Has your Business “COP”ped on yet? A Young Person’s Perspective

My name is Emer Rafferty, an 18-year-old environmentalist from Ballymacnab in County Armagh.

As a COP26 Ambassador, engaging with businesses in NI who are taking real and important action for our planet is what I do, whilst trying to support those who are not as advanced in their environmental journey. From Ireland’s biggest recycling company, to a small coffee lounge, to the transport service we all use, businesses all across Northern Ireland are taking responsibility. However, many others are yet to “COP” on.

Here’s a little bit about me; I am a COP26 One Step Greener Ambassador and the first Translink Changemaker Ambassador. I am also a member of the North American Association for Environmental Education Class of 2021 and I am looking forward to being a reporter at COP26 in Glasgow. I am a passionate ambassador for Ulster Wildlife, Global Action Plan and the Live Here Love Here in Ballymacnab. I am a first year Queen’s University student studying Chemical Engineering with a keen interest and concern on the topics of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss and related issues. I have a positive and ambitious outlook on solving the challenges!

There is no time to waste in the climate crisis. The more we wait, the more damaged our air, oceans and future becomes. However, when young people like me see a business or company take the lead, innovate and take green action, our hope grows stronger.

Business people in this generation have a unique opportunity. All it takes is one decision, no matter your business size, to make reducing environmental impacts a mission.

Responding to the green wave for sustainable consumption demands can grow revenues, build a strong reputation and be socially correct for businesses. Who doesn’t love a company that loves people and planet?

There are companies who are already taking the lead by using carbon footprint labels to communicate the environmental impact of their products to consumers. It is my hope that this practice will expand and accelerate in Northern Ireland post COP26.

Being sustainable in your workplace doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. More than 15 tons of plastic gets dumped in the ocean every minute. Banning single use plastic in the office is an easy and logical step towards sustainability. Making a difference to our planet is our collective responsibility and it starts with making small changes.

Recent research undertaken found that 73% of workers wanted their employer to improve its sustainability policy, 24% said they would refuse a job at an organisation with a poor sustainability record. This I am glad to say, shows that the current generation is becoming more concerned by the climate crisis. Young people, in particular, want to work for companies that are climate change responsible, accountable and sustainable. Attracting and retaining highly educated and skilled workers will become easier.

So, what about COP26? Engaging with COP26 would show that your business understands the impact of climate change and wishes to be part of the solution. However, as a young person who has worked in three local businesses in the hospitality sector, I understand that the daily pressures of being in business, even more so after the pandemic, means many small businesses here won’t take much notice of COP26 or won’t be motivated to become more environmentally friendly. We need, as a society, to make the issue of the climate change more relevant to businesses and to their customers. That’s why Northern Ireland businesses that are already “copped on” to this year’s COP are showing the lead and will have a competitive advantage – because they are looking to the future and will be prepared for upcoming trends and regulations.

Climate change is, in my opinion, a major corporate risk for those businesses who ignore it and a commercial opportunity for those who don’t. Businesses that are motivated to manage this risk and to maximise the opportunity to protect and create value from sustainability should be paying close attention to COP26. Businesses who aren’t should be warned that their disconnection with the aims of COP26 may not be in their best interests!

So what can you do as a business owner?

  • Track and reduce your carbon footprint (link up with BITCNI to help)
  • Use sustainable raw materials
  • Stay updated on COP26
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
  • Banning single use plastic in the workplace (for instance, UK supermarkets use 114 billion pieces of throwaway plastic a year)
  • Energy efficient systems
  • Be eco-conscious (your packaging, distribution etc)
  • Make it a priority. Just like cost or quality, add in impact on planet to your criteria
  • Go virtual-cuts back travelling, paper use etc
  • Support nature in any way possible eg. Planting wildflowers at business building
  • Opt for renewable energy
  • Have green leaders in your team to ensure everything is as it should be
  • Promote a plant-based diet
  • Innovate! Lead the way in Northern Ireland business via innovation and creativity
  • Link up with other companies and work together

A sustainable mindset starts from the top – it makes sense that those in charge show their commitment to the cause, and implement policies that encourage sustainability at work. This will filter down through the company practices.

So what will it be now? Are you ready to take action? Young people from across Northern Ireland believe in the businesses that operate here. We support you and want the best for you; and the best thing for everyone is to care for our planet. A resilient planet creates resilient businesses.

I look forward to seeing every business in Northern Ireland advance in helping the planet in the lead up to and after COP26. We are so lucky to be having this crucial summit right at our doorstep; let’s show the world what we are made of!

To find out more about COP26 in Northern Ireland, visit www.bitcni.org.uk/COP26