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8 min read

How do I reduce my carbon emissions?

The government has set the target for the UK to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Small, medium and micro-businesses will have a significant role to play in achieving this ambitious target – so, what practical steps can you take?

What are carbon emissions?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that occurs naturally from things like volcanoes, certain rocks, rivers lakes and even the sea. It is also produced by decaying organic materials. It helps prevent heat from escaping our atmosphere.

Our use of fossil fuels, industrial-scale deforestation and many other forms of human activity are rapidly increasing the amount of CO2 produced.

Having an excess of CO2 disrupts weather patterns leading to higher global temperatures (global warming), which in turn leads to rising sea levels, drought, floods and all sorts of other problems.

With the odd notable exception, there is now a global consensus that we need to reduce harmful levels of CO2 – and that we must do so quickly.

How are the UK government and businesses taking action?

In 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass a law to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

The target will require the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, compared with the previous target of at least an 80% reduction from 1990 levels.

The water industry has subsequently committed to similarly reaching net zero by 2030, the farming industry by 2040 and an increasing number of individual businesses, including some surprising candidates such as British Airways (2050) and British Gas (2030), have made similar commitments.

However, little has been said about the important role micro, small and medium-sized businesses can play in reducing their carbon emissions and making a significant contribution to reducing global warming.

Renewable energies at sunset II

Where’s the best place to start?

The starting point for any business must be to establish and understand what their current carbon footprint is (the amount of carbon being emitted) before setting out how to go about reducing it.

Fortunately, there are a range of free tools and guides that can help businesses do this. For example, the Government-backed Carbon Trust offer a free Carbon Calculator for small and medium-sized businesses.

The Carbon Trust have also published a Climate Leadership Framework which helps senior management in larger organisations understand how their company is currently performing on climate change, identifies the opportunities for measurable improvements via a low carbon roadmap and guides their strategic planning.

How can I incorporate going net-zero into my business strategy?

Once your business knows what its carbon emissions are, setting out a strategy to reduce them, which should include setting specific targets, is key.

Again, help, advice and guidance in this area is available from independent organisations like the Energy Saving Trust and Business Link and Informi has put together a helpful checklist (insert link) for small businesses too. The check list is far from exhaustive, but it provides a good starting point to get small businesses thinking about changes they can make.

Checklist: How your staff can help to reduce carbon emissions

An important first step is to get staff to think more about their role in reducing carbon emissions. Everyone has a part to play. 

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Checklist: How your premises can help to reduce carbon emissions

Many business premises, especially older buildings, are prime culprits when it comes to swallowing up energy. 

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Checklist: How your equipment can help to reduce carbon emissions

Upgrading equipment can be a costly exercise but there are plenty of cheap and simple fixes that can add up to making a significant difference overall. 

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How do I measure success?

Over specific periods, whether monthly, quarterly, annually or in some circumstances all three, businesses should compare emissions to their base year (the first year they calculated their carbon emissions).

It is a good idea to report progress internally on a regular basis to encourage staff involvement and ownership.

Achievements and milestones along the way should also be communicated to clients and stakeholders (and prospective clients and stakeholders) as a clear indication of your commitment to reaching net-zero and as a business differentiator against competitors who may be doing little or nothing to reduce their emissions.

Why should I take action?

The path towards net-zero may not be easy but in addition to making a meaningful contribution to reducing carbon emissions in the UK, this presents numerous opportunities to save money, for the development of new services and business models and to dramatically enhance images and reputations with employees, customers and stakeholders.

“Firms that align their business models to the transition to a net-zero world will be rewarded handsomely. Those that fail to adapt will cease to exist. The longer that meaningful adjustment is delayed, the greater the disruption will be.”

Mark Carney, outgoing Governor of the Bank of England 

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