Sustainability Circular

How businesses are translating policy commitments into strategy ?

When it comes to climate change, the outlook for our planet is troubling. Recent reports, such as the Global Warming of 1.5°C study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC)[1], describe a future characterized by drought and flooding, spreading disease, suffering crops, and biodiversity loss. Scientists and policymakers agree that tackling climate change will require both industry and government to adopt more sustainable practices. A range of ambitious goals and models have been developed to help limit greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste, and improve living conditions worldwide.

Making the necessary changes to align business practice with far-reaching environmental goals can prove complex, particularly for large companies in traditional industries. Business leaders and sustainability managers require a workable and communicable strategy that is relevant to their operations and context, which can be translated into concrete actions.

This is easier said than done. In developing their strategy, many companies turn to existing models, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals[2], zero net carbon initiatives and the Circular Economy promoted by organizations like the Ellen McArthur Foundation[3].

Adopting an existing model enables companies to benchmark their progress against other organizations. On the downside, ambitious models and goals can be hard to break down into achievable steps.

In this article, we disentangle the main models and explain how the use of standards, auditing and certification can support companies in achieving an effective long-term sustainability strategy.

Circular Economy: a disruptive approach with strong returns

The circular economy is a regenerative business model in which resources and products are continually reused and recycled, reducing and ultimately eliminating waste.

Implementing a circular economy business model has many benefits, including providing a clear narrative to engage your employees and defining a path to sustainable business practices for companies at all stages of development.

Circular economy principles encourage sustainability leaders to set ever greater sustainability targets, helping them move from resource efficiency and stewardship to net zero impact, to delivering a net positive impact as products and services contribute to regenerating the biological and social fabric of our world.

For organizations at the beginning of their sustainability journey, the circular economy framework offers a step-by-step approach to improving resource efficiency, allowing companies to change their goals as their sustainability measures mature.

Aided by auditing and certification for elements like energy management (ISO 50001), environmental management (ISO 14001) and supply chain management (SEDEX, SMETA), adoption of a circular economy business model can help companies improve sustainability best practice and achieve communicable milestones.

Of course, the circular economy has its challenges. By definition, this approach is disruptive to traditional businesses, requiring them to rethink their existing, linear business models. Many organizations will have to substantially rework their production approach to successfully create more circular business models for their products and services.

UN Sustainability Development Goals: A wide ranging set of ideals

The 17 interconnected sustainability goals set by the UN address global challenges ranging from poverty and inequality to climate change and environmental degradation.

The UN’s sustainability goals offer an aspirational framework for the development of a much broader sustainability strategy which many businesses are adopting. Several UN sustainability goals match common sustainability goals for businesses that are supported by standards and auditing. For example, ISO 14001 for waste management can help companies achieve Goal #12 for recycling and waste-free material use. ISO 14046 for water management aligns with Goal #6 for avoiding water waste, while ISO 45001 for health and safety helps organizations meet Goals #3 and #5. UN sustainability goals can help you raise the bar for your business, with support from standards, auditing and certification.

However, while the UN’s goals can provide inspiration, not all of them are material to businesses, which can limit their use as a comprehensive sustainability strategy. These goals are numerous and varied; many do not overlap or apply in most business contexts (e.g., increasing literacy). If too many goals are taken on at once, a company’s efforts may become too diluted to be effective and their message to employees may become confused, leading to a loss of engagement and support for the sustainability strategy.

Tackling sustainability with carbon reduction initiatives

Greenhouse gases form one of the world’s most significant groups of pollutants, and several initiatives are taking aim at reducing these emissions. A range of standards and reporting schemes can help companies measure and control their carbon output, and third-party verification can prove the emission reduction levels.

Standards for life cycle impact assessment (ISO 14040), eco-design (ISO 14006; ISO 14009; IEC 62959) and carbon footprinting (ISO 14067) allow organizations to identify carbon and environmental hotspots throughout their processes and supply chains, and selectively improve performance. Energy efficiency can be improved with Energy Management Systems such as ISO 50001, that drive down scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions. These schemes can help businesses move towards the ultimate goal of net zero carbon for their buildings, machinery, factories and more.

By putting carbon and greenhouse gas reduction at the center of their sustainability strategy, companies can provide a transparent, easy-to-communicate goal with specific, measurable parameters.

Auditing and certification for sustainability strategies

When it comes to creating an effective sustainability strategy, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why Bureau Veritas has developed Circular+. A comprehensive suite of auditing and certification services for recognized standards and management systems, Circular+ offers businesses a customized approach to sustainability. Circular+ gives organizations worldwide a framework to set objectives and reevaluate their processes, while offering a step-by-step methodology for improving sustainability programs.

Achieving sustainability for the future

The changes businesses make today will determine how they fare in the future. Sustainability concerns will only grow in importance, and forward-thinking companies must take steps to future-proof their processes and procedures. A robust sustainability strategy can help drive your progress, while thorough and independently assured reports developed in line with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), AA1000 Assurance Standard or International Standard on Assurance Engagement (ISAE 3000) frameworks, demonstrate transparency and accuracy.

A global leader in environmental and social management systems services, Bureau Veritas offers a wide range of sustainability auditing and certification programs to ensure compliance and continuous improvement.

  1. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
  2. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
  3. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org