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22 January 2010

Although the climate change conference in Copenhagen failed to achieve its objectives of a binding treaty around carbon emission reductions, sustainable business is here to stay and companies need to gear themselves towards a carbon constrained future. 

In the past couple of weeks, investors representing $13 trillion in assets issued a statement stressing the importance of concluding a legally-binding agreement including a global emission reduction target of between 50 and 85% by 2050.  The same group urged investors, businesses, and governments not to wait for a global treaty before taking action. Actions should be taken now to curb emissions.

In South Africa, due to the lack of binding legislation, measuring and voluntarily reporting on emissions has been left to the remit of companies on the JSE Top 100 as part of the Carbon Disclosure Project, as well as environmentally conscious companies recognising their responsibilities in this respect.  In 2009, 68% of the JSE Top 100 voluntarily disclosed their carbon emissions, ranking only behind Brazil in disclosure response globally.

Mid market businesses are now starting to recognise their social responsibilities in this regard as well and are starting to take action.  TheCarbonReport.com, an offering developed by local company sustainableIT, now allows companies, irrespective of size, to measure and report on emissions through validated processes.  “The solution is geared towards businesses wanting to establish their environmental impact and is the first step towards embracing a sustainable future”, explains Teresa Legg, Director at sustainableIT.  “The cost and complexity of emissions reporting has previously prohibited many businesses from participating in voluntary emissions reporting.  Through the tooling we have developed and our expertise we have been able to dramatically reduce costs to the client.  Every business, no matter how large or small contributes in some way to climate change and more accountability and responsible practice needs to be adopted ”, she elaborates.

Businesses are certainly starting to take action.  Puleng Technologies, a company of fewer than 100 staff has engaged sustainableIT to quantify their carbon footprint. “Although we are a services based company, we still produce emissions with the energy we consume, the paper we use and our travel, both commute and business related.  We recognise that we have an environmental impact and we need to measure it so that we can manage it”, explains Steve James, Director at Puleng.  “It is not just about being green, it is about developing a programme of energy efficiency and cost reductions and TheCarbonReport will provide us with the baseline we will use”, James states.

Aubrey Davies, Managing Director of Cape based ISP, I-Soft Net agrees.  “We are relatively small but measuring our impact has two benefits.  Firstly it allows us to concentrate on areas where we can become more efficient, with a baseline to measure against.  Secondly it allows us to create awareness with our staff which will result in downstream environmental benefits within their sphere of influence”.

With an estimated 900 000 small and medium enterprises in South Africa, the opportunities to reduce emissions within South Africa are exponential.  With energy costs continuing to rise, more businesses are expected to focus on energy and carbon reduction initiatives.  However, companies are encouraged to measure first to ensure that ROI is delivered and benefits are quantified.

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