BUSINESSES keen to up their game on sustainability received specialist insight and advice at a free seminar hosted by HWB.
The Hampshire accountancy firm welcomed attendees from sectors as diverse as financial and professional services, architecture, housing trusts and oceanographic monitoring.
And the event, held at the Axis Conference Centre on the Southampton Science Park, featured presentations from three experts in the steps businesses need to take on the way to net zero.
David Wilshin, carbon and procurement specialist at Winchester-based Auditel, shared practical tips for achieving the ‘three Rs’ of sustainability – reduce, reuse, recycle – across everyday business activities including staff travel, waste management, tech and data storage.
He said: “The typical process for a business to initiate a carbon reduction strategy starts with holding a ‘carbon discovery workshop’ and mapping out the existing footprint.
“That means measuring and benchmarking the impact of all your processes including what your employees and suppliers do.
“You then identify the hotspots and the opportunities to reduce. Once you have the information, you can re-engage with colleagues to deliver your decarbonisation projects.
“It can typically take 12 months to build a robust carbon strategy and become independently verified as a carbon neutral business. The heavy lifting is done in that first year.
“You want to build in annual benchmarks from there, restating targets and reducing carbon in bite-sized chunks each year. That’s the carbon footprint reduction journey most businesses are on.”
David advised that SMEs pitching for work increasingly have to demonstrate their sustainability credentials, adding: “Take the construction industry seeking public sector instructions for example.
“A carbon reduction plan has to be part of a company’s response to government contracts.
“It’s a case of ‘pounds, pence and carbon’ in today’s procurement world.”
Fellow presenter Andy McKee, financial advisor at Eight Wealth Management, stressed the importance of ‘sustainable and responsible investment’ in tackling climate change.
He said: “How you invest can make a substantial difference and we see some pension funds being penalised for investing in industries with poor environmental track records.
“Of course as an individual you can take shorter showers and eat less red meat but you can have a lot more influence by investing responsibly.
“I am optimistic that most companies are committed but we still have a lot of work to do to get to net zero.
“My advice is to be the change you want to see and invest in a world worth living in.
“I believe it will be those companies who are committed to carbon reduction who will be the ones to survive.”
In his presentation, Alan Rolfe, Senior Tax Manager at HWB, explained that businesses were required to be more transparent about sustainability issues than in previous years.
He said: “Environmental objectives are increasingly being written into taxation rules from the government perspective.
“If you have a carbon reduction strategy there are many ways you can take advantage of this through, for example, capital allowances and benefits in kind on electric vehicles and bikes, subsidised public transport for staff and specific VAT reliefs and incentives on energy saving materials.
“You can subsidise the risk of green projects and experiments, including for internal business processes, by claiming substantial tax relief on qualifying R&D costs.
“On the other hand, there are penal taxes so, for example, the capital cost of a company petrol or diesel car is now never fully relieved tax-wise.
“At the same time, there is a plastic packaging tax, a climate change levy and, in the construction industry specifically, an aggregates levy designed to drive people to building materials from recycled sources.”
As well as the expert insight on hand, the ‘Essential Advice for your Net Zero Journey’ seminar included signposting to government grants, loans and other financial assistance available to firms looking to reduce their carbon footprints.
Chartered Accountants HWB, headquartered at Chandler’s Ford, near Southampton, provides business and tax advice.
PICTURED: At the Axis Conference Centre are ‘green team’ presenters, from left, David Wilshin of Auditel, Andy McKee of Eight Wealth Management and Alan Rolfe of Chartered Accountants HWB. The free-to-attend seminar provided business representatives with essential advice and insight on how to progress their net zero journeys