoting equal opportunities and opposing discrimination. Actively promoting diversity, equality and inclusion enables companies to gain access to a larger and more diverse set of potential workers, to make optimal use of available labour and talent and to retain qualified employees. These benefits will flow through to the wider societies in which companies operate, as greater equality promotes social stability and supports further economic development.
As part of its corporate social responsibility efforts, RSK’s board has signed a pledge to support equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the group. This commits the company to actions, including tackling unconscious bias and empowering the workforce, for example through employee networks. Some RSK group companies also have their own initiatives in this area; for example, Amphos 21 has its own gender equality policy for its teams.
ESG stands for environmental, social and governance. It refers to the non-financial criteria used by investors and financial analysts to evaluate organisations and identify risks and opportunities. As well as the environmental and social aspects of sustainability, it covers corporate governance: the systems and procedures that companies have in place to make sure laws and ethical standards are followed.
RSK’s route map sets targets across the different areas of ESG, including the environment, communities and governance, but also for health and safety, ethical standards, and how to treat employees and partners. Our funders have also set non-financial ESG targets for RSK to achieve.