UK firms facing a “green plateau” as costs hamper sustainability initiatives

A hand with a green pen drawing over the smoke from a smokestack, to represent greenwashing.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

UK firms are failing to meet sustainability targets due to spiraling costs, new research shows. 

Analysis by OVHcloud showed that more than three-in-ten IT leaders believe they won’t meet sustainability goals over the next two years. Cost was cited by 45% as one of their main challenges, and only one-in-ten said they had no concerns at all about becoming a greener business.

More than a third of organizations are now measuring carbon emissions across all three scopes - direct emissions that they own or control, indirect emissions from the purchase and use of electricity, steam, heating and cooling, and other indirect emissions that occur in their upstream and downstream activities.

However, the study found this figure is only due to rise by 2% in the next five years.

This, the firm said, raises the possibility of a 'green plateau', as businesses are unable to maintain their sustainability momentum in the coming years.

"Understanding your carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions is a crucial step in any organization’s journey to becoming a more sustainable business," said Gregory Lebourg, global environment director at OVHcloud.

"It’s fantastic that 36% of businesses are measuring in a thorough, well thought-out way, but if only another 2% of businesses start doing this in the next five years, the impact on the environment could be very significant."

In terms of their sustainability priorities over the next five years, 44% said they were looking at recycling initiatives, with 41% looking at optimizing power usage.

Three-in-ten said they were examining the impact of minimizing travel and fuel efficiency.

"The silver lining of the fluctuating gas and electricity prices in the last eighteen months is that it’s helped organizations realize that more sustainable power sources, and improving power efficiencies, particularly in technology, is not only an established way of saving money, but also saving the planet," Lebourg said.

"Given that many organizations are concerned about the price of sustainability initiatives, they should work to reframe these initiatives in terms of their potential for long-term savings. When correctly articulated, sustainability can also be frugality, which helps to build a compelling case for ROI."

The report echoes recent research from Kyndryl and Microsoft on the progress of green initiatives at technology firms.

The joint study found that while 85% of organizations say they place a “high strategic level of importance” on achieving sustainability goals, only 16% have integrated sustainability into their strategies and data practices.

This week's budget has been widely criticized for failing to give businesses enough incentive to become more sustainable.

"Whilst the slight increase in the Green Industries Growth Accelerator (GIGA) funding will be welcome to business, it’s a small measure for one of the biggest opportunities for injecting growth into the economy," says the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit's Alasdair Johnstone.

"At a time when the US and EU are competing over investment in clean industries, there was little in here to attract investment in clean industries."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.