As the UK’s leading wild places charity, the John Muir Trust are focused on the protection and repair of over 60,000 acres of wild landscapes. Our work to regenerate native woodland, restore damaged peatland and advocate for policies that incentivise these activities at a larger scale is helping to meet the climate and biodiversity emergencies with direct action. But we realise that we also have a vital role to play in mitigating our own carbon impact – and that we need to rethink our approach to tackling emissions as an organisation.
For us, a big part of being able to achieve our own internal goals around mitigating carbon impact is bringing everyone in the organisation with us. And this means communicating what we are doing and why in a way that inspires everyone to do their part. Our target? To reduce our direct emissions to absolute zero by 2030 (or earlier) and reduce total emissions to as close to zero as possible by 2035 at the latest.
So, in March 2021, as part of crystallising our thinking around what kind of organisation we want to be, the Trust appointed me as its first-ever Carbon Officer. Using 2019 as the baseline year, my initial task was to benchmark the current carbon footprint across every area of the Trust’s activity, and then establish a carbon reduction strategy for each element. As an environmental charity, colleagues are naturally switched on to reducing their impact. Similarly, a lot of the processes in place are already carbon friendly but my job is to filter that carbon thinking through every department coherently with clear and joined up comms.
What is Carbon Credible?
Ultimately this ambition reaches beyond net zero and we aim to become ‘carbon credible’. We prefer to express our ambitions in these terms as achieving net zero can sometimes be at the expense of reducing consumption, rather than just counted emissions. Carbon credible means taking holistic, systemic and ecologically responsible action to reduce and minimise our carbon footprint. We are trying to change that system of thinking not only within our own staff but in everything we do – from locking up carbon on our land to promoting pro-environmental thought leadership.
Communicating our carbon goals to staff and trustees was crucial in order to get buy-in across the whole of the John Muir Trust. We created a carbon credible ‘route map’ which outlines our approach, the principles for driving action and a list of our sustainability commitments. Having a central point of reference is important as it helps colleagues from across teams to get a snapshot of their emissions in key areas: transport, energy and supply chain. This has been used, for example, by staff in the development team to embed carbon credibility into our tendering process, our comms staff have used it to ensure consistency of our messaging with our carbon credible aims, or by our policy team when setting targets for reducing business travel mileage. We have also posted this on our website which solidifies our commitment and makes our approach publicly available for scrutiny from stakeholders and interested parties. The aim of creating a route map has also been to help others on their sustainability journey, the route map is a great resource for similar sized organisations that are looking for actions that can be replicated. This compounds our collective impact and fosters a culture of collaboration within the sustainability sector.
Instead of mandating carbon reduction actions from the top down, buy-in is also achieved by empowering staff to live their sustainable values. In order to embed this type of cultural change, the strategy is to use green nudges – this is a behavioural science technique which is all about finding simple but effective ways to encourage individuals to take positive actions in their lives. We try to make the most environmentally friendly option the default, for example, default double sided printing or placing recycling bins in more strategic locations. People generally support carbon credible, but the reality of adjusting everyday behaviour to achieve these goals can often be vague or excessively complicated. Nudges are a way to encourage people to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviour.
To help staff to live their values, we are removing barriers to sustainable behavioural choices, this includes initiatives like offering an electric vehicle salary sacrifice scheme, a cycle to work scheme, and sustainable travel days where employees are given two extra days of annual leave if they choose more sustainable forms of transport to arrive at their destination. We also publish our business travel progress against targets on our staff intranet, to ensure visibility of progress against targets and keep motivation levels high.
While nudges on their own won’t solve the problem of climate breakdown, many of the challenges that society faces today involve human behaviour. This is our strategy to get people to engage on an individual and professional level with a problem much bigger than themselves, to increase the carbon credibility of everything that we do as a Trust.
You can read our Carbon Credible Route Map and find out more about the John Muir Trust’s carbon credible work by visiting the Carbon Credible page.
Learn more about how charities are communicating the climate crisis in our ‘Communicating to create change: tackling the environmental crisis’ conference – now available on-demand.
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