JTI: Sustainability professionals need to ‘ride the momentum’ of COP26 into the New Year

EXCLUSIVE: As we approach the end of a whirlwind year for the sustainability profession, Japan Tobacco International's (JTI) UK environmental lead Kirsty Rice reflects on how professionals can keep the momentum going and deliver deep decarbonisation and a just transition in 2022.

JTI: Sustainability professionals need to ‘ride the momentum’ of COP26 into the New Year

Pictured: Direct solar steam generation at JTI's manufacturing site in Amman

In the two-year build-up to COP26 in November, environmental sustainability rose ever higher up the business and policy agenda, and received unprecedented levels of media coverage and public engagement. A landmark YouGov poll in November revealed that public concern for the environment is at an all-time high, despite worries about the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis. 

For all of us working in this space, this has been an extraordinary year. Despite the economic challenges of the pandemic, there is a general consensus that non-state actors including businesses are moving faster than most nations, demonstrating environmental leadership and turning ambition into action on issues including decarbonisation, climate resilience, waste and social sustainability. There is also a recognition that, even if action is not yet rapid or far-reaching enough, the signals are all pointing in the right direction, including policy and finance. 

To help us reflect on the changes in ambition and action during 2021, and plot a strategy for keeping up the momentum in the New Year, edie sat down for a Q&A with JTI’s UK environmental leader Kirsty Rice.

Rice has been with JTI for more than two years and, after overseeing the development of a new sweeping strategy through to 2030, is now playing an instrumental role in its delivery. 

What does sustainability and climate leadership look like for businesses and people in the context of 2021 and 2022? 

“Sustainability has been on the agenda for a while, but it’s time for people and businesses to make it the absolute priority.

“We’ve just had COP26 and with increasing pressure on governments, nations and therefore businesses to make positive change for the better – and to do it quickly, sustainability must be given greater prioritisation by all organisations.”

What advice would you give to edie’s readers to help them achieve this level of leadership?

“The main piece of advice I would give is to ensure your environmental plan is successful by tailoring it to your business and creating a sense of ownership. This can only be done by engaging and communicating with your stakeholders from the outset. It was this that gave us a running start last year when we launched our JTI UK Environmental Plan 2030 – an ambitious set of environmental sustainability targets with five key focus areas across our business: emissions, energy, waste, water and engagement.

“To embed the plan, we spoke to lots of people from as many touchpoints as possible around the JTI business to understand what positive environmental actions they felt they could take. We discussed ambitions with the leadership team and directors, the operational teams and the various business functions, as well as taking on board the plans from our global team. By speaking to so many people, everyone felt involved in the creation of the plan. This meant that when it came to the delivery of the plan, everyone was already engaged, they knew the role they needed to play, and they were enthusiastic about making it happen.

“You can’t just snap your fingers and sustainability – or environmental change – will happen, it is all about the groundwork.”

Which topics do you think will rise up the corporate sustainability agenda in 2022, or do you feel have been missing from the conversation to date?

“Following COP26 and the fact that net-zero is becoming quite a standard approach for a lot of businesses, we believe there will be a higher focus on Scope 3 emissions – this is certainly something we are looking at.

“However, we do understand that measuring and reducing Scope 3 emissions can be challenging because of the broad nature and number of the impacts involved when assessing a value chain.

“Our advice to companies at the beginning of their Scope 3 emissions journey is to start with what you can measure and build your knowledge and reduction strategy from there. Don’t feel you need to know everything from the outset.

“For example, last year, as part of our JTI UK Environmental Plan 2030, we set a UK net-zero target for our own emissions. Like any other business serious about sustainability, we recognise that Scope 3 emissions are a significant proportion of our wider carbon footprint. We’ve committed to reviewing the whole of our UK value chain and addressing our most significant impacts and, by the end of 2022, we will have set targets to reduce our UK distribution and business-travel-related emissions. 

“More and more guidance is becoming available. We’d suggest looking at the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and Corporate Standards as they can provide advice on how to measure, report and target for net-zero.”

How can sustainability professionals and business leaders use the outcomes of COP26 – including the Glasgow Climate Pact – to accelerate their own ambitions?

“There’s been a lot of conversation on climate change in recent months, it has become a fundamental part of our societal dialogue.

“Many people were already inspired, wanting to be a part of making a real change, but COP26 has reignited the fire, the passion and the sense of leadership around protecting the environment. It also highlighted issues to those who were unaware of just how critical the situation is.

“As sustainability professionals, we need to ride on the back of COP26 to encourage further conversation within our workforce and empower them to be able to drive change. At JTI UK, we’re doing just that. We’re using the increased interest to continue our internal conversations, raising awareness of our JTI UK Environmental Plan 2030 and communicating exactly what we need to do together, as a business, to reach our targets.”

What will best-practice collaboration for sustainability professionals and businesses look like in the near future?

“Best-practice collaboration stems from sharing knowledge and skills to help others. It is about showing leadership to the value chain, whether that is customers or suppliers.

“A huge part of our business is working with our highly valued trade partners to instil responsible retailing practices, and this includes supporting them on their sustainability journey. To provide retailers and wholesalers with best-in-class support, JTI UK partnered with the UK’s leading Responsible Business Network, Business in the Community (BITC), on a Partner to Trade project to provide our trade partners with practical steps that can be taken to help them become more sustainable in the retail environment.

“Research, roundtable discussions, workshops and a hands-on approach were all part of our Partner to Trade project. Through these activities, we have made expert advice from sustainability professionals accessible to our customers and suppliers. We would encourage others to look at ways they can also do this.”

Having participated as a judge in edie’s Sustainability Leaders Awards, how do you think recognition can help and inspire others to set and realise their climate ambitions?  

“As a judge, one of the main things I was looking for was the transferability of what the individuals and businesses had achieved. I looked at what action they had taken, what they were planning to do and how others could use or learn from it.

“Ultimately, if people can recognise actions they can take, or see what others are doing, it makes it all the more tangible.”

Book your tickets for edie’s Sustainability Leaders Awards 2022

Now in its 15th year, the world’s largest sustainable business awards scheme champions bold and brilliant climate leadership. From the best net-zero carbon programmes through to cutting-edge product innovations – winning an edie Award empowers teams, inspires stakeholders and accelerates sustainable business growth.

Our panel of 30 expert judges recently convened for a full day of judging where they whittled down more than 300 entries to a shortlist of 135 finalists across 23 categories. This includes some new categories that were added to widen the scope of the 2022 Awards – including the Partnership & Collaboration of the Year, and the Nature & Biodiversity Project of the Year.  You can view all of the finalists here.

The Sustainability Leaders Awards ceremony, which will reveal our winners, takes place as an in-person event at the Park Plaza London Westminster hotel on Wednesday 2 February 2022. It is highly recommended that you book your place at the Awards before Christmas, as premium tables are limited. 

edie Staff

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