Our relationship with the world around us continues to change on a daily basis. People care a lot more about the impact we're having on the environment than they did a couple of decades ago, with green schemes, sustainability drives and heightened social pressure to take care of the world we share.
For all businesses, including SMEs, there's a sense of expectancy to ensure you're doing everything you can to keep your carbon emissions and other harmful environmental outputs to a minimum. If you run an SME and are unsure exactly how to do that, this guide is here to help.
Whether it's understanding exactly what kind of impact you're already having, or the desire to reduce the size of your footprint, we're here to help you move towards a business model which sees reductions on your impact on the environment.
CHAPTER 1 - UNDERSTANDING YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
To be able to address and decrease the size of your carbon footprint, it's important to first understand exactly what it is and how it can affect your business. Let's explore that now, as we get to grips with just how important lowering your CO2 emissions can be as an SME.
What is a carbon footprint and net zero?
You've probably heard the terms "carbon footprint" and "net zero" before - but how familiar are you with exactly what they mean?
Your carbon footprint is the collective name given to the amount of CO2 which your business produces and releases back into Earth's atmosphere. In a sense, it defines the amount of damage you're doing to the environment.
Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gases you put in the atmosphere and how much you actively remove. When what you're adding to the atmosphere is no higher than what you're taking out, you've achieved net zero.
A lot of businesses will try to reach this benchmark, as it's a solid indicator that they're taking their environmental impact seriously.
Benefits of being net zero as an SME
There's a good chance you want to take a step towards lower carbon emissions for purely ethical reasons. But that doesn't mean there aren't also a number of benefits to making the switch from a PR perspective. Here are some of the ways your SME might prosper:
- Appeals to employees, customers and
Having the ability to shout about your net zero status will naturally make you more appealing to potential employees, customers and business partners. Modern consumers, workers and investors have become keener to buy from and deal with businesses that have made a commitment to becoming greener. This is something which could be a massive help when trying to attract the right kind of attention.
- Save money
As well as this myriad of benefits, SMEs will also find that switching to a greener way of doing business can also have a positive impact on their bottom line. There are a number of ways reducing your carbon footprint will save you money. These include tax relief and exemptions on things like company cars, as well as saving on the rising Climate Change Levy rates.
- Competitiveness vs larger businesses
In a market where you might be competing with companies bigger than yourself, it's important to take every opportunity you can to get ahead. Positioning yourself as a sustainable or greener alternative to a business you might not be able to compete with financially could make a huge difference amongst consumers.
- Enhances image and reputation
Similarly, your general image will be heightened in the eyes of the wider public. People tend to trust organisations that show they care for issues beyond their own personal interests. Becoming net zero is one of the best ways to demonstrate your wider ethics as an SME.
- Preparedness for new government policies
With the growing importance of environmental issues at the top of governments priority list, having pre-existing policies in place could safeguard you against any sudden or unexpected regulation changes. This can be incredibly useful in saving you a headache or even substantial fees further down the line.
Carbon footprint statistics in business
While carbon emissions are something we more closely associate with visible output, online and digital companies are just as responsible for how much CO2 they produce. In fact, the internet itself, while seemingly a completely digital entity, contributes to the carbon footprint of a lot of businesses.
SME Today reports that the digital footprint of the internet accounts for as much as 3.7% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Worryingly, these figures are predicted to double by the year 2025.
It might feel odd to associate something electronic and so far removed from the industrial world with carbon pollution, but the internet still relies on a number of real-world factors to make it tick. It's these constructs which contribute to greenhouse gases.
For example, both manufacturing and shipping, as well as powering and cooling contribute to CO2 production:
- Manufacturing and shipping
Computers and smartphones are mass produced, before being shipped off all across the world for use. What's more, servers are also needed to house and manage the data spread throughout the internet itself. These are particularly bad producers of greenhouse gases.
- Powering and cooling
The powering and cooling process of smart devices and computers sees electricity drawn from local grids. The generation of this electricity is done in a variety of ways - some of which (such as coal and nuclear power) will also have a negative impact on the environment.
Even something as trivial as sending an email will see a person contribute negatively from a CO2 perspective. The sending of a message will result in:
- 4 grams of CO2
for your standard email
- 50 grams of CO2
if you add a large attachment
- 135kg of CO2
across the course of a year
Even just viewing a webpage can contribute to greenhouse gases. Every time you view a new page, the energy needed to make it visible accounts for as much as 1.76 grams of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.
Reports have found that smaller businesses contribute 6% of the total UK annual carbon emissions. If you consider that SMEs also contribute as much as 52% of the total GDP for the UK, this might sound like a fairly reasonable number.
Despite that, it's important not to be complacent about carbon emissions. This 6% still accounts for 25.8m tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere every year - a total which is itself misleading, as it doesn't take into account the output of any supply chains who partner with an SME.
Larger businesses in the meantime would contribute up to 8%, while all other sectors accounted for the remaining 86%.
This worked out at a total breakdown in CO2 as:
- 25.8m tonnes
- 60m tonnes
for businesses in total
- 414.1m tonnes
for the UK as a whole
If you're worried about the amount of carbon your SME is producing, keep reading to find out what steps you can take to make your impact on the environment that little bit smaller.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.