Becoming a Net Zero Hero - The Small Business Toolkit
Welcome to the first step in your journey to becoming a more sustainable and carbon neutral business. What is carbon neutrality? It means removing the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that you are emitting. Whilst that may seem slightly daunting, this toolkit is designed to guide you through the process, helping you to make simple changes to your current practices that will have a positive, and significant, impact on the planet 🌍
To mark World Environment Day in 2020, the UK Government launched a global campaign called "Race to Zero". The campaign’s aim is to mobilise support for the net-zero transition across businesses, cities, regions and nations, spurring a zero-carbon recovery that commits more national governments to set net-zero targets.
Alongside the “Race to Zero” the UK government announced their personal target to reduce the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Our contribution of greenhouse gas emissions is among the highest in the world. Therefore, the government has committed to cut these emissions at the fastest rate of any major economy so far.
What does the Race to Zero commitment look like?
The Prime Minister has set up a Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution. This plan aims to create and support up to 250,000 British jobs by 2030 and sets out ambitious policies and investment. These have the potential to deliver over £40 billion of private investment by 2030, so that the UK can develop innovative technologies and make significant strides in cutting emissions across energy, transport and buildings. It also provides a roadmap of further action the UK will be taking to reduce emissions in the coming decades and encourages businesses to look at ways of doing the same.
That’s where you come in. It's time to commit to to becoming a Net Zero Hero!
Getting started on your Net Zero journey
The first step is to look at the emission levels your business currently produces before we can start making an impact on reducing them. What are they and where to they come from? What is your carbon footprint? This is very different for every company.
Let's define the sources of carbon emissions so you can start thinking about them in terms of your own business. These can be broken down into 3 broad categories for you to consider: Energy, Transport and Supply Chain. The official definitions are known as Scope:
Scope 1: All direct emissions from the activities undertaken by a business. This can include fuel combustion, such as gas boilers, as well as fleet vehicles, refrigeration and air-conditioning.
Scope 2: Indirect emissions from electricity bought and used by the business. Emissions are created during the production of energy as well as when it is used by a business. Things to consider are electricity and heating usage in your business premises.
Scope 3: All other indirect emissions from activities the business carries out, occurring from sources they do not own or control. These generally create the most significant carbon footprint of a business and cover emissions associated with business travel (air, rail, taxi and short-term hire car), buying products or services, waste and water. As a business, you should also include emissions produced when your products and services are delivered to customers or distribution centres. This could be from your own activity or that of third parties you work with.
It is easier to consider emissions by walking through your daily activities, for example:
- The carbon footprint of using and charging a mobile phone. A one minute mobile-to-mobile call produces 57g of CO2, sending a text message produces 0.014g of CO2 and using 1GB of data uses 3kg of CO2!
- Employee commuting. How far are you and your employees travelling to get to work and how are you travelling?
- What do you do with your waste? This is waste created by employees as well as product waste created by your business when making your products or providing your services, for example.
Now let's calculate what your business’s emission levels are. There are two ways to do this.
- Use a carbon footprint calculator like this one by the Carbon Trust. Use as much information as you have to hand. Don't worry if you if don't have it, not all businesses do.
- Keep a log of your business’s activity and note down any data you do have access to, for example:
- Estimate the amount of petrol or diesel used by your vehicles, or that of third parties. Many companies will use fairly similar vehicles so the fuel per journey will be approximately the same.
- Keep a log of gas and electricity bills each quarter.
- Log all travel undertaken by members of staff - the method of travel, length of the journey and miles travelled.
There is a helpful guide about what to keep note of and how on the government’s website.
It is only by analysing every bit of your business that you will be able to see where sustainable improvements can be made. Perhaps set aside an hour a week and start analysing and logging - mapping out your road to Net Zero success and earning your cape.
Your path to becoming a Net Zero Here starts now
It's important to remember we are all on a journey and every small step you make is a step forward on the path to carbon neutrality. You don't need to be perfect, just committed 💪🏻. Achieving Net Zero won't happen overnight.
