As part of London Climate Action week on the 25th and 26th of June, the ExCeL centre hosted Reset Connect, ‘the UK’s leading Sustainability and Net Zero Event’. The gathering provided a meeting point for sustainability professionals, offering an array of thought-provoking talks, panels, and exhibition stalls covering topics impacting a wide range of industries.
Is life inside the doughnut possible?
The conference was kicked off with a compelling talk from Kate Raworth who formulated Doughnut Economics, a model in which humans and the environment prosper, without overshooting the boundaries of ecological limits and social foundations. A hard-hitting reminder that charts are going off the scale made it clear that last century’s linear economic model is the cause of current environmental and social problems, and will not be the solution. Raworth encouraged us to question the impact we could have in our lives and work, concluding that the solution is to embrace circularity and systems change and move towards regenerative business practices which balance purpose and profit.
Sustainability equals efficiency
Talks and panels throughout the day gave interesting insights into sustainability challenges and solutions. The Head of Sustainability for Whitbread PLC (owner of Premier Inn) noted that sustainability equals efficiency and the added benefit of reducing costs means it should not be a consideration only of luxury brands. They are working hard to reduce water usage in hotel rooms and, together with the Better Cotton Initiative, to get all their laundry suppliers to encourage their other clients to use only organic cotton by 2027. We are familiar with these challenges through our work with the Textile Services Asssociation.
Innovation is key
The Chief Sustainability Officer for Microsoft spoke about their ambitious sustainability goals to be water positive and carbon negative by 2030, and by 2050 to remove all carbon ever emitted by the company since its founding in 1975. They feel innovation is key and that therefore Chief Technology Officers will be crucial in the sustainable transition of businesses. Having recently created the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, they are focusing on ways their technology can be used for good, helping businesses track emissions reductions.
Biodiversity in crisis
A personal highlight of the event was attending the panel discussion on biodiversity and the journey to being nature positive. The panel spelled out that we are in a biodiversity crisis and an ecological revolution is needed. Nature underpins all life on earth, from the air we breathe to the water we drink, affecting health and therefore productivity and the economy. As companies prepare for reporting with the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), they are racing to work out how they can change their business models to reduce their impacts on biodiversity, using nature-based offsetting as a last resort.
A speaker from Natural England noted, ‘England’s green and pleasant land should actually be bright and colourful with pollinators’, which has put our food systems at risk. With high levels of nature broadcasting, the Sustainability Director of the BBC emphasised their urgency in ‘doing what they say’ and measuring their biodiversity footprint to help mitigate the impact of their work. They noted this is not always easy, for example, a key challenge in the media industry is finding sustainable alternatives to off-site diesel usage when filming.
The Head of Inclusive Conservation at the WWF highlighted the importance of considering human and land rights when striving to be nature positive. If we continue planting monocultures as offsets on land that affects local communities without their permission, we do not have a sustainable solution and are replicating past power dynamics. It was noted we should be moving towards regenerative farming practices that enhance the productivity of land, increase biodiversity, sequester carbon, and help feed our growing population.
As well as the talks, stallholders provided interesting topics of conversation, such as SkyNRG’s promotion of sustainable aviation fuel, which despite not being a full solution is already helping reduce the emissions of flights when combined with jet fuel. Additionally, the National Trust gave a convincing argument about the importance of planting native species in woodlands in the UK.
It was encouraging to hear all the actions different businesses are currently taking to address the environmental challenges of the present and future. Furthermore, the climate crisis compels immediate action for businesses to stand a chance at reducing impact. The conference emphasised that sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a core business requirement that is key to remaining future-proof and competitive.
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