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UK businesses are Europe’s dirtiest: what about digital and creative business?

Along with the VAT rise, I was hoping that we’d see the introduction of a carbon tax: where polluting offenders (individual or companies) would have to pay for the damage they do to the environment. Although its not money that will solve the issue, raising awareness of what is considered “bad” business behaviour in relation to the environment would have been a useful exercise. Britain is officially the “dirty man of Europe”, after a review of Europe’s top 300 companies by ethical investment consultant Eiris found that the largest group causing a “a very high impact” on global warming were UK based. This is not a surprise, as a good number of FTSE 100 companies are mining or oil focused, and the UK has not yet succeeded in building up a low-carbon business sector.

The BP oil spill has also highlighted for the world the notion of “bad” business, and the idea that the polluter should pay, not all the rest of us, is something that the general public have latched onto. After a long period of “green hush”, post-a-failed-Copenhagen, climate impact is suddenly back on the agenda, but not in the same way as before. Then, we were looking to change our own individual understandings and lifestyles, now we’re being given the lazy opportunity to point the finger away from ourselves. Its easier to blame the big bully boy companies This week, the FTSE Group is launching new indices to help investors track the ability of companies to manage climate risks. This is a fine idea, as it helps us easily spot “good” companies (or those that pay for their pollution) in which to invest.

The creative, digital and tourism sectors have to face up to the idea that if their businesses paid the actual true cost of the environmental impact of their output, hardly any of us would still be in the black. Despite a few action-oriented support programmes making a start to help companies make changes (Julie’s Bicycle’s Industry Green creative industries sector focussed online toolkit, The Theatre Trust’s Ecovenue project, The Edinburgh Festivals Green Venue Initiative, are some of the biggest UK projects), reducing and mitigating our climate impact is not yet something we are aspiring to do en masse.

However, I don’t think that only taxing the dirtiest businesses works as a method to lower UK carbon emissions. We all need to understand our individual and organisational impacts on the climate. There are carrot methods for this: by using educational tools to teach people and organisations where they can make a start, and promoting the issue as a must-have debate – this helps our mindsets change. There are also stick methods, such as taxation and legislation (currently levied on obviously dirty industry sectors, soon to be levied on every sector – and yes, this will include the digital and cultural sectors): the drivers of keeping in the black financially and staying out of court will force organisations to reduce and mitigate our impact on climate change.

The latest Mission Models Money questionnaire is surveying attitudes towards climate change in the creative industries, seeking to understand what the barriers are to greater, widespread uptake of organisations and individuals. As MMM’s digital and environmental associate, I was keen to get an overview of attitudes towards and perceived barriers around making positive climate impact changes. (Mission Models Money are currently engaged in a research project called Sustainable Ability which is mapping the current response to climate change and resource scarcity and understanding the practical and behavioural barriers preventing greater breadth and depth of response. To contribute to this important piece of work, please click here for a link to the survey which takes approximately 10 minutes to complete).

Envirodigital’s response is to encourage the digital and creative sectors to begin to consider the benefits of digitising content. Not only does the digitisation of live core and off content increase the reach, scale, access and legacy of content, digital content has 40-80% less environmental impact – it’s a good, not bad, additional output and channel. Envirodigital is about to start providing tools to measure the carbon footprint avoided by the provision of digital content, such as webcasts. By counting what’s been saved, its easier to make a case for further investment in good activities, and is an easy first green footstep step towards sustainable ability. Envirodigital wants to help the digital and creative sectors prove their clean tech credentials, and ensure the public and governments know that digital output is the most carbon neutral version of manufacturing and content distribution out there.