It's important to focus on the small things that impact the environment as well as working on the big things your business needs to tackle. The best change you can make right this minute is to change your thinking regarding how you go about your daily businesses. From now on, ask yourself 'How does this activity I'm doing, or item I am consuming, affect my carbon emissions and the environment in general?'.
We’ve collated some simple, cost-effective changes that your business can make to reduce your carbon footprint. Some of these are quick to implement, whilst others will need to be built upon over time.
- When you need to purchase something, research second hand options. Office furniture, printers, even waste bins and stationery can be found on Gumtree and similar sites. Facebook groups ofter give away items for free that they no longer need. A fantastic way to support the circular economy.
- Take a look at your waste - is everything being recycled that can be? Review what is going into your bins (general waste and recycling) - do it even need to be there? Reduce is the most important of the three R's, then Reuse and lastly Recycle if that waste really does have to exist.
- Can any of your waste be reused? It’s worth having a conversation with your neighbouring businesses to see if you could share, swap or recycle any of each other’s waste. Where possible, reduce the amount of packaging you use and opt for recyclable materials. If you send items out to customers, make sure to clearly label the packaging with the appropriate disposal method so they can do their bit too.
- Provide new starters with a sustainable welcome pack that includes, for example, a reusable water bottle and coffee cup which they can use every day, a reusable face covering and recycled stationery. If there are other products relevant to the role of the new starter, ensure you’re buying from a company with a sound environmental policy wherever possible.
- Use sustainable products in the communal areas at work, especially in the toilets and kitchen. Buy them in bulk to keep packaging to a minimum. Consider: recycled toilet paper; offering sustainable sanitary products for female identifying employees; using sustainable cleaning products, etc.
- Wash any uniforms or communal items, such as tea towels, on a cold wash. Cold washing is just as effective as washing at a higher temperature. It’s actually more gentle on fabrics and prevents wrinkling, meaning you won’t have to waste additional electricity on ironing. Use dryer balls to reduce energy used on any necessary tumble drying.
- Encourage people to do one tea and coffee run for everyone so kettles are only being boiled once. Alternatively, switch to an energy efficient urn which will maintain the water’s temperature, without wasting electricity. make sure the dishwasher is full before it's switched on.
- If you absolutely have to print something, consider printing double-sided and on A5 paper. Invest in refillable ink cartridges, or vegetable inks which are much less likely to damage marine life if they leak into rivers or streams when they are disposed of. If it is an option for your company to go fully paperless and store everything online then this would be a great step forward. Do this as much as you can if not entirely.
- Support local businesses, whilst reducing your carbon footprint, and get milk and produce from an independent, rather than a corporate chain. These products are also less likely to have the added plastic that many large supermarket chains are guilty of supplying. This is especially relevant to milk that, when delivered, will arrive in glass bottles if you choose. There are companies out there who also deliver plant-based milks in glass.
- Make compost from food waste and coffee grounds and use it to grow plants, flowers or vegetables. This could be the start of a circular economy for your business if staff are consuming the produce, as well as creating the compost to grow more. It will also greatly reduce the amount of plastic packaging consumption amongst your staff.
- Create an eco garden. Creating a pleasant outdoor space for staff is great for their mental wellbeing. Also, plants and flowers are known to have a positive impact on the environment because they remove C02 from the atmosphere and generate oxygen. Avoid pesticides and encourage the best natural pollinators (bees & butterflies) by planting flowers and herbs they love - lavender and honeysuckle are a great start. Hanging bird feeders will help birds that may be struggling due to climate change affecting their migration paths. It’s also a good idea to install a water butt to collect rainwater that you can use to feed your plants, reducing your need for tap water. At &Keep we have access to a gardener who can provide lots of great tips for creating the best eco garden on your allocated budget.
- Recycle old, but still working electronics by donating them to a local school or charity.
- Try to educate employees about sustainable swaps and changes you are implementing at work that you’d like them to support. Send them this information in work emails and attach them to notice boards around the office.
