5 ways SMEs can reduce their carbon footprint

by the Spherics Team

From early stage startups with two team members to turning over tens of millions with 200, any SME can reduce its carbon footprint. Here we pick out 5 powerful ways to get you closer to net zero, covering travel, energy, certifications, food, and pensions.

1. Reduce the commute or make it sustainable

“Zero carbon pledges cannot be met without reducing emissions from transport – which means decarbonising the daily commute is critical.” - CEO of Mobilityways Ali Clabburn.

With the commute accounting for a quarter of the UK's carbon emissions, addressing how your staff get to work should be at the heart of any effort to reduce your emissions. It's better for their mental health too - car commuters report more stress than train commuters.

While many knowledge workers are reigniting their commute as they return to the office, some WFH looks to remain a permanent feature of the post-lockdown landscape. We may even become ‘remote-first’ with its logic of lower staffing costs and wider access to talent.

Even if going remote-first isn't appropriate for many businesses, sticking to some home working is obviously going to reduce your emissions. What then are your options to make your staff's commute more light touch?

How your team can commute more sustainably 

When your team does have to commute, there are ways you could encourage them to use more sustainable forms of transport. Schemes like Cyclescheme are there for those who live close enough to the office and want to get fit. It could even change their life.

Cyclescheme allows your team to save money and spread the cost of a bike. This includes e-bikes for those who want a gentler start to their morning, as well as cycling accessories like helmet and lights. 

Essentially, your staff pay nothing upfront and then you take tax-efficient payments from their salaries. The government has some guidance for employers if you want to know more. You'd also need to meet any uptake in cycling with storage and hot showers. 

If car commuting is still a must, try to encourage carpooling where possible. Mobilityways, which helps businesses achieve zero-carbon commuting, says that 92% of commuters could share lifts

Another option is to give staff the monetary equivalent of parking as a bonus, as Harvard Business Review suggests. You then allow them to choose to use it to pay for a parking spot, or to keep the cash and find another way to get to work.

How your team can travel for business more sustainably 

What about business travel outside the commute? You may have pandemic-induced Zoom fatigue, but cutting unnecessary in-person meetings is the low hanging fruit here. Resist returning to business-as-usual - don't let the easy-to-reduce emissions back in.

When it comes to long distance travel, accommodate for taking trains over planes. When employees must fly, rule out business class. It does more harm than economy due to the fuel being spread across fewer travellers. Make up for it by allowing for day flights. 

As the Independent's travel correspondent Simon Calder points out: “A sensible traveller really doesn’t mind economy travel during the day: there are films to watch, meals to eat, naps to grab. 

“It is on overnight flights that the value of business class rockets, along with the financial and environmental cost.”

2. Make the switch to a green energy supplier

Firing up the renewable energy for your business is perhaps the most important thing any business can do to reduce its emissions. The UK's 2021 gas crisis, which exposed our reliance on the stuff, has given you even more reason to do so.

Green energy is also getting cheaper. In 2020 the UK government revealed electricity from wind and solar was 30-50% cheaper than it previously thought. To top it off, making the switch could help you attract more customers, workers and investors.

The easiest way to banish fossil fuels from your business is by switching to a green energy supplier. Octopus and Good Energy are among the best according to Forbes. Green Energy UK (not to be confused with Green) is the only one to supply 100% green gas.

Generate your own renewable energy

Even better than switching to a green energy supplier is generating your own. The most common method is installing solar panels or wind turbines. This not only reduces your emissions but reduces your energy bills too.

It does however come with significant installation costs and depends whether you have the space for it. Wind energy requires an exposed or isolated spot so won't work in built up areas. To get the best out of your solar panels they'll need to be on south-facing roofs. 

We're also still a long way off from affordable, efficient and widespread battery storage, so you'll still have to rely on the grid when the wind isn't blowing. With solar panels you're okay - they're at their best in direct sunlight but they still do well on gloomy days.

As for who can install them for you - check out E.ON and Geo Green Power for starters. Both install heat pumps too, which extract heat from the ground, air or water and then store it or distribute it as central heating or hot water.

3. Join the climate action super league

If you are overwhelmed by sustainability initiatives, Spherics’ Rebecca Burgess breaks down the landscape and shares the who’s who zero here.

