Insight Circular + planet earth

Putting long-term sustainability goals into action

Jun. 4 2019 - 5 min

When it comes to climate change, the outlook for our planet is troubling. Recent reports, such as the Global Warming of 1.5°C study by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, describe a future characterized by drought and flooding, spreading disease, suffering crops, and biodiversity loss. Scientists and policymakers agree that tackling climate change will require both industry and government to adopt more sustainable practices. A range of ambitious goals and models have been developed to help limit greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste, and improve living conditions worldwide.

How businesses are translating policy commitments into strategy

Making the necessary changes to align business practice with far-reaching environmental goals can prove to be complex, particularly for large companies in traditional industries. Business leaders and sustainability managers require a workable and communicable strategy that is relevant to their operations and context, which can be translated into concrete actions.

This is easier said than done. In developing their strategy, many companies turn to existing models, including the Circular Economy promoted by organizations like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, UN Sustainable Development Goals and zero net carbon initiatives.

Adopting an existing model enables companies to benchmark their progress against other organizations. On the downside, ambitious models and goals can be hard to break down into achievable steps.

When it comes to creating an effective sustainability strategy, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why Bureau Veritas has developed Circular+. A comprehensive suite of auditing and certification services for recognized standards and management systems, Circular+ offers businesses a customized approach to sustainability. Circular+ gives organizations worldwide a framework to set objectives and reevaluate their processes, while offering a step-by-step methodology for improving sustainability programs.

Let’s discover the main models and explain how the use of standards, auditing and certification can support companies in achieving an effective long-term sustainability strategy.

Circular Economy: a disruptive approach with strong returns

The circular economy is a regenerative business model in which resources and products are continually reused and recycled, reducing and ultimately eliminating waste.

Implementing a circular economy business model has many benefits, including providing a clear narrative to engage employees and defining a path to sustainable business practices for companies at all stages of development.

Circular economy principles encourage sustainability leaders to set ever greater sustainability targets, helping them move from resource efficiency and stewardship to net zero impact, to delivering a net positive impact as products and services contribute to regenerating the biological and social fabric of our world.

For organizations at the beginning of their sustainability journey, the circular economy framework offers a step-by-step approach to improving resource efficiency, allowing companies to change their goals as their sustainability measures mature. 

Aided by auditing and certification for elements like energy management, environmental management and supply chain management, adoption of a circular economy business model can help companies improve sustainability best practice and achieve communicable milestones.

Of course, the circular economy has its challenges. By definition, this approach is disruptive to traditional businesses, requiring them to rethink their existing, linear business models. Many organizations will have to substantially rework their production approach to successfully create more circular business models for their products and services.  

UN Sustainable Development Goals: A wide ranging set of ideals

The 17 interconnected sustainable goals set by the UN address global challenges ranging from poverty and inequality to climate change and environmental degradation.

The UN sustainable goals offer an aspirational framework for the development of a much broader sustainability strategy which many businesses are adopting. Several UN sustainable goals match common sustainability goals for businesses that are supported by standards and auditing. For example, ISO 14001 for waste management can help companies achieve Goal #12 for recycling and waste-free material use. ISO 14046 for water management aligns with Goal #6 for avoiding water waste, while ISO 45001 for health and safety helps organizations meet Goals #3 and #5. UN sustainable goals can help companies raise the bar for their business, with support from standards, auditing and certification.

However, while the UN goals can provide inspiration, not all of them are material to all businesses, which can limit their use as a comprehensive sustainability strategy. These goals are numerous and varied; many do not overlap or apply in most business contexts (e.g., increasing literacy). If too many goals are taken on at once, a company’s efforts may become too diluted to be effective and their message to employees may become confused, leading to a loss of engagement and support for the sustainability strategy.

Tackling sustainability with carbon reduction initiatives  

Greenhouse gases form one of the world’s most significant groups of pollutants, and several initiatives are taking aim at reducing these emissions. A range of standards and reporting schemes can help companies measure and control their carbon output, and third-party verification can prove the emission reduction levels. 

Standards for life cycle impact assessment, eco-design and carbon footprint allow organizations to identify carbon and environmental hotspots throughout their processes and supply chains, and selectively improve performance. Energy efficiency can be improved with Energy Management Systems such as ISO 50001, which drive down scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gases emissions. These schemes can help businesses move towards the ultimate goal of net zero carbon for their buildings, machinery, factories and more.

By putting carbon and greenhouse gas reduction at the center of their sustainability strategy, companies can provide a transparent, easy-to-communicate goal with specific, measurable parameters.  

Achieving sustainability for the future

The changes businesses make today will determine how they do in the future. Sustainability concerns will only grow in importance, and forward-thinking companies must take steps to future-proof their processes and procedures. A robust sustainability strategy can help companies drive their progress, while thorough and independently assured reports developed in line with the Global Reporting Initiative, AA1000 Assurance Standard or International Standard on Assurance Engagement frameworks, demonstrate transparency and accuracy.

The launch of Circular + is in line with Bureau Veritas’ Corporate Social Responsibility ambition. The Group provides services that have a positive impact on quality, health and safety as well as protection of society and the environment. As a Business to Business to Society company, Bureau Veritas actively contributes to the design and use of safer, better-quality, longer-lasting and environmentally-friendly products, equipments and services.