- Introduce sustainability ambassadors into your workplace. These should be employees with a passion for reducing your business’s carbon footprint. &Keep is able to provide additional information and tips that can help your sustainability ambassadors to support your commitment to saving the planet as well as continue to educate the wider business.
- Create your own Green Month or Green Week within your business. Invite key speakers on sustainability and protecting the environment into your premises to talk to your employees about the need to reduce your carbon footprint. Use it as an opportunity to reinforce the key take aways from this toolkit and get them excited about supporting your business on its Net Zero Hero journey.
- Reward employees with planet-kind incentives such as tree-planting and environmental activities.
- If you make deliveries, whether locally or further afield, investigate using green couriers. There are lots of companies offering this service online. You could even invest in a fleet of bikes for local deliveries, instead of using a car or van. Investigate government incentives to help you with this, such as the current Super Deduction scheme.
- Think about how you and your employees get to work. If they are able to work from home more frequently to avoid commuting then that would be a great. Otherwise, try to implement the government’s cycle to work scheme or car pooling for staff who live close to each other, and encourage the use of public transport.
- If you are in a position to buy or lease new transport, look for an electric option and investigate the current government incentives and grants available.
- Unless you absolutely need to travel consider using virtual meeting software or only meet in person as often as necessary.
- The high impact action here is switching to a renewable energy supplier, such as Bulb or Octopus. Alternatively, you could look into generating your own green energy by investing in solar and/or wind power. Green energy is cheaper and 100% sustainable.
- If you are not responsible for the energy supply where you work, speak to your landlord about it, highlighting the planetary and cost savings.
- Install a Smart Meter to track and understand your energy consumption.
- Control your heating and air conditioning efficiently. Time it to be only only when necessary. Don't run the A/C or heating and have windows open.
- See if there are any Energy Efficiency grants available in your area.
- Insulate your premises or talk to your landlord about it.
- Installing light sensors will ensure no one accidentally leaves the lights on and will help to reduce your energy consumption.
- Similar to changing your energy supplier, look for web hosts that use 100% renewable energy for your website.
- Think about your office space. If you are able to introduce more natural light into the building then you can reduce your electricity usage. Natural light is also beneficial for employee wellbeing. Unnatural or fluorescent lighting is thought to increase eye strain, leading to headaches, so letting as much natural light in as possible has a two-prong positive effect.
- When additional light is necessary, consider installing LED light bulbs. They are extremely energy efficient and last longer than traditional light bulbs.
- Provide laptops, rather than desktops for employees who need computer access. Laptops are 80% more energy efficient so are ideal for reducing electricity usage. Pop your laptop on power save mode during meetings or breaks and ensure they are switched off when not in use, not left on standby.
- Invest in carbon negative mobile phones and data. There are lots of companies dedicated to this in the UK. Honest Mobile is one of them. They’re a certified B Corporation (find out what this means in our glossary 👇🏻) and they plant trees for their customers when they reach certain loyalty milestones.
- If you send a lot of emails that contain PDFs or images, this will have an impact on your carbon footprint because energy is needed to send those emails. However, there is a solution. If you start sending emails from cloud-based servers, you will create zero emissions. That’s because these servers are powered by 100% renewable energy.
- Analyse every aspect of your supply chain - are there deliveries which arrive in non-recyclable packaging that you could request don't come like that? Could you buy in bulk to save transport emissions, money and packaging?
- Make mindful purchasing decisions, even for simple items like envelopes and pencils. What materials are things made of, what is the packaging...? Research both current and new suppliers to see if they have an environmental policy. Question them on their policies if the information is not easily accessible.
- Consider how you are going to dispose of that item at the end of its life too. Terracycle have boxes to collect hard-to-recycled items.
Is Carbon Offsetting a Solution?
Once you have made as many initial reductions as possible in your business, you could consider offsetting the residual carbon emissions you have not yet been able to eliminate.
Carbon Offsetting is a way for companies to invest in environmental projects around the world, helping them to balance out their own carbon footprint. Many airline companies are doing this by calculating the emissions created by their fleet, then paying an offset company to reduce the same amount of emissions elsewhere in the world.