Apply for your business to become a B Corp

Probably the most popular and well known certification, with its distinctive logo adorning more and more products on supermarket shelves, is B Corporation. It has more than 4,000 businesses signed up across 153 industries and 77 countries.

Businesses who want to become ‘B Corps’ need to commit to the success of their company for the benefit of society and environment, not just their own finances - the ‘triple bottom line’. This has to be reflected in their governing documents. 

It does come with a price: a £250 submission fee and an annual certification fee based on your total revenue, which starts at £1000. It's worth it though when the result is more credibility among customers, prospective employees and investors.

Expect a tough and lengthy review process - it can take between 6 to 10 months to complete and only about 1 in 3 applications pass. To get started, complete and submit the B Impact Assessment or read the full requirements.

Join a campaign to show your commitment to net zero

While B Corporation does require you to amend your governing documents, there's currently no statutory requirement in the UK nudging every business onto the net zero path. That's where the Better Business Act comes in.

Become a signatory and you'll join more than 750 businesses setting out to change UK law. They want to ensure every UK company, from startups to multinationals, aligns their shareholders' interests with those of wider society and the environment.

Then there's the Race to Zero, a global campaign that mobilises businesses, cities, regions and investors for a resilient, zero carbon Covid recovery that unlocks good jobs and inclusive, sustainable growth.

To join you can contact Business Ambition for 1.5 C - Our Only Future, The Climate Pledge and Exponential Roadmap Initiative. SMEs should go through the SME Climate Hub and if you're already a certified B Corporation, contact B Corporation.

Get SME tools and resources to help curb your emissions

SME Climate Hub, described as the place where SMEs come to “curb emissions and gain a competitive edge,” has a brilliant set of resources to help small businesses take concrete steps towards net zero. 

The hub first asks you to commit to cutting your emissions in half by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050. It then sends you tools and proven strategies to help you understand and tackle your emissions, and how to share your climate action with your customers.

These four initiatives are just a glimpse into the many pledges and certificates out there. Others include the B Corp Climate Collective, CDP, She, Tech Zero, and Exponential Roadmap.

4. Encourage your team to eat less meat

Consider taking meat off the menu entirely

Meat production accounts for nearly 60% of all emissions from food production, double that of plant-based foods, so getting your staff to eat less meat has to be on the net zero menu.

This can be tricky though. Eating meat is deeply rooted in many cultures and is often at the centre of our social interactions. This makes it a charged topic and taking meat completely off the menu could backfire.

It has been done though, most notably by We Work. The company hasn't been serving meat at company events that it pays for since 2018. That includes no reimbursement for employees who fancy a hamburger at a lunch meeting.

Ease your team into a plant-based lifestyle

If you're not ready to follow We Work's example, there are less aggressive ways to encourage a more plant-based culture at work. You could gamify it by seeing how long staff can stick to a vegetarian/vegan diet and encourage them to share how they're doing.

At your canteen you could provide as many, if not more, affordable and tasty plant-based options as meat dishes. You could also ensure all your catered events are meat-free, as long as you hire a formidable vegan caterer who can satisfy any meat eater.

5. Green your pension scheme

The institutions who manage our pension schemes very often invest heavily in fossil fuels, so greening your pension scheme could be a powerful way to reduce at least your Scope 3 emissions.

The Financial Times reported in 2021 that moving a £100,000 pension pot from a fund investing in oil and gas to a positive impact portfolio is the same as taking five or six cars off the road a year.

An analysis from Make My Money Matter (MMMM) and Aviva found that turning your pension green is 21 times more effective at cutting carbon footprints than stopping flying, going veggie, or switching to a green energy provider combined

MMMM says the pressure for greener pensions is building, with more than two thirds of people wanting their money to support people and the planet. 

Companies like IKEA and EY are among more than 50 signatories to the Green Pension Charter, which is calling for pensions to align with the UK's 2050 net zero target.

To explore green pensions, have a look at Path Financial - an advisory firm specialising in positive impact investing. Also check out Good With Money's top 6 ethical pension funds of 2021 too.

Finally: Measure your emissions first with Spherics

Choosing any of these ways to reduce your carbon footprint is a sure way to change your impact on the climate for the better. To fully illuminate your path to net zero, however, you first need to understand how deep your emissions go.

Connect your accounting software to our accurate and affordable carbon measurement tool and you'll be able to see your footprint in just a few clicks. If you're interested in learning more please drop us an email or "book a demo" above.



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