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How can small businesses take steps to reduce their carbon emissions?

The past year has seen a burgeoning awareness from individuals and businesses about humanity’s impact on the planet. Covid-19 brought the issue sharply into focus for many, as national lockdowns saw emissions drop dramatically and wildlife return. Since then, policymakers have begun to focus more on tackling this issue.

Recently, the World Wildlife fund published a new report - Thriving Within our Planetary Means’ which highlighted how far off-track the UK is in meeting its environmental goals, such as land degradation air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Indeed, Earth Overshoot day fell on July 29th in 2021. This day marks the date where humanity’s demand for the Earth’s resources exceeds the resources that the planet generates in a year. While we saw the date get pushed back to August 22nd in 2020 due to the pandemic and national lockdowns across the world, it has now moved forward once again as restrictions largely ease. With the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow later this year, the pressure is on for governments across the world, but particularly developed countries, to re-commit to the targets set at the Paris Agreement and establish ambitious net-zero targets.

While these significant conversations are happening at a governmental level and countries such as the UK are announcing its investment in a Green Industrial Revolution, there is also scope for businesses to play their part reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding our planet.  

In fact, the UK government recently launched its Business Climate Hub aimed at encouraging businesses, large and small, to adopt green initiatives ahead of November’s COP 26. The Climate Hub provides ideas and support for businesses on how they can achieve their goals, businesses may also find other resources helpful.

For example, the Goal 13 platform, a partnership between Deloitte, the CBI, Chapter Zero, A4S, Dell and the Met Office is a tool for exploring insights into climate targets, drivers of change, the most impactful initiatives and their impact and the barriers to progress and the lessons learnt. This allows organisations big and small to learn from the actions of others and understand what could work for their own business. 

Another useful resource for businesses looking to reach their net-zero goals is the Exponential Roadmap, an initiative aiming to bring businesses together on their net-zero journey. It follows the framework set out in the 1.5°C Business Playbook originally launched at the World Economic Forum in January 2020. The Playbook, produced by leading experts and business stakeholders, provides a framework for all companies to reach net-zero emissions rapidly through the adoption of an exponential trajectory of at least halving their greenhouse gas emissions every decade to approach net zero by 2050, and integrating climate in their business strategy.

Committing to a transition to net zero and reducing emissions is the first step on a long road to reaching that goal. While there are many resources available to businesses it can often be difficult to know where to begin. To help, Close Brothers has put together a list of five key actions for businesses to consider now.

1. Evaluate your current emissions and set feasible targets

Before you can set your business on its path to net zero, assessing your current emissions is wise and free tools such as Planetly can help. Knowledge, they say, is power so understanding your carbon footprint will enable you to set (and stick to!) realistic targets towards net zero. The UK government is currently encouraging every business to aim for net zero by 2050, but this is a long way off. Setting smaller goals to help on this journey will ensure that your business’ progress stays on track.

2. Identify ‘quick wins’

For companies starting out on this journey, there is likely a number of small actions that you can take, which could have a significant impact on the environment without needing too much planning or expense. Going paperless, switching to LED lighting, switching from desktop computers to laptops and ensuring all appliances are turned off or onto power save mode at night are all simple steps that could have a profound impact on their emissions. For example, LED light bulbs use 15 times less electricity than a halogen bulb.

3. Switch from fossil fuels

Another easy change is to switch to renewable sources. In the UK there are now many energy providers that provide 100% electricity from renewable sources such as wind or solar power and switching to them no longer means compromising on cost.

In addition, consider where else switching may help to lessen your dependence on fossil fuels thereby reducing your emissions. For example, if you have company cars or a fleet of vans used by employees, could you switch these to electric? Electric vehicles (EV) are exempt from congestion charges and there are tax benefits to switching to EVs too.

4. Review your current processes

This past year has demonstrated that businesses can adapt to change. The shift to working from home and the technology that we all adopted in order to do so has revolutionised our ways of working. As we continue on the path to recovery, taking time to consider the aspects of the last year that it might be beneficial to keep. For example, taking long flights for meetings across the globe may no longer feel as necessary when you can speak face to face via video call. This will not only save the business money, but also help to cut down on emissions.

While there are some small measures you can take that will make a difference to your emissions output, to enact significant change targets must be incorporated into the business’ strategy. Only with buy-in from the most senior figures in the business is it possible for businesses to fully reach net zero. With business leaders leading the charge, there is then the opportunity to encourage other employees to take further action, as well as to start influencing both suppliers and customers too.

5. Consider offsetting  

Off-setting the carbon emissions that you aren’t able to reduce right away can be a useful way to ensure that you are having a positive impact on the environment. Off-setting carbon emissions involves investing in projects around the world that are designed to reduce current or future emissions. For example, investment may go towards tree planting, development of clean air technologies or rewilding projects to protect biodiversity.  

There are a number of organisations that can help with calculating your emissions and choosing offset projects to support such as Climate Care.

Reducing emissions may seem daunting, but there are simple immediate steps you can take that will make a huge difference. Working with specialists will also ensure that the goals and targets that you set are feasible and realistic. The government offers incentives to encourage businesses to reach net zero, so check what is on offer in your local area.  

6. Build credibility

There are some great initiatives that can be used to make businesses more self-aware about their carbon consumption and aid them in taking action. For example, working towards becoming a certified B corporation will not only hold businesses legally accountable to being ethically and environmentally conscious, but also provides businesses with credibility.

There are also other accreditations available, such as Investors in the Environment (IIE), which has three levels, Gold, Silver, and Bronze, and outlines what businesses must do to become more sustainable or the Planet Mark.

7. Green financing

Not all climate action is immediately visible, for example the way money is managed can have a significant impact on the environment. Consider your financial choices and what the impact could be. For example, could you move your employees’ workplace pension schemes to an ethical one? Over the last few years ESG (environmental, social and governance) funds have grown in popularity, and investors choosing these funds are no longer having to make the decision between profit and their principles because returns have been comparable.