Clear Defendable Territory
Developing a climate strategy: Debunking common misconceptions with a leading Climate Strategy Agency

March is B Corp month, so we took the opportunity to sit down with Cameron Epstein, CEO of our Climate Partner Inhabit. For anyone curious to understand more about what a Climate Strategy is (and isn’t) and the benefits it can bring, this should help bring clarity to one of the most important – and complex – issues of our time.

In our conversation, Cameron identified three common misconceptions when it comes to climate strategies. And as we’ve spent the past year working with them to develop The Clearing’s Net Zero strategy, it’s fair to say we trust their expertise.

Inhabit is on a mission to help SMEs in the design and build industries make meaningful reductions to their environmental impact. Their climate experts are Dom Clarke, Zuzana Spicova and Ed Bale, and between them they’ve developed net zero strategies, building and product assessments for Ikea, M&S and ITV. 

Now, the team are applying their knowledge and experience to SMEs that want to follow suit and create industry-leading climate strategies for the design and build industries. So far they’ve done it for design agencies including D&AD, UsTwo and The Clearing, product designers such as RaspberryPi and architects and building developers like Studio Egret West and BDG.

So, if you work at an SME, or you just want to understand climate strategies without having to spend two days researching it alone, here are the facts, in the words of an expert.

- This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity –

 

Misconception 1:

People assume that developing and implementing a climate strategy is a long, arduous and expensive process.

CE: “Implementing a climate strategy for your business doesn’t have to be painful. It’s about momentum and positive progress rather than perfection. Initially it’s about understanding the hot spots – the areas where your organisation generates the most impact (carbon for example) and tackling those first. What we usually find is that it’s something that the business doesn't rely on, and it’s probably an easy change to either stop doing it or change to a better supplier. That change might even help them save money too.

In terms of timings, generally speaking it takes a business about 4 months from the moment they start to the moment they have a climate strategy that’s aligned with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). That involves around 12-15 hours of data collection for someone within the organisation. For some businesses it might take longer, but that’s the average. They’ll collate information like employee commutes, business travel and, most importantly, supply chain spend. The detail is then over to us to work through. We might suggest things like increasing building efficiency, incentivising sustainable transport modes or providing hands on training or workshops for staff – but most impact lies within their supply chain. That’s where we focus our time. Those changes have to be right for the business and the culture so it’s an interactive process. We like to create a long-term partnership with the people in the business who care about the climate and decarbonising their organisation.”

 

Misconception 2:

It’s commonly believed that a carbon strategy doesn’t help businesses achieve growth or other goals and ambitions.

CE: “A really good climate strategy comes down to understanding what drives the business, the goals and the people within it. Maybe there are ambitions or targets around business growth, employee retention, financial growth, increasing customer numbers or gaining more investment or funding.

Our job is to understand what’s important for the business and then figure out how a climate strategy can help to achieve those goals. Say, for example, the business has a client they’ve always dreamed of working with. Say it’s Microsoft. Or Unilever. Or Deloitte. Well, as of 2024, these – and other global companies – are releasing statements saying that every single one of their suppliers will need an SBTi-aligned climate strategy in place by 2025. If that’s a dream client, or if a big portion of your business comes from one of these companies already, suddenly your carbon strategy is essential to your business growth and stability. And suddenly it’s top priority for the CEO and CFO because there’s real potential to win or lose business.

If you’re ahead of the game and have a carbon strategy in place before it becomes mandatory, it could actually help you win new business - particularly with those big organisations who are making big statements. And alongside that, having a climate strategy brings lots of opportunities to win new clients who have shared values, gain new green investments and to engage and motivate your employees too.

Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to join a B Corp panel where we debated the new terms of becoming a member. Previously the entry criteria has been to score a total of 80 points across any category, so today, in theory, you could be a B Corp with no climate strategy. But they’re proposing a change to the entry requirements so that every company must comply within every category, with an opportunity to excel within each category too. Within the climate category, they’ll be proposing that every B Corp must have proper GHG protocol-aligned carbon measurements. And in the long-term they’d ideally be building a proper SBTi-aligned net zero strategy.”

 

Misconception 3:

‘Net Zero’ is misunderstood as measuring a business’ carbon footprint and offsetting that through initiatives such as tree planting.

CE: “The terminology is tough. A lot of people get tricked into thinking they’ve got zero impact because of an online calculator. It’s easily done as there are so many online tools which estimate a company’s carbon output. The only real, accurate solution to that is by engaging an expert or getting to grips with the terminology and being aware of it yourself. But generally speaking, there are key terms to know and understand the definitions of.

Achieving ‘carbon neutrality’ is usually when a business has measured their carbon footprint – and probably estimated it using an online tool – and then bought ‘offsets’ to achieve ‘neutrality’. Sadly, neutrality claims can be made without any commitment to actual decarbonisation or lowering emissions in the future.

'Net zero’ involves directly reducing the amount of carbon your business generates. Also talked about as ‘carbon reduction’ or ‘decarbonisation’. It requires a minimum reduction of 90% of your business’ emissions compared to a set base year. The remaining 10% must then be offset with verified carbon removal credits, which are actually removing carbon from the ecosystem to arrive at net zero emissions.

A good climate strategy, in our opinion, is about decarbonising your business and reducing your impact. That’s the most important part. It’s about taking steps to generate less climate impact in the first place - rather than focussing on offsetting what your company creates to neutralise the impact.

It’s a complicated area and the regulations and advice are changing pretty regularly. So it can be tricky to navigate when you do it yourself. Having an initial chat with an expert should be free - it is with us anyway. And it's much better to just talk it through. You’ll end up with better advice, and a result that’s more tailored and relevant to your business, as well as more effective.”

 

A good climate strategy, developed in partnership with experts, can be a straightforward process that brings additional benefits to the business - both internally and externally.

 

A climate strategy can help your business engage employees, save money, retain clients who share your values and potentially help you win new clients as climate strategies start to become a criteria for new business. 

It’s fast becoming a requirement for partners of global organisations, and soon it’ll be a mandatory component of gaining B Corp certification. Decarbonising your business now is an opportunity to get ahead and set your business up for success.