By: Dominic Hare, CEO Blenheim
As Storm Arwen and other extreme weather events continue to demonstrate, the climate threat is increasing by the day. Over decades as the crisis has intensified, many environmental initiatives have emerged - some potentially game-changing - but others no more than ‘greenwash’; some responding directly to priorities, others more piecemeal.
With an understanding of the severity of the threat through our research and partnership work, the stark warnings that followed COP26 came as no surprise to us. But its conclusions are important because they affirm that whether as businesses or as individuals, we all have a responsibility to act in the interests of our planet, specifically in becoming carbon neutral in the short term and carbon negative in the longer term.
Addressing the most pressing issue of our time effectively requires that we take a strategic approach: one which is founded on priorities which form part of a longer-term plan; one which utilizes reliable data, enabling it to be monitored and evaluated, and one in which every asset performs to its greatest potential. For Blenheim and for business large and small, the consistency of a strategy coalesces stakeholders in a joint and focussed pursuit - while also addressing important legal and reputational considerations.
As a major landowner, a substantial property business and a world-renowned visitor attraction, Blenheim has a significant responsibility and an opportunity to make a real difference. And because we work closely with local producers and suppliers, we have the potential to encourage and incentivise sustainable practices, which can have a significant impact locally. It’s not just about negating damage: we also want to demonstrate the benefits of best practice and share it widely.
As our neighbours and regular visitors will know, Blenheim has prioritised sustainable practices for many years. Our initiatives include electric-only vehicles, support for local food producers and suppliers in our retailing and catering, provision of air source heat pumps and solar panels in many of the homes that we build and the sourcing of renewable power.
Undoubtedly these initiatives are most successful as part of a joined-up approach. So we have crystalised our aspirations, informed by research and consultation with our stakeholders, into an environmental strategy. The strategy, which is published on our website sets out two very specific pledges. By 2027, we will become carbon neutral on scopes 1-3 of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, across all operations. Furthermore, by 2050 we will remove 230,000 tonnes of CO2e from the atmosphere.
We accept that Blenheim Estate, over the past 300 years and along with all business and all buildings, has contributed to today’s crisis. While the past cannot be erased, the present and the future can help compensate for the damage done by significantly reducing the carbon dioxide that our operations create, and ultimately off-setting not only our own carbon emission but those of our neighbours too.
The idea that environmental initiatives can detract from the bottom line is very twentieth century. Today it is widely believed that an environmental strategy based on business objectives can benefit existing operations. Our initiatives to establish new woodlands and wildflower meadows increase the enjoyment of the Estate; reuse and recycling results in a cost saving, sustainable farming benefits the land and of course carbon reduction benefits the air we breathe as well as creating efficiencies. And ultimately our actions to protect the Palace, its grounds and our wider landholdings is a top priority because our primary business objective is our legacy.
We are fortunate that mitigating climate change strengthens our assets. For other businesses the relationship between sustainable practices and business objectives is more opaque. And yet, heightened awareness of the need to tackle climate change means that the absence of an environmental strategy invariably threatens profit. This is one of the reasons why we are pleased to collaborate with other businesses to deliver on the principles that we share – such as our partnership with Morgan Sindall, which will deliver more than 270,000 trees and sequester 25,000 tonnes of carbon as part of a 25-year programme.
In creating our environmental strategy, we have identified several further factors which are key to success and may be helpful to other businesses.
An environmental strategy must be flexible. The science is complex. Risks, opportunities and regulations fluctuate. Monitoring will invariably indicate the need for a change of direction. Therefore environmental strategies must respond to change. This is why we have committed to measuring our impact annually and will adapt our practices as necessary.
Change is always accompanied by challenge and our experience has been no exception. Our training and methodologies have had to adapt. Likewise we have had to pay particular attention to customer relations to encourage sustainable practices.
As a business which hosts almost 1m visitors each year, we welcome our customers’ response - both positive and negative - to our environmental strategy and our implementation of it. In every single detail, our priority is to ensure that the strategy is robust and resilient. Consequently we intend that the same will be true of the Blenheim Estate for centuries to come.
Every battle requires a strategy and the battle against climate change is no exception. It seems entirely appropriate that the Estate, named after the victorious Battle of Blenheim, is going into battle focussed on victory once again.