It seems strange to reflect now that just a generation ago a concern for the environment was viewed as eccentric, and the green agenda was widely dismissed as the obsession of cranks.
Not any more.
The poles of public opinion have switched, and now it is the climate change deniers who are ridiculed. There is universal agreement that action to reverse global warming is a priority for everyone – citizens, business and governments.
This new consensus is certainly crucial. That much was made plain when the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report came out this month. It painted an ugly picture of what will befall the planet if nothing is done to cap carbon emissions. Melting ice caps. Rising sea levels. Extreme weather events. Mass migrations. Social breakdown. Wildfires and floods. Hurricanes and drought.
It’s an almost apocalyptic vision of what our good green Earth might look like by the end of the century.
It is possible to sense that Governments and businesses get the enormity of the challenge and change to turn the tide is at hand. The only questions are: Is it in time? Is it enough?
The Welsh Government has rightly adopted a bold green agenda as part of its programme. Some of the fruits of that vision could be seen when it combined two goals – meeting rising demand for housing and reducing carbon emissions – in one policy.
It is aiming to provide affordable ‘green homes’, built to new quality and environmental standards. The bold ambition is to exceed net-zero targets, and for some of the homes to generate more energy than they use.
Wales and West Housing’s Rhiw Cefn Gwlad project in Bridgend is proving to be a great example for developers, housing associations and councils to follow in developing the country’s first positive energy social housing schemes.
The 14-home development is already using the newest innovations in renewable energy, including exhaust air heat pumps integrated with mechanical ventilation and large solar roof systems, to provide all the energy families need, with some to spare.
This is more than science fiction. The families who moved in to the Bridgend community this year have already received their first negative energy bills, meaning that excess energy from their homes has already been pumped back into the national grid.
It’s a great story of innovation in action, finding practical solutions that make the world a better, cleaner and safer place for everyone. The challenge now is to achieve this at scale.
I am proud that ACCA is also doing its bit in promoting sustainability and protecting the planet.
We have just launched a global campaign called Re-Thinking Sustainable Business to unite our members and partners around this issue.
In a sense we are pushing at an open door, because in these exceptional times, society’s values are shifting faster than ever. Citizens are seeking a fairer and more ethical world. To restore trust, business leaders have a crucial role in minimising environmental damage and putting social responsibility at the heart of strategy.
We need sustainable businesses that deliver financial returns, while generating positive value for society while also being environmentally responsible for the planet.
In my view, professional accountants are in a unique position to make real, impactful change and to be at the centre of sustainable development, including driving climate action in the organisations they lead and work for.
As a leader in the profession, we are acutely aware of our responsibilities. It’s also why we’ve made strong commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
No-one can do everything. But everyone can do something.
Remote employment must work for everyone
I am writing this column from my kitchen table, and there is nothing unusual in that for me as a working location.
For millions of employees, the last 18 months has been an extended experiment in the idea of office-based working without an office. We have all had to adapt and do our best.
It seems unlikely now that everyone will return to traditional nine-to-five, five-days-a-week working in a single location, even when Covid is a distant memory.
I think we have all moved on from that, employers and staff, and a hybrid office/remote pattern of working seems inevitable. The Welsh Government is encouraging an increase in remote working and has set a long-term ambition for 30% of the Welsh workforce to work away from a traditional office, to be achieved by giving people more options and choice on their workplace. This ambition is intended to help town centres, reduce congestion and cut carbon emissions.
We are seeing many offices opening up again, at reduced capacities, with many firms inviting staff to come back in to work again for a few days a week, or for specific meetings or events, and exploring new flexible working arrangements.
Much of this change, of course, has been driven by our response to the pandemic, and the need to keep people safe. But it was already happening, slowly, as digital technology and faster connectivity made remote working easier than ever for some. That trend has only accelerated over the last year.
My biggest hope is that businesses can build in the best of both approaches as they re-shape the workplace of the future, as remote working doesn’t suit all sectors or all workers, and can have a negative impact on those not in the office.
Many of us have grown to appreciate the flexibility of home working and we don’t miss the cost and time of commuting, as well as the positive environmental impact. Increased flexibility can also be a selling point in terms of attracting and retaining talent. Our recent Gen Z report revealed that younger employees are attracted to organisations that support their mental health and offer a good work-life balance. Businesses should keep abreast of the latest guidance, monitor the effectiveness of remote and flexible working arrangements but also ensure staff well-being and that a remote workforce does not become an isolated workforce.
There is a healthy blend we must all aim to achieve.