SMEs are coming under pressure to be more environmentally friendly. But more often than not, they don’t know where to begin or what steps to take. Here are some practical ways your business can reduce its carbon footprint.
Why SMEs have to take carbon emissions seriously
When it comes to carbon emissions, SMEs have been estimated to cause 64% of all environmental impact in the EU. So collectively adopting measures to reduce energy, waste and water usage can make a significant impact. If no improvements are made, climate change will damage economies, promote resource scarcity, and drastically increase the cost of doing business. SMEs are seeing the advantages of becoming greener in their operations as a way to do better business and to help the earth.
Most SMEs recognise that they can and should be doing more to reduce their environmental impact, but owners often struggle to find the time and money to invest in these measures. Some businesses can also be put off by not knowing what kind of measures to implement or by thinking that they will be expensive.
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Where to start on the road to being more environmentally friendly
The first step for any company that wants to reduce its environmental impact, and help to reduce climate change, is to measure its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). There are many private companies that can help you figure out your carbon emissions. Once you know what your company’s biggest faults are, then you will be able to put measures in place to correct them.
While there are small things that you can do that will have a big impact on your carbon footprint, it should be noted that not all of these measures are easy and some of them come at a cost. But having an environmental strategy in place will help make some changes that could have a lasting impact.
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How to reduce your SME’s carbon footprint
1. The three Rs: Reduce, reuse, recycle
Starting with the three Rs is the best, and usually, the easiest, way to make your company greener. But the order in which you implement them is important. First prize is reducing the amount of waste your company produces. If you can’t reduce, then try to reuse as much as possible. Anything that can’t be reused should be recyclable. Everything after that is trash and counts towards your carbon footprint.
- Printing unnecessarily. Whenever possible, invoices, memos and all communication should be delivered digitally. If something has to be printed, make sure to print on both sides. This has shown to reduce paper wastage by half.
- Reduce energy consumption by turning computers off at the end of the day and turning the lights off in rooms that are not in use. Automated lights can also be installed to switch off when no one is detected in the room.
- Food waste may not be an obvious one, but according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, an estimated one-third of food produced is wasted – that means everything that went into producing that food, from the resources used to produce, package and transport it have all been wasted. In addition, when food rots, it produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that negatively affects the environment. If your company has a cafeteria, the best your business can do is take part in programmes that ensure food donation or composting.
- If your business uses items such as boxes or packaging supplies, try to reuse them whenever possible.
- Opt for ceramic or glass crockery and cutlery that can be reused instead of disposable cups, plates and stirrers.
Make recycling easy for your employees by having dedicated recycling bins for paper, cans, plastic, and glass set up in convenient places. This encourages your workforce to help in the cause of reducing your carbon footprint.
2. Implement more remote work into your company culture
Having your employees work from home even a few days a week is great for the environment. It means there are fewer cars on the road, idling in traffic, equating to less carbon dioxide (CO2) being emitted into the air. This means your company's CO2 emissions are being reduced.
Another way to reduce the amount of time your employees spend on the road is to opt for video conferencing wherever possible instead of having in-person meetings.
3. Public transport commuter benefits
If your company is one that requires its workforce to be in the office or on-site, then incentivising a public transport commuter or carpool programme might be the way to go. Public transportation (buses, trains, carpools) is the greenest way to commute, and companies can encourage employees to take advantage of these transport options. This spreads out the CO2 emissions over a group of people.
4. Replacing petrol with electric vehicles
If your business relies on road transportation for its day-to-day operations, swapping out petrol or diesel vehicles for electric ones is a great step toward reducing your carbon emissions. Company cars could be switched out to electric cars with charge points being offered at your place of business.
5. Invest in solar panels
Investing in renewable energy such as solar panels, and thereby avoiding the use of fossil fuels, also works toward reducing your company’s carbon footprint. This also reduces your electricity bill drastically, especially if you’ve installed those charge points for the electric cars.
6. Switch to LED lighting
Replace fluorescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs. These are the most energy-efficient lighting technology available on the market and are more durable than other types of lighting. Encourage your employees to turn lights off in rooms that are not being used.
7. Use sustainable products
Every company has consumables, from printing paper to cleaning products – all of which can be harmful to the environment because of the processes that go into making them. Choosing to use recycled products made from post- or pre-consumer waste maintains a circular economy and reduces overall waste.
When it comes to cleaning products, there is a whole industry dedicated to green and sustainable products that opt for using natural ingredients that are kinder to the environment.
Good for business, good for the environment, good for your reputation
Consumers are becoming far more environmentally friendly and are willing to demonstrate this with the way they spend. According to a global survey by Nielson, 81% of consumers surveyed feel strongly that companies should actively help to improve the environment. Being able to show that your values align with theirs, is not only good for business but is also good for the environment. If SMEs can come together and implement even small measures to mitigate their environmental impact, collectively it can have a massive effect on carbon emissions and the state of global warming.
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