Running a business in 2021 is hard. Of all the issues facing businesses around the world today, the potential impact of climate change is perhaps the biggest in the long term. As the effects become more and more visible, the days of deciding whether or not to ‘go green’ are long gone; it is now almost universally accepted that we all have a part to play in reducing emissions to limit global warming and save the planet from irreparable damage. Businesses are a key part of doing this, and there are some easy changes you can make.

Most businesses have already taken steps to reduce their environmental impact, setting long and short-term targets to achieve their goals. It’s a common misconception that making changes is too costly for businesses when, in fact, going green has plenty of benefits beyond fulfilling legal and moral responsibilities. This guide explores some of the things to think about when setting green targets for your business.

1. Set goals

When setting green targets it’s important to decide what you want to achieve. That might sound obvious, but do give it some thought! Be sure to follow the most up-to-date scientific research on climate change so that you’re making the right decisions for the environment as well as for your company. We think doing the right thing for the environment should be the biggest reason for going green, but there are lots of other benefits too. Being environmentally-friendly will enhance your business’s reputation as a responsible, sustainability-focused company with consumers, shareholders and employees alike. Over 73% of millennials say they’d prefer to buy from a sustainable business, given the choice.

Another common misconception is that going green might hold back your business’s growth. However, in many cases, changing your operations to benefit the environment forces you to innovate and differentiate in products and services to better provide for a target market with shifting values and ideals. Whilst switching to renewable energy or installing eco-efficient lighting in your office may seem costly at first, such changes can actually save you money in the long term. There are also some great government perks for making the switch. Other changes, such as reducing the transportation of goods and materials by buying local or implementing better storage solutions, can also save your business money in the short term.

2. Reduce energy and go renewable 

Firstly, it’s important to be aware of the amount of energy you’re using so you can identify areas where change is required. Be sure to make good use of your smart meter, now provided by most UK energy suppliers, to monitor your business’s consumption and consider the changes you can make to reduce it. Also, make sure you have an up-to-date EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) for your premises. This will provide you with a detailed assessment of your business’s energy efficiency and highlight areas for improvement.

Perhaps the biggest uses of energy in office-based environments are essentials such as lighting, heating and electrical appliances. If your building has a lot of windows, make good use of the natural light and consider whether you need to have artificial lights on at all. A bigger change could involve replacing older lighting with newer, more energy-efficient alternatives such as LED units.

Make sure your lighting and heating are on a timer so you’re not heating an empty office – particularly with a lot of people working from home at the moment. Many businesses have found fitting sensors to switch the lights off when there’s no movement can make a big difference.

You can also consider using laptops instead of desktop computers where possible to reduce energy consumption through mains electricity. Little things like unplugging laptop chargers when they’re not in use will have a bigger impact on your energy consumption than you might think.

Switching to renewable energy is a simple way to reduce your business’s carbon footprint. According to Friends Of The Earth, renewable energy use has grown ten-fold since 2004, and 37% of electricity now comes from renewable sources. 

It’s now cheaper to run wind and solar energy than it is gas, so many people have been turning to companies such as Bulb and Octopus as their energy suppliers. Bulb states that every customer who switches ‘lowers their carbon impact by 3.4 tonnes of CO2 a year,’ meaning that each renewable energy customer contributes towards the fight for a safer, healthier planet. Switching to a renewable energy supplier can be a great start in your business’s eco journey. 

To go one step further, installing solar panels, wind turbines or geothermal systems will provide your business with free renewable energy for years to come, massively reducing your business’s carbon footprint in the process. Although the initial installation of such systems can be expensive, switching to renewable solutions could mean big savings for your business longer term. Brewdog have just done this in Scotland and are proud to offer the world’s first Carbon Negative beer!

3. Reduce waste

Every business will produce different amounts of waste, no matter their industry or company size. What matters is how they go about reducing what they produce, whether that’s cardboard, plastic, or even electrical items. 

Some solutions can be simple i.e. paper. If you’re in an office, you will likely use a fair bit of paper, so you can start by recycling everything you don’t need. And, to reduce your waste even further, you can also purchase recycled paper; one of the greenest options today for businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Recycled paper uses less energy and water, and its manufacturing process produces less carbon than non-recycled paper. 

