10 ways to make your business more sustainable

As the 2020s have been declared the decade of action on climate change and the UK Government’s date for achieving net zero draws closer, you may be wondering what simple steps your business can take to begin its journey to net zero. Small changes that can be maintained in the long term are the best way to ensure a smooth and successful transition to a more sustainable future.

There is a strong business case for becoming more sustainable. Consumers increasingly expect businesses to take the lead on sustainability; a survey by Deloitte found that 64% of consumers want brands to reduce packaging, and 46% said they want clarity on the sourcing of products. Reducing your carbon footprint can also reduce business costs in the longer term by making changes that reduce energy usage or using less packaging.

It is highly likely that government regulation will be introduced to encourage SMEs to transition towards net zero. Therefore, it is best to act now, ahead of regulatory changes, to ensure that you can plan expenditure and ensure a smooth transition of business practices, rather than having to make significant changes in a shorter space of time as the net zero target approaches.

What are 10 simple changes you can make to your business to kickstart your net zero journey?

  1. Measure the carbon footprint of your business – you need to know what you are working with in order to set goals and make improvements. The first step to calculating your carbon footprint will be to measure your scope 1 and 2 emissions. To do this, you will need to find information such as your fuel expenses, and heat and electricity usage that can be converted to carbon emissions. The SME Climate Hub has a range of useful tools to help guide your transition to net zero, including an online calculator to calculate the carbon footprint of your business. Planet Mark has produced a beginner’s guide to carbon footprinting.
  2. Set goals – set specific sustainability targets for your business to reach, both near-term and mid-term, with dates attached for achieving them by to keep you on track and accountable. Appoint a board level individual who is formally responsible for delivering on these climate goals.
  3. Monitor and make low-cost infrastructure changes to improve your business’ energy efficiency, for example:
    1. Control temperature set points in your premises
    2. Use LED lighting
    3. Ensure kit – such as air conditioning vents – is maintained throughout your building.
    4. Get a smart meter to measure your energy usage.
    5. Ensure your business premises have an up-to-date Energy Performance Certificate. This will provide you with an in-depth assessment of the energy efficiency of your business and highlight areas for improvement.
  4. Reduce packaging where possible, and change to using sustainable materials, including in packaging, marketing materials and office supplies. These could include:
    1. Recycled paper and cardboard
    2. Biodegradable packing peanuts
    3. Cornstarch packaging
    4. Organic fabrics
  5. Look at your suppliers
    1. Is it possible to change to a supplier with stronger green credentials?
    2. Could you use a more local supplier to reduce carbon emissions in transporting goods or supplies?
    3. Challenge your existing suppliers on their sustainability, can they change their practices? Can you agree a roadmap to a more sustainable supply chain within an agreed time frame?
  6. Provide your employees with recycled or reusable stationery to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.
  7. Avoid plastic cups and other disposable cutlery in the office. Perhaps provide staff with reusable water bottles and reusable cutlery instead.
  8. Switch to more eco-friendly cleaning products to reduce the number of harsh chemicals going into water systems.
  9. Set up a “Green Champions” initiative, in which staff put themselves forward to join a team which pitches ideas for sustainability initiatives – such as interdepartmental competitions to promote sustainable practices across the business.
  10. Encourage flexible working, if it suits your business, as it can significantly reduce your company’s carbon footprint. Also, consider whether travel for business trips, particularly trips abroad, is necessary or whether they can be held virtually, so fewer people are required to travel.

The IoD has been making significant efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, and achieved an absolute carbon reduction of 42.6% in 2020 and 15.8% in 2021, and aims to achieve a net-zero position by 2027.

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