Survey: Just 10% of UK businesses have set carbon reduction targets

Employee appetite for tackling climate change is beginning to outstrip corporate action on carbon reduction, with nine in ten UK businesses yet to set specific emission reduction targets, a survey of 1,000 companies has found.

A lack of leadership support was cited as the most common barrier to the adoption of emissions goals (stock photo)

A lack of leadership support was cited as the most common barrier to the adoption of emissions goals (stock photo)

Conducted by energy and carbon management consultancy Carbon Credentials, the survey quizzed 1,000 sustainability professionals and 1,000 junior workers – each from a different firm - on their company’s current approach to issues such as climate change, waste and resource management and sustainable travel. Firms taking part were all classed as large companies, with 250 or more employees each.

The survey results, published today (5 December), revealed that just 100 of the companies had set measurable and timed emissions reduction aims, with none of these targets having been approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) in line with either a 2C or a 1.5C trajectory.

Sustainability and energy professionals from the 900 firms which had not yet set carbon targets were additionally asked to detail their biggest barriers to doing so, with the three most common challenges cited as a lack of leadership support, insufficient funding and competing for inter-departmental budgets.

This gap between ambition and action, the survey claims, has led to decreasing trust among employees regarding their organisation’s capability to deliver on green commitments, with more than half (57%) of junior staff saying they would not expect a UK firm to deliver on its sustainability pledges.

The trend has additionally created a gap between employee and corporate ambition, according to Carbon Credentials, with the survey highlighting that 71% of junior employees claimed to have resorted to taking their own actions to cut their carbon footprint at work in the absence of company-led targets or incentivisation.

Just 13% of the companies surveyed claimed to have implemented a car share scheme for staff, for example, while only 12% had a programme encouraging staff to walk or cycle to work. Moreover, less than half (49%) were found to have recycling bins for staff use.

“For there to be any chance in meeting the IPCC’s warming recommendations and to make a real dent in the side of climate change, organisations must play their part by having clearly defined environmentally sustainable policies in place that are centred around ambitious emission reduction targets,” Carbon Credentials’ chief executive Paul Lewis said.

“Setting targets not only sends out a clear message on the organisations’ commitment to climate change but reduces energy spend; which benefits the planet, your people, your business reputation, and your bottom line." 

Science-led sustainability

Specifically, Carbon Credentials’ Lewis claims that the survey’s findings highlight the need for a greater uptake of science-based targets among the UK’s business community – particularly those in line with the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious 1.5C trajectory.

Only four firms have set such an aim to date – namely supermarket Tesco, brewer Carlsberg, telecoms giant BT and tea brand Pukka Herbs.

However, corporate progress on setting approved goals in line with a 2C trajectory has been far faster in recent months, with more than 130 companies committing to set such aims since the start of 2018.

Companies to have made public commitments to set science-based targets now account for one-eighth of the global market capitalisation, according to the SBTi, with 17 FTSE100 firms having made such pledges. Overall, 480 companies from 38 countries have now committed to set an approved science-based target of some description.

This year has also marked an increase in the number of firms achieving SBTi approval for their aims, with approvals up 39% in 2018 compared to 2017.

edie recently ranked the setting of a science-based target one of the four best things a company can do to help limit global temperature increases to well below 2C. You can read that advice, along with other tips for businesses seeking to stop being part of the problem and to co-create the necessary solutions, in full here.


Science-based targets at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum

Representatives from BT, Carlsberg and Tesco will appear at Day 1 of edie's Sustainability Leaders Forum to discuss how the companies are aligning with a 1.5C trajectory through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

Taking place 5 & 6 February 2019 at the Building Design Centre, London, the two-day event will also include discussions surrounding the best way to reduce your organisation's supply chain emissions. 

For more information and to register for the Forum, click here.

Sarah George


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