5 ways to get started with carbon reduction today

Climate crisis. CO2 emissions. Net zero. Carbon neutral.

There is no denying that these are hot topics and as we have previously discussed, businesses are poised to make a difference. Consumers, clients, even law makers all look to business to understand what is achievable and viable when making changes to our habits. From large companies with vast numbers of employees down to consumers at the end of the supply chain, we can all learn and inspire each other with evolving carbon reduction ideas. Whether we are a consumer of product, or making them; whether we are creating the raw materials used on construction projects or simply managing the use of them; whether we are building houses or running airports, all of these industries and businesses are large producers of CO2 emissions and have a real opportunity to make an impact on the downward slide towards global warming and the near inevitable 1.5C global temperature rise. It may feel futile, but it is not – every action you can take can make a difference. As long as you actually start…

Customers also like to know that the businesses they use or support feel aligned to their causes. 87% of customers will purchase a product from a company that advocated for an issue they care about and so investing time and energy into designing a visible carbon reduction plan can also be a strong business strategy.

So today I want to give you 5 real things your company can do, right now, to contribute towards the net zero goal.

What is the net zero goal?

Net zero refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. There are two different routes to achieving net zero, which work in tandem: reducing existing emissions and actively removing greenhouse gases. A net-zero target recognises that there will still be some emissions but that these need to be fully offset, predominantly through natural carbon sinks such as oceans and forests.

In June 2019, parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% – relative to 1990 levels – by 2050.  Doing so would make the UK a ‘net zero’ emitter.

Green house gases

 So, what can you do?

1. Set your baseline

Before you decide upon a strategy to start reducing your carbon emissions, do an audit. You need to know what you are working with before you decide what you want to achieve. You may be surprised where your hotspots are and in which areas you can make immediate improvement.

There are many companies who can provide you with a carbon emissions calculator or strategy for a fee, but a good place to start is the free tool provided by Greenhouse Gas Protocol. From there you can decide what targets you want to set and which areas of the business you can easily alter to meet them. You can also work out a longer-term strategy for your direct, indirect and wider emissions involving your supply chain or employee activities.

2. Look internally for quick wins

This one can encompass many aspects of work and office life. While these may be ‘projects’ to begin with, over time you can change a culture and make your business one where environmentally friendly practices are used by default instead of through short term initiatives.

Do a waste audit to see where you are creating waste that can be reduced. Some really easy wins are:

  • Paper – move to recycled stationary, reusing scrap paper or print fewer emails and documents
  • Kitchen waste like disposable cups, stirrers and coffee capsules – move to reusable crockery
  • Plastics – install recycling bins and encourage correct sorting

Encourage employee participation – once you canvas staff you may find that many of the team are motivated to make a difference but don’t have the tools or processes available to them in the work environment. Setting up a green committee who champion initiatives and changes is a good way to get staff involved and support employee engagement at the same time. Employee led initiatives are proven to have more uptake and longevity than a top down approach. Ideas they can lead with are ‘walk/cycle to work days’, ‘meat free Monday’ or charity fundraising days.

Repair and reuse and fight obsolescence – make sure you look after your appliances properly. Correct use of the photocopier will reduce the need for it to be replaced and lengthen its life. If your appliances and equipment are on a lease or hire scheme, check with your provider to see what they do with them when you return them for an upgrade – and ask whether you can lengthen the time before you even need an upgrade (it might be cheaper that way too!) When it is time to upgrade, make sure you are choosing the most energy efficient solution.

3. Switch your energy provider

Entirely avoiding fossil fuels in your office will make a massive impact on your overall footprint (as you will soon see if you go through the Greenhouse Gas calculator!). There are several companies in the UK who provide 100% clean energy – but Green Energy UK are probably considered the most truly sustainable. They are the only energy supplier in the UK that provide 100% green gas (others offset their gas emissions) as well as the green electricity. Eon, Octopus and Ecotricity are all worth a look too.

4. Make your voice heard

Tell your Member of Parliament or local councilors that you think action on climate change is important and ask to see their current strategies and upcoming plans. Local councilors are the easiest to reach and will have the quickest way of raising an issue or getting through the red tape. Ultimately, steps to reduce carbon emissions will have a positive impact on other local issues, like improving air quality and public health, creating jobs and reducing inequality and to have businesses on their side is a big plus for them. You are in a key position to make a difference so make sure that you ask to see the evidence on what they are doing now and how the debates or discussions are going for future changes.

5. Look at carbon credits

Finally, if you can’t commit to making changes from the list above, the last chance saloon is to buy carbon credits.

This system of ‘CO2 reduction’ is not without its controversy as there has not always been transparent oversight around where those credits are used. A 2016 European Union study found that 85% of the projects they looked at would have gone ahead without the additional money contributed by the purchased offsets. So they weren’t really needed. There have also been other stories of companies not carrying out the tasks agreed to and in one dire example, one programme which was set up to plant trees, actually ended up cutting them down! Also, it could be said to be a means to maintain a carbon heavy lifestyle. Cutting pollution rather than making global offsets will reduce global emissions significantly more.

But if you do engage in some unavoidable activities that increase your carbon footprint, this could be one way to make a difference. Basically, you purchase credits from an external company who promise to engage in carbon reducing activities. Whether it is jet setting or long distance commutes or perhaps you are unable to find reusable energy providers in your area, there is a long list of activities you can ‘buy’ offsets for. Or simply ‘because you want to’. We have seen some businesses advertising that they buy carbon offsets for every newsletter subscription or email sent.

Here are some companies who all adhere to the Gold Standard certification for offsetting:

Ecologi – “We plant trees & fund the world’s best climate crisis solutions”

Climate Partner – “Enables companies and their customers to take climate action”

Carbon Fund – “Reduce What You Can, Offset What You Can’t”

If you would like to read more about what you can do as a business to reduce your carbon emissions, check out the 1.5°C Business Playbook. The playbook has been put together to guide businesses who are already interested in climate change strategies. It helps to “define targets aligned with science, set requirements for suppliers, and align supply chains and value propositions with a 1.5°C ambition”.

What do you think you will start with? We would love to hear what you anticipate to do within your business to help reduce our national carbon emissions. Or perhaps you have already been through the process and have made great strides on this front. Either way we would love to hear from you and champion your stories. Feel free to get in touch with me.