By Jo Hand, co-founder of Giki.
In this decisive decade for climate change, greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by half globally to ensure a reasonable chance of remaining below 1.5 °C of global warming. The magnitude of the task requires intervention at national and international policy level, business transformation and changes across society.
However, sometimes against a backdrop of G7 summits, COP meetings and Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures reporting, the role for individual action and behaviour change is overlooked. This will be crucial though because with three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions coming from households there is no feasible path to Net Zero which does not include substantial lifestyle changes for individuals.
The reduction in individual carbon footprint size required over the next decade demonstrates this clearly, and also shows just how much further we need to go in high income countries. The average global personal carbon footprint per annum is 5 tonnes, but this figure is considerably higher in wealthier nations. For example, in Spain it’s 7 tonnes, just over 9 tonnes in the UK and Germany and over 13 tonnes in Canada and Australia. By 2030 everyone needs to be below just 2.5 tonnes.
Beyond operational footprints
Every part of society will be involved in this transition, and many excellent initiatives are supporting business progress, such as Science Based Targets, We Mean Business, CDP and the Race to Zero. A crucial step in achieving the required actions is ensuring employees understand ESG related issues and potential risks. This often begins with improving in-office practices, such as recycling and measuring operational footprints. As a company’s C-level and Board understanding evolves on ESG, we see increasing levels of focus on employees, who will be crucial in delivering sustainability priorities set by the Board. To fast track this, some companies are providing sustainability programmes for staff.
Helping employees engage in sustainability
This is why Giki Zero has started working with some of the world’s largest companies to help individuals understand and reduce their personal footprints together. Companies are engaging staff on sustainability for a range of reasons, from awareness and knowledge building, recruitment and retention, and to better support clients as they aim to become more sustainable too.
Helen Hughes, Sustainability Director, at WPP owned agency, Design Bridge: “Engaging staff on sustainability has inspired many of us at Design Bridge to take realistic steps towards living a more sustainable lifestyle. It was important for us that we had a tool to drive this that is personable and intuitive to use, with a positive and collaborative approach. And it’s really motivating when the collective impacts of all the individual steps taken by everyone are added together and shown.”
This approach is relevant across many sectors. The Commercial Banking team at Lloyds Banking Group were looking for a way to build ESG awareness with colleagues, and we got talking last year about the potential to help colleagues with sustainability in their own lifestyles. The team decided to run a three-month behavioural pilot with a group within Commercial Banking. Their aim: to see whether colleagues would be interested in working together, to focus on changes they could make in their own personal lives. The resounding answer was “yes”.
The team got off to a keen start after a Giki Zero Pro kick off session, and during winter lockdown, they got together virtually for plant-based cook-alongs and catch up coffees to share with each other the changes they were making. The team have achieved very high levels of engagement and have committed to cutting well over a tonne of carbon each already, and have cut back on dozens of pieces of single use plastic each.
Madeleine Goldin, an Associate Director at Lloyds Banking Group, told us “Our colleagues have embraced the opportunity to learn how even small lifestyle changes can impact their personal footprint and they’ve had some great fun along the way!”
Employee action like this is important because, for many of companies, employee personal carbon footprints can be up to 10 times the operational footprint of the firm itself. For example when staff at professional services firms take our most popular step, “Cut a tonne in ‘21” this can equate to the total scope 2 emissions, or even the total scope 3 business travel emissions, for the whole company.
As a result, we are seeing significant benefits for companies in launching an employee sustainability programme, not only in terms of high participation and engagement but also by helping to embed sustainability across the business. Understanding about personal footprints significantly increases sustainability knowledge and helps to show clients that a firm is in the vanguard on action to combat climate change.
The next big trend in ESG
The individual will be the next key stakeholder in ESG. While individual action and engagement on climate change has been less of a priority than policy and corporate change, this now seems to be changing and it is an area which is gathering greater attention on a global scale. For example, recent reports from the IEA, UN and Committee on Climate change all stressed the importance of individuals. This is the simple conclusion from the IEA:
“It is ultimately people who drive demand for energy‐related goods and services, and societal norms and personal choices will play a pivotal role in steering the energy system onto a sustainable path.”
The IEA Net Zero by 2050 report cites 3 key areas in terms of the energy sector where behaviour change is crucial: reducing excessive or wasteful energy use; transport mode switching, and materials efficiency gains.
In research we completed with Dr Richard Carmichael, we showed these areas, and more, from the perspective of individual action. We found that with a combination of “Replace” steps, for example replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with EVs, and “Reduce” steps, for example turning the thermostat down, it is possible to get close to the 2.5 tonnes we need to reach by 2030. Transformations to the use of heat pumps, electric vehicles, as well as greener finance are a crucial part of behaviour change, and policy incentives will be required to enable mass adoption. However, there are also many actions, from cutting food waste to reducing excess electricity use, which immediately save people money and are relatively straightforward to implement. There are very few people in high income countries who don’t have a simple action they can take from today.
Taking action together
Climate change is now firmly on the agenda across most countries, firms and communities. However, to really encourage behaviour change people need to feel as if they are working collectively.
We have found that people are far more motivated and empowered to make changes as part of a larger group, whether that be through their workplace or local community, not only because of a shared purposed but also because people can share their experiences, tips, tricks and ideas for how to cut carbon. In the end lifestyle changes are local and personal so the more support we have from those around us the more motivated we are to act.
Giki, which stands for Get Informed Know Your Impact, is recommended by the UN High Level Climate Champions. Its Giki Zero online tool helps people tackle the core root causes of their environmental impact by helping them understand, track and reduce their carbon footprint with personalised steps to plan out their path to net zero. More meaningful than offsetting, which should play a small and temporary role, Giki Zero is the most robust, credible, complete, personalised option out there for individual environmental action. A core part of Giki’s offering is Giki Zero Pro, a full employee engagement programme to help companies engage employees on sustainability, help staff build knowledge and take action together and provide data to report on impact.
 Giki analysis, using CDP data