Quite rightly, the global community’s focus is firmly fixed on the climate emergency.

There are differing ideas about how we tackle this crisis, but very few disagree that the charts are heading in the wrong direction and the time for talk is at an end. It’s time for some action.


The Broader Context: Understanding the Strain of Today’s Climate Emergency  

The number that everyone is focused on is 1.5 degrees. It is critical that we limit the global temperature increase to within that figure, as this could mean the difference between 420 million people being exposed to extreme heatwaves or not. These heatwaves – which, at the moment, might be considered by some to be pleasant weather – are going to have fundamental impacts on our everyday lives. For example, the number of available working hours for those in the Indian agricultural sector are going to dramatically reduce due to extreme heat. This is going to send shockwaves through an already stretched supply chain. And this is just one example of possible disruption.

Responses are now starting to make their way into our everyday lives, and organisations are being urged to take a lead. And it was the private sector that made the most headway at the recent COP26 conference. As we move forward, some of this will be about the emotional argument, which urges global and local organisations to be better ‘citizens’ and to do good. That might mean reviewing their practices –and that of their employees and supply chain—to reduce the impact on the immediate environment. But there is also a series of factual arguments to be made. Greater transparency is being requested in financial statements about an organisation’s climate response, and an increasing number of investors will focus their funds on organisations that are integrating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors into their business. In short, those that embrace ESG are performing better on financial markets.

Wherever the pressure is coming from – and whatever the underlying motivations—the result remains the same: organisations are having to up their climate game.  


The Right Technology Can Help

With that in mind, a lot of focus has been placed on measurement. After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. But once we’re aware of carbon consumption, what are we going to do about it? How do organisation meet the net-zero promise?  

Some studies have suggested these promises are paper-thin when it comes to the detail, perhaps because the solutions are wrapped up in complicated systems of processes, technologies and people.

In fact, behaviour change has been cited as one of the most significant weapons in the fight against the climate emergency; both at a societal level but also at an individual level. Yet, this is still something that is really tricky. Take recycling, for instance –something that most people probably do. It has taken decades to get to where we are today, yet there is still a way to go (people are good at recycling kitchen items, for example, but they still ignore the many items in the bathroom). Communication experts have been exploring what works best to convince people to change behaviours, and most of the time it is social pressure, or the idea that others are doing something, so you should too.  

How, then, does that work in an organisation? We know how difficult behaviour change can be—just ask anyone that has overseen a workplace change. So how do we then get into the everyday behaviours of our workforce?

Technology has helped somewhat. Facilities managers no longer sound like the frustrated parent following their children around, reminding them to turn off the lights. Instead, sensors mean that buildings can be smarter at shutting themselves down at times when there is no-one around. And it is technology that holds the key to taking this a step further.  

The Smart Building revolution, specifically, has largely been focused on new buildings – but it has become increasinglypossible to retrofit older buildings to help offset behaviours that are less than ideal for the climate thanks to devices that can manage power simply by clipping itself on to power lines or sensors that can talk to other systems to help manage usage.  

And the benefits are not just better climate outcomes. For instance, we’ve recently worked with an organisation that has moved its vehicle fleet to be all electric. That’s good. But they found that when the workforce finished at the end of the day and plugged their fleet in, they were charging their vehicles at peak energy times and therefore paying a hefty price. So, do you ask your workforce to change their behaviour? Or wait to plug their vehicles in the middle of the night to avoid peak times? Of course not. Instead, we installed devices that manage the flow of energy and optimises it not only for usage but also for cost.  


Final Thoughts  

So yes, there is much to do, and there are wonderful solutions out there to measure an organisation’s impact, but the real ground will be made on changing behaviours. But perhaps we don’t need to change the behaviours of the wonderfully complex humans that use our spaces on a daily basis. Instead, we need to change the behaviours of our buildings – a solution that hacks the everyday behaviours, avoids in-depth internal communication campaign and gets on with the real matter at hand: saving the planet.