Conscious consumerism has never been more pressing in the world of business. We’ve become all too aware of the risk of global warming, a reliance on fossil fuels and the need for climate action, without further delay. Ordinary people are playing their part, but businesses are also realising the need to play a role in emission reduction.
Carbon-neutral companies are cropping up left, right and centre, with big names such as Google and Facebook pledging to limit their greenhouse gas emissions or reduce their environmental impact by purchasing carbon offsets.
The actions of big companies have a trickle-down effect on the legions of smaller businesses around the world. But not every firm can afford to buy a forest-full of trees to offset the jet-set lifestyle of their executives and smaller organisations can contribute by becoming carbon-neutral companies through more ingenious means.
“We can’t just recycle our way out of this problem; we need to look at every aspect of our lives and the associated sustainability impact,” says Rachel Roberts, founder and chief executive of spottydog communications, a public relations agency based in Birmingham.
Roberts was awoken to the need to act by a company-wide survey conducted at the end of last year. The message from her staff was clear: “Many team members thought we should be doing more as a business to tackle climate change and reduce our impact on the planet.”
Meeting the Paris Agreement climate change targets is difficult, says Hugh Jones, managing director of advisory at the Climate Trust. “If you look at it in a straightforward way, a business would have to cut its emissions by 4.2 per cent every year between now and 2050,” he says. “We can’t start in 2040. We’re already too late. We need to start now.”
Making a change to become climate neutral
Environmental friendliness of a new workspace was a major factor for spottydog in choosing where to move early in 2020. Close proximity to public transport links was key and, for staff who elect to have a company car, spottydog only offers hybrid or electric vehicles. In addition, small changes were made in the new office, such as getting rid of the company watercooler in favour of taps, eliminating disposable cups and installing sensors that switch off lights if there’s no movement, all to save energy.
They’re minor changes in the grand scheme of things, but collective endeavour can help reduce emissions. “While the initial steps we’ve taken to be more sustainable have made a big difference to the size of our carbon footprint, we’re still very aware that as a growing business it’s almost impossible for us to have zero impact on the planet,” says Roberts.
Because of this, they’re taking more of a proactive approach, offsetting the individual carbon footprints of employees through a scheme called ClimateWise, which invests in projects aiming to take climate action, and making it a free perk for every employee. It’s proved a boon, attracting workers who are most climate conscious.
Working on the carbon footprint
Carbon-neutral companies don’t just appear overnight. The way we work and transact business means it can be difficult to bring down greenhouse gas emissions to an acceptable level, never mind the eventual goal of being carbon negative. But firms that labour hard can help make a difference.
Flower delivery service Bloom & Wild is theoretically a significant contributor towards global warming. Its supply chain could contribute towards emissions, had they not taken action to try and counteract the impact they have. In the last 18 months, they’ve hunted out alternative materials with which to pack their flowers, finding a solution that means they’ll have saved nearly 61,000kg of plastic and polyester going to landfill by the end of 2020, the equivalent of 929 fridges.
They also limit the greenhouse gas emissions from delivery vehicles, working instead with XeroE couriers that deliver products using bikes and electric vans. That’s cut down on nearly 2,500 gallons of fossil fuels being used in vehicles. XeroE are also signed up to ClimateCare, a scheme for purchasing carbon offsets, which mitigates the rest of their impact on the environment.
The carbon-neutral companies’ playbook
While every firm is different, and their contributions to climate action can change, there are some key areas that firms looking to become climate neutral can tackle first. On a basic level, making sure workplaces operate at their most environmentally efficient is key. Motion-sensor lighting and careful calibration of heating to reduce waste is vital. Using renewable energy sources is an easy, but meaningful, shift in attitude, too.
Likewise, habitual changes such as removing plastic-heavy watercoolers and swapping out plastic cups for reusable, renewable ones may seem like a miniscule shift, but can, compounded, have a big impact. Cutting back on perks like gas-guzzling company cars and instigating bike schemes is equally important.
But those are short-term solutions, says Jones at the Climate Trust. “For a couple of years, yes, you might be able to switch to renewable electricity and cut down on air travel,” he says. But longer-term thinking is vital. “You have to think structurally: ‘What it is I do that has high emissions associated with it and how do I change?’”
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