As we start 2022, Jim McClelland explores the challenges and opportunities for green businesses in the UK?

If Covid has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. That said, the New Year is a time for plans and predictions — so what’s in store for us in 2022, asks Jim McClelland?

Last year proved many things for sustainability in the UK, but uneventful was not one of them.

In the run-up to the year-end COP on home soil, we saw an absolute slew of strategies coming out of Westminster — for everything from Hydrogen, through Heat and Buildings, to Net Zero.

Yet, the feedback overall was, frankly, pretty mixed.

So, given that the environment in 2021 remained something of a work in progress, what then lies in prospect (that we can predict with any confidence) for 2022?

It’s time for the good and the green to get gloved-up!

Jim McClelland Jim McClelland Sustainable futurist, editor, journalist, speaker

The risk of a punch in the mouth

Well, for starters, the disruptive influence of the pandemic has jumped two key items up the business agenda for urgent discussion: resilience planning; and agility.

In effect, the plan for 2022 predictably begins with learning how to deal better with unpredictability.

As Mike Tyson once said, "Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth".

And, much like a boxer in the ring, the best ways not to get hit in the face are to block, or duck.

For business, therefore, there are really only two main risk-management routes you can go down: mitigation, or avoidance.

Regulatory change is a ‘known known’

In terms of the risks (or opportunities) we might face, regulatory change is effectively a ‘known known’, as it were — since we can see the punch coming.

From the start of the new financial year in April 2022, for instance, over 1,300 of the largest UK-registered companies and financial institutions will be required by law to disclose climate-related financial information.

This effectively represents a timeline of opportunity for low-carbon solutions providers who can help shrink the footprint — so as to green the game and clean the name.

Zooming in on sector specifics, key changes to building regulations will come into effect as of 15 June next year, following consultations into proposals for The Future Buildings Standard, plus the publication of standards for overheating in new residential buildings (Part O), last December.

Updates to requirements under the likes of Part L (conservation of fuel and power) and Part F (ventilation) are therefore already in the diary for 2022.

Landmark legislation of this kind calls for a mitigation strategy, whether in terms of its impact on your own business, or by extension, that of your clients or customers, or both.

What form that mitigation should take, of course, is much more up for debate. It could involve saying no — by deselecting carbon-intensive materials, or emissions-heavy processes.

Alternatively, it might mean saying yes — to securing climate finance, investing in green jobs and skills, renewable energy, water reuse and closed-loop manufacturing.

Either way, visibility for horizon-scanning should be pretty good.

Ways to ease the supply-chain pain

When it comes to managing third-party risks, the crystal ball becomes much more cloudy.

Scenario planning for potential situations arising farther out along the supply chain soon starts to involve some ‘known unknowns’ and maybe even ‘unknown unknowns’.

In other words, the chances of getting caught flush on the chin by a potshot go up dramatically.

This is where the double-whammy of a global pandemic and never-ending Brexit made 2021 such a challenging year for anyone trying to run a UK business that depended on imports, exports, transport and logistics.

For some, the only thing certain in 2022 is that they do not want a repeat of 2021.

This avoidance policy might mean on-shoring jobs and processes, or looking at mergers and acquisitions to advance vertical integration and ease the supply-chain pain.

Ultimately, a market exit might be the only sure-fix option for business security.

New Year resolutions and reality check

So, whilst 2021 may have been a year of ambitious targets and aspirational goals — including plenty of political hot air and gallons of corporate greenwash — the new dawn of 2022 might well herald a much-needed sense-check, or reality-check.

This is not to say that sustainability thinking should adopt an exclusively defensive mindset — there is still demand and opportunity for the entrepreneurial spirit that sees the green corner come out strong on dancing feet, throwing its best shots.

The responsiveness and adaptability strategies needed for success should definitely continue to engage fully with such advances as innovation in IoT-enabled smart buildings, or embrace deeply the resource-positive principles of regenerative design.

It is not a case of choosing one over the other; we shall need all of the above and more.

However, we start the new year in the shadow of Covid variants, with key sectors and communities experiencing economic pressure and social hardship. So, for sustainability advocates and practitioners to prove their worth and add value, it helps to come to the table armed with an inclusive can-do attitude, founded on pragmatism and dependability.

Once this approach has secured some quick wins, earning the support of colleagues and gaining the confidence of customers, then might be the moment to move onto bigger and bolder things. In Q1, though, it is about offering reassurance and delivering rebuilding.

In short, 2022 will be the year of sustainability boxing clever, scoring easy points and winning early rounds. 

It’s time for the good and the green to get gloved-up!

Jim McClelland is a Sustainable futurist, editor, journalist, speaker