Almost two-thirds of UK businesses yet to set emissions targets, survey reveals

Almost two-thirds (61%) of companies in the UK's private sector have not yet set a specific, numerical target for reducing their emissions, a new survey from consultancy YouGov has revealed.

YouGov surveyed almost 850 professionals on a range of sustainability topics, from carbon emissions to energy efficiency

YouGov surveyed almost 850 professionals on a range of sustainability topics, from carbon emissions to energy efficiency

Of the 848 C-suite executives and energy managers surveyed, just 331 said their company had set a target for reducing its carbon emissions. This finding came despite 619 (73%) of respondents claiming that sustainability was “very important” to their brand.

Published on Friday (5 October) as part of waste management Veolia’s white paper on energy efficiency in buildings, the survey revealed that almost half (45%) of respondents with an annual energy bill of £2m or more believe their buildings are “OK or poor” in terms of energy efficiency.

These revelations raise concerns around how UK businesses develop their long-term energy efficiency and emission reductions targets, particularly with the Government set to require all large organisations to disclose their carbon footprint from next year.

Veolia’s head of energy efficiency Nick Painter emphasised the need for companies to comply with Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) and Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) regulations.

“Building efficiency plays a significant role in improving productivity yet this latest research backs our experience that sustainability aims are not always matched by action,” Painter said.

“Under-investment, both financial and time-related, is leaving a yawning gap between the ideals of the corporate sustainability policy and the reality on the ground.”

Painter said that the survey findings should serve as a “wake-up call” for businesses which are currently missing out on the benefits of adopting a “site-wide approach” to environmental sustainability.

Building up sustainability

The publication of the white paper comes shortly after World Green Building Week, which saw the World Green Building Council (WGBC) call on the built environment sector to set ambitious targets that eliminate carbon emissions for building portfolios by 2030, in order to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement

The sector is in a precarious position in terms of sustainability, with heat and power for buildings accounting for 40% of national energy usage and more than a third (34%) of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

With the global building stock expected to double by 2050, the problem is set to intensify without strong action. In the business sector, the 400 members of the UK’s Green Building Council (UKGBC) are now in the process of co-creating a definition for “net-zero” buildings, with several key stakeholders mooting embodied carbon for inclusion alongside operational emissions.

Elsewhere, academics have begun to train the next generation of workers who will collaboratively create the cities of the future, which will need to be resource-efficient, low-energy and climate-resilient.

Commenting on the white paper, Imperial College London’s professor for Environmental Technology Nick Voulvoulis said: “Cities across the globe face unprecedented challenges - from modernising water and transportation infrastructure, to creating conditions for friendly, inclusive, and diverse communities.

“Improving the energy efficiency of buildings can help alleviate many of these challenges - from climate change to public health problems to unemployment and poverty. Investments in improving energy efficiency also provide a quick return on investment in the form of energy cost savings."

Sarah George  


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