On 20 September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced delays to several of the UK’s sustainability targets. These included – but were not limited to – moving back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035, allowing new gas boilers to be installed in homes until 2025 – instead of phasing them out from 2026 – and scrapping requirements for landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties.
The Prime Minister called the decisions a “recommitment” to the UK’s goal of achieving net zero by 2050, arguing the government’s plans would help the less well-off. Elsewhere, the announcement was criticised as a ‘U-turn’ or a ‘watering down’ and largely slammed by environmental groups.
Steve Malkin, founder and CEO of apolitical organisation The Planet Mark, said the government’s move was “concerning” and a “seemingly cynical ploy to win over voters” that will leave many environmental stakeholders “frustrated and confused”.
Elaborating further, he added: “However, many businesses, especially our members, are already choosing to cut carbon and go net zero regardless of political posturing. They recognise that climate action and sustainability is common sense, especially as their customers, such as larger listed companies and brands with global supply chains, make it a necessary requirement. This is perhaps something the government does not truly appreciate.”
The Prime Minister’s announcement was seen by the BOSS Federation as an important enough current topic to add it to the agenda of its annual Members’ Day that took place in London on 12 October (for the full BOSS Members’ Day review, read A day to remember). New Chairperson Julie Hawley hosted a panel comprising three sustainability experts from the business products channel: Julie Hadley, CSR and Social Value Manager at EVO; Graham Craik, Pentel Director of Sales UK & Ireland and Chairman of the Writing Instruments Association; and Martin Eames, who chairs the BOSS Environmental Forum.
Eames said he believed the announced measures themselves would not have a profound impact on the business environment, with the possible exception of companies already looking to switch their vehicle fleets to electric by the original 2030 timeframe.
However, he expressed concern about how the government’s decision might be interpreted – including by users of business products – with the fear there could be less interest in improving products and services in an environmental and sustainable way.
The jury is out
Eames referred to conversations he held last year with a number of London-based dealers in which they all said that sustainability came up in every single conversation they had with their customers.
Now, following the government’s announcement, he believes “the jury is out” over whether we will see a drop in interest in businesses moving forward with environmental agendas.
Craik emphasised the requirement for government legislation but stated the UK should not be acting alone. While certain markets readily promote sustainable mindsets, many are either on the fence or simply do not care. From a supplier’s perspective, there needs to be legislation on a European or even global level to help achieve critical mass in terms of production efficiencies.
The panel then moved away from Sunak’s announcement and looked at the wider issues impacting sustainability initiatives in our sector. It was clear there is a lot of enthusiasm among stakeholders, particularly when it comes to a product’s eco-friendly attributes, but there is still much to do to achieve a level playing field and an agreed set of standards.
It’s very much a work in progress.