Net zero by 2030: In conversation with JBA Sustainability Manager

In October last year, JBA confirmed its goal to become a Net Zero business by 2030. David Revill, JBA Group’s Sustainability Manager, is leading the charge in the development of the ‘Route Map to Net Zero’, which will set out the steps JBA will take to reach this goal.

So, what does Net Zero mean for JBA and its clients? We asked David to share his views about the expectations and the challenges in meeting this ambition.

First of all, how did you get involved in sustainability?

I’ve always been interested in the natural world and particularly in marine wildlife. I remember giving an enthusiastic speech to my junior school class in the mid-1980s about the wonders of sharks and the impacts of shark finning. After studying marine geography and ecology at university, working as a biologist at the Environment Agency opened my eyes to the world of environmental regulation, policy, assessment and management and gave me some real-world experience across a wide range of development sectors.

Concern about global warming has changed the way I live my life and has focused my professional interests. Sustainable thinking is fundamental to how we will meet the challenges of climate change – as well as other major global challenges such as biodiversity loss, air and soil degradation, water scarcity and pollution, and global population growth – and this is the area I want to work in. So this role with JBA is great because it gives me the opportunity to help shape the future direction of the business, as well as influence the clients and suppliers we work with, in a really positive and sustainable way.

JBA only recently announced the net zero 2030 goal. Is it realistic?

Absolutely! Where there’s a will there’s a way and the JBA Board, management teams and staff have all welcomed this goal. It helps that JBA embraced sustainability some time ago and has been taking steps to reduce the environmental impacts of the business for more than 15 years. We planted our first woodland back in 2007, then in 2009 JBA became ISO14001 accredited and we’ve been publishing our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint now for more than 10 years. So, there’s already a strong culture of accountability and responsibility embedded across the Group.  

Then there’s climate change. Given the nature of our work and that of our clients, climate change is at the forefront of our minds and we’re acutely aware of the threats we face both locally and as a global society. We’re in a climate emergency and JBA is genuinely determined to do what it can to minimise its climate impacts, whilst looking for ways to contribute to positive social and environmental outcomes.

In short, this certainly is achievable because we have a strong sustainability culture, a receptive and supportive management structure, and staff who want JBA to achieve this.

What is the general reaction of your colleagues and clients?

The reaction has been very positive. People want to work for a company that is genuinely interested in sustainability and I’ve had lots of colleagues contact me to voice their support and share thoughts and ideas on how JBA can become more sustainable and to support our Net Zero goal.

Outside of JBA, Net Zero ambitions are becoming commonplace, so we’re working in an environment that is moving in the same direction. Many of our clients have themselves set Net Zero targets and are looking to us to help support them in this.

Cumulatively, this is mutually reinforcing, making the transition to Net Zero a shared journey that encourages knowledge sharing, and this is key to making this ambition readily achievable.

You describe this as a journey – where are you currently on that roadmap?

It is very much a journey and it’s great that we’re already part way down the road, thanks to the efforts of numerous colleagues over the years. Here are some milestones we have already put in place: 

  • An established, strong sustainability culture.
  • SO14001 accreditation that gives us a robust system for measuring our environmental impact and enables us to take measures to tackle some of our emissions.
  • Good progress in our bid to reduce our waste and water use overall and where we have control of our office energy supplies, we buy renewable electricity.
  • A travel hierarchy guidance which encourages staff to choose low carbon transport if travelling for business. We’ve also started to transition our pool car fleet to electric cars.
  • A staff reward scheme that has been in place for many years to encourage colleagues to commute to work using low carbon transport; this has recently been refreshed to more closely align with our Net Zero objective.
  • An approved supplier process to identify suppliers who have good sustainability credentials, and to prioritise those who support our sustainability objectives. 

Our most recent action was to commit to setting a science-based emissions reduction target through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Joining the SBTi will help us to develop a robust approach to reducing our remaining carbon emissions, aligned with what climate science says is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C. To support this, we’ll be publishing our ‘Route Map to Net Zero’ later in 2021, which will set out the additional steps we’ll take to reduce our emissions in line with the 1.5°C emissions scenario.

So we are making progress but we’ve still got a fair way to go and will need to redouble our efforts over the next few years and introduce new measures to help us further tackle our carbon emissions and reduce our resource use.

What do you see as the biggest challenge ahead?

The biggest challenge is working with suppliers to help drive down indirect emissions. JBA is typical of many businesses in that most of our carbon footprint lives within our supply chain – the goods and services we buy to deliver our work – and this is an area that will need a lot of focus.

On the positive side this also gives us an opportunity to share knowledge with others – our own suppliers and others working with them – to help improve the sustainability of their operations, whilst also learning from them and the efforts they’re making. I think we can contribute to a domino effect that will help improve the sustainability of our industry and beyond.

Ultimately, we need to use sustainability as a positive choice and prioritise suppliers that can help us achieve our sustainability goals.

Is there any one piece of advice you would share with other companies also on this journey based on your experience so far?

You need to develop a good understanding of your carbon footprint and the activities that are contributing most to your footprint. This is the foundation on which your carbon reduction efforts should be based.

Follow a recognised methodology – we use the GHG Protocol guidance – which will give you a solid framework to guide your assessment, and make your assessment as holistic as possible, including your direct and indirect emissions.

It’s a big data gathering and number crunching exercise, so try to learn from others who have prior experience and use this to inform your own approach. The more comprehensive your data, the more robust your assessment will be.

However, don’t let the quality of your data inhibit your assessment. Work with what you’ve got, or can readily collect, to make a reasonable estimate of your emissions – an estimate with a margin of error is better than no estimate – and then identify ways to improve your data quality going forwards so that your estimates are more accurate.

What would you say to companies who have not yet started on this process?

Get going on it as soon as you can – it’s never too early to start – and reach out to like-minded businesses and professionals outside of your organisation.

Sustainable thinking has grown massively over the last few years and there’s a wealth of advice, guidance, and practical examples available to inform your own approach.

Sustainability inherently requires shared responsibilities and you need to reach out to your staff, clients, and suppliers, to identify your own pathway. Tapping into the wealth of knowledge already out there is really important and will give you plenty of ideas as to what will work best for your company.

David Revill is JBA Group's Sustainability Manager. For more information on our Net Zero objectives email Davidget in touch with the team, or watch our Net Zero by 2030 video.

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