What does it mean to be a ‘sustainable’ company?

01 January 2018

Starting from scratch

Aether specialises in the processing and analysis of environmental data, to support policy makers in government and private companies. The company was founded in 2008 by four senior members of the UK’s emissions inventory team, and has grown to over 20 members of staff. Most of us are based in Oxford, but we also have staff in Spain and Canada.

When we started Aether, we talked a lot about our ethos and mission, and how it could be used to drive the organisation forward. Working in the fields of air quality and climate change, we ultimately decided that operating as a carbon neutral business would be the keystone of our sustainability work, and we have done so since 2012.

While we offset any emissions that cannot be reduced completely, the primary focus is always on reducing emissions. Teleconferencing equipment and solar PV panels on the roof help in some ways. But like other service-based companies, we realised that our biggest environmental impact comes from overseas travel. That is when we decided to launch our internal low carbon travel scheme.

Low carbon travel scheme and trains across Europe

For the last five years we have operated an internal “low carbon travel” scheme that rewards staff who choose more sustainable forms of transport. For commutes, employees are incentivised to walk and cycle, and for short-haul business trips the focus is on trains rather than flying.

train-italy-picture-taken-by-christofer.jpg

When we started the low carbon travel scheme, we did not know what to expect. But it made sense to reward employees who cycled to work, or spent an extra hour on the train to get to that climate conference. In fact, it soon became apparent that trains were most preferred option even for longer journeys, bringing direct business benefits that we certainly hadn’t foreseen.

The ease of working on trains has meant less down time for travel, even during longer train journeys. Also, staff have harnessed the potential to combine work travel with holiday time, staying on at the destination for a city break, thus also learning more about our clients, their countries and cultures.

Keeping track of the emissions

Monitoring and recording our carbon footprint since 2010 has been crucial to enable our environmental commitments and support our ethos. But the greatest benefit has probably been the ability to understand where money is spent, and what is not working efficiently. Despite doubling in size in the last five years, we have still reduced our total emissions in several sectors through better travel planning, moving our main office to central Oxford, and helping people work from home.

aether-carbon-footprint.png

Volunteering for a better world

Apart from our commitment to be carbon neutral, we also operate a volunteering programme for our staff. While company days out working for worthy causes are of course far from unique, we also try to go a step further by giving staff extra annual leave if they volunteer for environmental causes.

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Quality and environmental management

All our sustainability actions are incorporated into our quality and environmental management systems, with annual independent third-party certifications according to ISO 9001 and STEM (Steps to Environmental Management).

To further ensure our ability to be carbon neutral, we offset our emissions using the highest standard carbon offsets (Gold Standards) that are available on the market. Ultimately, this is the best way to ensure that the money we spend really turns into activities that reduce carbon emissions, but also helps deliver social benefits.

Beyond sustainability

This year Aether turns ten years old, and as the company continues to grow, we will undoubtedly find new challenges that we need to consider and address to ensure that we work in the most sustainable way possible.

While measuring a company’s environmental impact can often be a necessary first step in addressing systemic inefficiencies, it can also help create an environment that is better for the employees. Through schemes such as the low carbon travel scheme, or letting people work from home, we hope to not only operate in an efficient way, but also help people achieve a healthy work-life balance.

In the long run, we hope that all these efforts and ability to commit time for other causes through the volunteering programme will make Aether, not only a good place to work, but also a responsible and active participant in the areas where we work. To us, that is what it means to truly be a sustainable company!

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Testimonial

Don't just take our word for it...

“A heartfelt thank you to all the Aether team for this very comprehensive review – this is certainly turning out to be one of the most beneficial capacity building projects I have ever been involved in.”

Saviour Vassallo, Senior Environment Protection Officer, Malta Resources Authority

“Saint Lucia embraces the professional approach with which this project was undertaken by Aether, particularly their ability to develop mentorship relations with local government experts. This provides a basis for ensuring that the pool of local experts remain engaged and recognized over successive processes.”

Annette Rattigan-Leo, Chief Sustainable Development and Environment Officer

“The team at Aether works very professionally and communicates very well which makes working with them a pleasure. Outputs are delivered on time to high quality. The team brings the rigour of technical knowledge and expertise and finds innovative ways of communicating complex messages. I would be happy to recommend the Aether team to organisations working on analysing and presenting emissions information in the public domain.”

Fiona Glover, States of Jersey

“Aether is a great partner for work in the area of European Air Emissions. The team was committed, reliable, well organised and had a deep technical understanding and motivated other partners with their good spirit.”

Umweltbundesamt: Environment Agency Austria

“The support provided by Aether for this project was especially remarkable considering the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tools and methods used in order to engage local stakeholders really added value to the capacity building of the national team.”

Shanna Emmanuel, Saint Lucia BUR Project Coordinator

“Chris was excellent to work with and always very pro active in making suggestions, taking work forward and applying his considerable technical knowledge in effective ways.”

Robert Vaughan, Defra Air Quality Team

“It is always an absolute pleasure working with Aether. I always know what is expected of me. Their work ethic is of a very high standard and projects are always handled in a very professional manner. I have learnt many skills in terms of project management, quality control and workshop training styles from Aether and I hope to carry these principles forward in my own work. I look forward to collaborating with Aether more in the future.”

Luanne Stevens, Gondwana

“The Aether team were a joy to work with and I would recommend the consultancy - the service provided throughout the process was exceptional.”

Clare Bayley, Defra

“If we have a need for any more reports in the future Aether will be first on my list.”

Alan Hardy, Kyson Design

“It has been a pleasure to work with Chris Dore and Richard Claxton from Aether: they did their job in a very professional and timely manner. The workshop was organized and carried out in a cooperative spirit; the information provided to the workshop participants was complete and clear.”

Alina Novikova, UN/ECE Secretariat

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