City Leaders’ Climate Change Meeting: Bringing sustainability to your business



The session focussed on constructive business engagement with the challenges associated with bringing Cambridge’s greenhouse gas emissions down to zero, with thanks to Cambridge Carbon Footprint, Landsdowne Warwick, and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership for their great presentations.


City Leaders’ Climate Change Meeting: Bringing sustainability to your business

16.00- 18.00, Monday 09 March 2020

Committee Rooms 1&2, The Guildhall, Market Hill, Cambridge, CB2 3QJ

Chair: Cllr. Lewis Herbert


Meeting notes:

Welcome, introductions and aims of the meeting

Councillor Lewis Herbert introduced the meeting, highlighting that this particular session was focused on engaging businesses in action to address climate change and sustainability. According to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, industry accounts for 49% of carbon emissions in Cambridge. So it is clear that businesses have a major role in the city of Cambridge meeting its net-zero carbon aspiration.


Cambridge Carbon Footprint

Alana Sinclair and Anni Sander presented on the work that Cambridge Carbon Footprint (CCF) are doing to address climate change, including the development of the Cambridge Climate Charter, running events (e.g. Open Eco Homes, a Sustainable Fashion Festival and repair cafes in Cambridge) and empowering other community groups to run events (e.g. the Net Zero Now project in South Cambridgeshire).

The Cambridge Climate Charter will seek to engage businesses and residents, provide resources to help them understand how they can calculate and reduce their carbon footprint, and encourage them to make a pledge to take action.


CCF asked the group:

  • What are the main drivers/obstacles for businesses to sign the charter?
  • What resources are out there already for businesses? What resources are needed?


The main drivers identified through the discussion included:

  • Motivation to help address the climate emergency;
  • Reputation and the importance of marketing/ publicity;
  • Financial savings from reduced energy and other costs;
  • The potential value of simplifying engagement with a business’s carbon footprint and an interest in taking the first step in decarbonisation, without it being too overawing.


The main barriers identified through the discussion included:

  • Concerns around capacity, finance/resources, and knowledge constraints for SMEs to implement any commitments in the Charter. It was suggested that targeted support for different types of business to implement commitments would be helpful;
  • It was noted that additional support, perhaps even a contact to discuss aspects of the charter pledge, would help businesses to engage with it;
  • It was suggested that the Charter should be flexible and not too prescriptive, as some businesses will have more scope to make changes than others;
  • It was also felt that a staged approach involving ‘bitesize’ tasks might be less off-putting for some businesses;
  • Concerns were raised about the number of different opportunities for businesses to engage in decarbonisation leading to “choice paralysis” or a lack of certainty.


Some of the points raised with regards to the resources available to businesses included:

  • There is a reasonable amount of off-the-shelf information, but that much of this has a particular focus. Examples include Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), Green Building Council (focused on building efficiency) Cambridge Sustainable Food (food consumption and procurement) and, Energy Savings Trust (domestic-style efficiency improvements).
  • It was noted that there was a signposting tool used on a previous version of the Charter and that this could be revised.
  • The group reiterated the complex picture facing SMEs, suggesting the Charters unique and valuable point of engagement was that it was local and a stepping-stone, encouraging initial SMEs to ‘begin their journey’. This led to some discussion around the language used in the charter and ensuring that it did not disengage SMEs.


Additional comments included:

  • A suggestion that in the context of a climate emergency and wider systems change, there is a need to consider whole supply chains rather than focussing on commitments from individual businesses.
  • The potential value of a kitemark for the charter, although the likely costs and practicalities associated with regulation of a kitemark was raised, as was the risk of diluting the charter’s pledge.


CCF noted that prior to the launch of the Charter there would be a soft launch in May 2020, allowing some trusted partners to use and provide feedback on the Charter. This would also provide testimonials to support the full launch. CCF invited businesses present and on the mailing list for the City Leaders group to become trusted partners and support the project.


A framework for environmental improvement

Liz Warwick from Landsdowne Warwick presented on how businesses can look to ensure continued environmental improvement through an ongoing performance improvement framework. Whilst significantly more resource-intensive than the Charter, this effectively set out good practice and a structure for driving improving standards over time, that businesses should look to deliver to ensure they are acting suitably in reducing their environmental impact.

The main tool discussed was ISO14001, which is a recognisable framework that seeks to use a systems-approach to support businesses to understand their environmental impact, to identify positive changes they can make, and to drive and monitor improvement.


ISO14001 has a number of benefits, including:

  • Improving communication and understanding of environmental issues across a business.
  • Improved motivation for staff.
  • Improving resource allocation and reducing energy expenditure and waste costs.
  • Ensuring meaningful and measurable performance measures are in place Helping companies to meet legislative and compliance obligations.
  • Third party certification, which provides assurance of the environmental commitment of a company to stakeholders, including investors and markets.
  • Procurement teams using ISO14001 to ensure that their supply chain upholds environmental standards.

It was noted that due to the scale and complexity of an ISO14001 audit businesses could look to complete this in stages, and that there are other corporate sustainability support and accreditation initiatives such as Green Mark and Investors in the Environment.


Supporting businesses in responding to change

Eithne George from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership (CISL) presented on the range of support available to businesses who were keen to keen to improve their environmental performance.

Eithne identified the sea change in corporations’ approach to decarbonisation, with many industry leaders adopting net zero targets. To support local companies in making a similar policy shift, Eithne identified an ecosystem of support available in the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough area. This support comes from a mixture of business advice, seed-funding opportunities, incubator space and membership organisations. This ecosystem supports a range of business types, from ‘green’ industries, to those looking to grow consciously, to those looking to decarbonise their existing activities. Examples of support included:

  • Allia Future Business Centre – providing support and incubation space for social enterprises
  • Anglia Ruskin University – connecting SMEs to graduates and academics through the KEEP+ project
  • Cambridge Cleantech – running a range of events across Cambridge
  • Cambridge Zero – seeking to bring together research by University of Cambridge academics on sustainability with commercial opportunities
  • CISL – focussing on providing support to SMEs in addition to its existing programmes focussed on larger businesses. 12.5 hours of free support per business is available through the EU-funded CISL Accelerator programme.
  • University of Cambridge – providing over 200 business support programmes, including some focussed on sustainability. This includes the £20m Sustainability Equity Fund for businesses, a joint initiative with Birmingham University.

The role of community, collaboration and collective learning were emphasised, with Cambridge a potential centre for progressive commerce.  Organisations such as CISL are looking to support SMEs and enable and empower them to be part of the sustainability drive.


Summary of the session

Councillor Lewis Herbert closed the session, thanking the speakers and noting the breadth of support available to match the ambition, flexibility and readiness of any business looking to improve their sustainability.

The Cambridge Climate Charter will provide support for businesses looking to take the first steps in understanding and reducing their consumption; frameworks for environmental improvement, such as ISO14001, present how businesses can then seek continual and holistic environmental improvements; whilst there is evidently a significant amount of support for businesses looking to foster sustainable practices and collaborate to improve their sustainability performance, such as using progressive incubator spaces or through the CISL Accelerator programme.

It was noted that there was significant benefit to be had from signposting businesses to these resources and it was noted that Cambridge City Council would be looking to foster its partnerships with business and community groups around common values to help achieve this. As part of this engagement, Cambridge City Council has recently launched its Corporate Social Responsibility webpage.