Whilst it is an internationally recognised way for a business to take responsibility for their unavoidable carbon emissions, it can sometimes get a bad wrap. This is because it is often seen as a way for companies to assuage their guilty conscience for choosing high-carbon activities by using carbon offsetting as a get out of jail free card. They may then choose not to make sustainable changes that will last longer and have a more positive impact on our planet.
At &Keep, we believe that the companies that use carbon offsetting as a way to make themselves feel better about their carbon emissions are in the minority. Most companies will use it as a stop-gap in their journey towards reducing their carbon emissions and not as a long term solution. Just like going on a diet, reducing your carbon footprint is about changing your mindset, as well as your lifestyle, in order for it to stick.
That is why we have created this toolkit to get you started on your net zero journey and to support you along the way so that you won’t need to resort to carbon offsetting in the long term.
Measuring Your Success
Be kind to yourself and celebrate those successes! Perfection is the enemy of progress.
Once you understand what your current carbon footprint looks like you’ll be able to measure it over time, taking note when the sustainable swaps you’ve implemented start to make a difference. It's a good idea to set milestones in your Net Zero Hero action plan and reward yourself, and your team, when you hit them.
Lots of companies are committed to planting trees, or donating money to clean water charities when they hit certain milestones. These milestones could be business wins, or celebrating the fact that the business’s carbon footprint has reduced. The Woodland Trust has some helpful information to get you started, as does Water Aid.
We love to inspire people to make great changes that will have a positive impact on the planet. We encourage you to join us in that mission by sharing your journey on your social platforms and get more businesses on the path towards a sustainable future. Show them it's easy once you make those first steps!
You should now feel ready to embark on your journey. Whilst you can’t wear your Net Zero Hero cape just yet, you can definitely start thinking about what it might look like (remember - it must be made from sustainable materials, of course!).
We’ve pulled together a handy glossary below that helps to explain some of the terms most used when talking about sustainability and the environment. There is a more in-depth Green Living Jargon Buster available here.
We hope this guide empowers you to make some incredible changes that you will stick to. We are always on-hand if you have any questions or need any additional advice. We love talking about sustainability and sharing our knowledge so don’t hesitate to contact us if you need support, or have hit a plateau and need a little chivvy along the way.
Now, all that’s left is to wish you luck and we can’t wait to see and hear about your journey towards becoming a Net Zero Hero 🦸♀️
From the team at &Keep
Glossary & Helpful Terms
B Corp: B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. They work to redefine what success in business means and help to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
Biodegradable: An item that will naturally break down over time with the help of bacteria meaning it won’t end up adding to our landfill problem.
BPA: Otherwise known as Bisphenol A, this is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. It is often found in food containers and water bottles. Over exposure to BPA may cause certain health conditions, especially for pregnant women and young children. BPA-free plastic is now easy to get hold of and is better for us and the environment.
Carbon Synching: Removing CO2 from the atmosphere as quickly, or faster, than a business is emitting it.
Compostable: Something that can be used as compost when it decays. However, some of these items, such as compostable plastics, can’t be home composted and require an industrial composter to break them down.
Dioxins: These are a group of chemical compounds that pollute the earth by remaining in the soil, air and water for many years. They derive from human activity such as burning fossil fuels and incinerating waste.
Green Washing: This is when a company claims that their product is environmentally friendly, even when it isn’t. Many large corporations are guilty of this and use clever marketing to hide the reality.
Nurdles: Small plastic pellets, the size of a lentil, that are used in the manufacture of all plastic products. Many end up getting washed up on beaches and are damaging to wildlife.
Photovoltaics: This is often shortened to PV and is the use of solar cells to convert light from the sun into electricity.
Sustainability: Living sustainably means meeting our own needs without compromising the world we live in or depleting its natural resources.
Water Footprint: Like a carbon footprint, but this measures the amount of water used to produce each item or service we use.
Zero Waste: A recent movement where people try to create no waste that could end up in landfill. This is often done by re-using items, growing their own vegetables and limiting the amount that they send to be recycled.