If we look back at the past few months of lockdown as if they were part of the seasonal cycle, we can say that the European economy has recently awoken from its hibernation. Society has slowly emerged from its quarantine hideaway, although people in some areas have had to retreat back into it in order to prevent a second wave. So spring has now arrived – the time when life starts to bloom again.
(intro continued) And even though some small plants have not survived the harsh winter, others have simply shaken off their leaves (or employees) and are receiving enough sunlight to be able to return to how they were. Sunlight in the form of €3.4 billion of government aid, for example, as you have no doubt seen in the papers.
The great thing about spring is that the path your growth will take is still wide open. Increasingly, there are demands from society to progress on the path of sustainability. But as an organization, how do you know which path is sustainable? And how do you monitor your progress? We can answer that question.
Organizations constantly keep track of their finances, in real-time. But why don’t they do the same for the impact they make on the environment? Is measuring pollution really so difficult – or is the real truth that we are actually not that interested? If companies do actually monitor their environmental impact, it is usually no more than once a year, and then only retrospectively. The result is that no corrective interim action can be taken, as happens with finances. It also makes it hard to take strategic decisions based on your environmental impact, as happens with finances. Finally, it means that the environmental effects of certain policy decisions cannot be measured, as happens – you guessed it – with finances.
Rebel has developed two types of tools to help businesses with this. One type comprises scenario tools that can be used to compare the environmental effects of multiple policy decisions. The other type consists of methods for real-time tracking of an organization’s environmental impact; in collaboration with each customer, we incorporate these methods into their existing financial data warehouse. Their environmental impact can then be measured on a continuous basis. Environmental and economic costs and benefits can be directly linked in both tools, thereby making clear how the two interact. We determine the environmental impact in every conceivable category – from CO2-eq to biodiversity loss, and from water or energy consumption to eutrophication.
Let’s look at the scenario tool in more detail. Among the issues we have helped customers with in the past were determining the most sustainable form of drinks container for a festival – bottle, can, disposable cup, or reusable cup? Another was about identifying the tendering party most capable of collecting and processing glass on behalf of a local authority as sustainably as possible. Yet another involved establishing the environmental benefits for a local authority through the use of ‘Ja/Ja’ (opt-in) stickers rather than the ‘Nee/Nee’ (opt-out) version for advertising matter.
Each of these issues depends on lots of different factors, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer that applies to every festival or every local authority. That’s why Rebel is developing dynamic tools which, by entering a few parameters, can be applied in any situation. For example, the organizer of a festival could enter into the tool that the event is for one day, that there will be 15,000 people, and that visitors will not be separating trash, but that bar staff will be. Another festival organizer may have a three-day event, with four times as many visitors. In the case of the first festival, it would be more sustainable to use plastic PET cups, while the second would be better off buying reusable PP cups. Conventional LCAs (life-cycle analyses) are so rigid and complex that they are often unusable for the purpose for which they are intended. They are usually based on a small number of detailed scenarios, while Rebel’s tool can be used to compare an infinite range of scenarios.
The second tool works differently, linking impact figures to our customers’ data management. This enables them to keep a close eye in real-time on the environmental impact of their decisions. Linking these environmental figures to financial flows makes it possible for businesses to see clearly what activities produce large revenues, but which also have a serious environmental impact, and what activities cost a great deal and have a serious environmental impact. However, things become more interesting when we include the costs of reducing or offsetting the environmental impact of each activity. It allows an organization to see clearly how best to act in order to reduce the impact.
Our tools help organizations move away from making decisions affecting the environment on the basis of gut feelings and towards doing so on the basis of hard facts and figures. We show where in the chain the greatest impact takes place, and where this impact can be reduced most easily and at the lowest possible cost.
Our aim is for sustainability management to be as integral and dynamic as financial management.
Of course we are currently living in challenging times, in which things are not always as predictable as the coming and going of the seasons. One thing’s for sure, though – we have more influence on CO2 emissions than on the seasons. So use the current crisis and challenge yourself and your organization to help the environment. Because no matter how happy the beginning of spring makes us, no one is looking forward to a sweltering summer.