Another material that is often overlooked in the workplace is tech. Every office needs new equipment every now and then – it could be because your business is expanding or because you’ve increased the services you offer. Whilst refurbished technology isn’t new on the market, employers may still be skeptical about these products as they may seem less reliable. This however, is not true. Refurbished electronics can have a great impact on the environment, and can help your business save money too. 

But don’t forget to recycle the tech you already own! According to Evergreen IT Solutions, 34% of electronic waste is produced from IT sources, so it’s vital that businesses do their bit. To ensure that your computers are recycled correctly, consider using specific recycling sources who will dispose of your old products correctly, preventing any toxic waste spilling into the environment. Another option would be to donate your old tech to local charities and organisations who provide disadvantaged families with free computers – particularly useful at the moment with so many people working and learning from home.

4. Use sustainable materials in your products, packaging and marketing

Another way your business can become more sustainable is to use sustainable packaging. In 2018, the UK government called on innovators to create eco-friendly packaging and consumers are also making a conscious effort to buy fewer products with excessive packaging. 

There are so many options out there for businesses looking to improve their packaging methods. Here’s a few to help you get started:

The key thing to remember is to use the smallest amount of packaging possible. Consider the product you’re packing up – is it breakable? How big is it? Can it be reduced down in any way? Minimising the amount of packaging you use is a great first step towards becoming a more sustainable business.

5. Use local and sustainable suppliers/partners

There are many benefits to sourcing local goods including improving your business’s environmental impact, as couriers don’t have to travel as far. It’s also a great way to take advantage of the opportunities available in your local area – you never know – perhaps a local business has developed just the product or solution your company needs! Partnering with local suppliers can also do wonders for your business’s brand and is great for supporting your local community. 

6. Measure and reduce your carbon footprint:

The UK is aiming to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, so this should be one of your business’s goals too. This target has been met with a positive response by businesses agreeing that Net-Zero is an achievable target. So what can your company do to meet this goal?

The first step is to start measuring your carbon footprint. This will tell you exactly how far away you are from reaching Net-Zero, so you can plan your environmental strategy in a more efficient, targeted way. You can find a carbon calculator here.

Consider any ways you can reduce your carbon emissions. Investing in a local supplier, reducing travel or switching to renewable energy is a great place to start. 

Once you’ve exhausted ways to reduce emissions you should consider offsetting the remaining emissions and become a carbon neutral business. You can do this by supporting sustainable reforestation projects in the UK or abroad. 

You could also check out companies like EcoAct that will help you identify steps to achieve Net-Zero. 

If you’re ahead of the curve and have already achieved Net-Zero, your next target might be working towards reaching Zero Carbon – this means you’ve eliminated all carbon emissions entirely.

7. Find and support your cause

As well as considering what targets your organisation can achieve in the short term, it’s also important to think big and set longer term goals. Bigger changes will have more of an impact on the environment as well as on the other benefits that come from going green.

One long-term goal could be to support a charity that aligns with your eco-friendly goals. 1% For The Planet is a great example – by joining this organisation, you commit to donating 1% of your gross sales each year to their environmental partners – all working together to improve the state of the planet. 

If you’d like to support a more specific cause, organisations such as One Tree Planted, Ocean Conservatory, TreeSisters, and Rainforest Alliance all focus on different aspects of the earth which have been severely affected by global warming. Choosing a specific cause, like reforestation or reducing water pollution, may better align with your business’s beliefs, and it could appeal more to potential customers, who may feel passionate about the very same cause.

If you’d rather stay local, you could also invest in a community project, such as local gardens or reforestation projects. 

8. Become a B Corp

One of the boldest actions you can take as a business is committing to becoming a B Corporation. B Corps are businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance and are legally obliged to consider the planet in all their decision making alongside people and profit.

Joining the B Corp community and becoming a Certified B Corporation is a rigorous process and involves completing the B Impact Assessment which looks at different areas of your business such as your supply chain, employment rights as well as your carbon footprint. If you’d like to find out more about becoming a B Corp, check out our guide here.

Thank you to our guest author Evelyn James

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