Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.
Environmental sustainability is a priority for most businesses in the UK, although achieving zero net carbon emissions is a challenge. In March 2021, a third of the UK’s biggest companies committed to achieving zero net carbon emissions by 2050, while the government encourages all small businesses to follow suit. But how can you contribute as a small business, and what does it all mean?
It may seem impossible to not leave a carbon footprint. But most small businesses will have areas of potential improvement when it comes to sustainability. Transport, agriculture, and other industry practices, such as excess waste, can all produce carbon emissions. And your business can change how it works in these areas.
Achieving zero net carbon emissions means your carbon emissions are equal to or less than those actively removed from the environment. You can achieve this by reducing emissions at the source or by introducing positive contributions to offset your footprint.
Find out the benefits of hitting zero net carbon emissions, and what steps you can take to reach it.
Why should businesses go Zero?
As of 2020, the UK’s six million small businesses made up 99% of UK enterprises. But only one in ten measure their carbon footprint, according to a survey of UK businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce.
The BCC describes the main barriers to reducing carbon emissions as the upfront cost of adaptation and lack of finance. Small businesses can find resources and tools for making positive environmental change in the government’s UK Business Climate Hub, helping businesses which sign up achieve zero net emissions by 2050.
There are many ways achieving zero net carbon emissions can benefit your business. Acting on environmental sustainability can encourage growth through new business and investment opportunities, all while reducing running costs and attracting new customers. In turn, steps toward achieving zero net emissions can futureproof your small business.
What are the benefits of zero net carbon emissions?
Help the environment – by aiming for zero net emissions, you’re joining the thousands of companies looking to make lasting changes to industry practices and improve the environment. For example, efforts to reduce carbon emissions can encourage a more sustainable and efficient supply chain.
Engages climate-conscious customers – according to a 2020 study by Toluna, four out of five customers value sustainable packaging practices. What’s more, 43% of UK consumers wish to see more businesses donate food and supplies to the local community. This could be a solution for tackling uneaten and unspoiled food waste for restaurants and retail businesses.
Reaches a younger demographic – for example, of those surveyed that value sustainable packaging practices, 36% of people aged 18 and 34 regard the issue as very important to them, particularly in inner London. Targeting the interests and purchasing power of a younger demographic can attract custom and encourage business growth.
Competitive advantage – positive steps toward achieving zero net carbon emissions can give you a competitive advantage as you advertise your efforts, boosting your reputation among consumers who share your concerns. Joining the list of participating businesses in the UK Business Climate Hub can also help increase your visibility.
Save money – by optimising the efficiency and sustainability of your business, you can save money as you help to save the planet. For example, switching energy providers, issuing paperless receipts and invoices, and reducing food waste can help. Food production uses an enormous amount of water and resources, which are wasted when surplus food is thrown away.
Steps your small business can take
Though it might seem daunting at first, your business can work towards achieving zero net carbon emissions with a few practical steps.
Find out your carbon footprint
The first big step is understanding your carbon footprint. This will give you a measurement of the carbon emissions you produce as a business. Knowing your footprint and striving for zero net emissions can help your business build its reputation and inspire growth.
To calculate your carbon footprint, you’ll need the following information from your business activities over a 12-month period:
Energy, gas, and water consumption
Business travel and fuel consumption
You can manually convert your activity data into equivalent greenhouse gases via government conversion factors. But an easier method is to use an online carbon calculator such as The Carbon Trust and The McKay Carbon Calculator.
Look at your competitors and industry leaders
Most business strategies include competitor research – and this is no different. To understand where you can improve and in what areas, find out what is possible in your industry.
Look at industry leaders and competitors that have already made the leap to eliminate net carbon emissions to see what steps they’ve taken. Discover any patterns, and how much the steps may cost you.
Zero net pledges had nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020, according to a recent report by NewClimate Institute and Data-Driven Envriolab. Meanwhile, only 8% of companies actually introduced interim targets to reduce those carbon emissions. Benefit from the mistakes of other businesses while gathering inspiration from industry successes.
Create a realistic strategy
Aiming for zero net carbon emissions and improving your sustainability is an optimistic and positive path for your business. But you must also be realistic about what is possible in what timeframe.
Identify the biggest contributors to carbon emissions within your business operations and look for greener suppliers. For example, use those that measure and reduce their own carbon footprint. As for products, take time to evaluate those that take less energy to make, transport and use.
Look at areas where change can be made easily and realistically. The UK Business Climate Hub can offer advice for how to reduce your carbon footprint and integrate steps into your business strategy.
Set mini goals for success
To stay positive and motivated in what may feel like an uphill battle towards achieving zero net carbon emissions, start with easy tasks that bring results:
Optimise your appliances or consider energy-saving alternatives
Switch to a green energy tariff with your supplier
Implement a smart meter to monitor and control energy usage
Manage waste better – such as recycling, food waste and eco-friendly packaging.
Long-term solutions towards sustainability may also include:
Evaluating the efficiency of your building
Ensuring proper insulation to reduce loss of heat
Introducing renewable energy sources such as solar panels.
Measure the impact of completing these goals by taking your initial carbon emission data and comparing against your positive change. That way, you can celebrate progress and see the evidence of your efforts.
For more tips, discover how to make your takeaway and delivery more sustainable.
Review and refresh
Your zero net emissions strategy may change year on year, depending on circumstances, so it’s best practice to stay ahead of any speedbumps and understand your progress. You don’t want your strategy to become stagnant and end up losing out as a result.
Review progress and refresh your strategy accordingly, ideally yearly, so you can gather new data on your carbon emissions, potential reductions, cost savings and overall business growth.
While plans for hitting zero net carbon emissions by 2050 might seem far away now, it’s a good idea to make sure your business is sustainable in the long run. What’s more, making moves towards zero net emissions in the meantime may prepare you for any government penalties once new laws are introduced.
Making positive change is an exciting prospect. To keep your efforts prosperous, it’s wise to keep tabs on your path toward better sustainability and reaching zero net carbon emissions. Square can help growing businesses achieve their goals and engage customers – integrate your social media platforms and advertise your green initiatives with the help of Square Online. Optimise your inventory easily and check in on analytics with our bespoke point of sale system.