Starter for Zero: The Small Business Road to Net Zero

By 2050 (or even sooner) we will be expected to reach net zero. The emissions from our day-to-day business activities that we can’t avoid causing, will need to be balanced by removing the equivalent greenhouse gases elsewhere. But what on earth does it all mean in practice?

Bill Goldie of Redshaw Advisors is working with Plannet Zero and explains:

Every business needs to measure and reduce their footprint annually to reach their net zero target date with the smallest residual footprint possible.

The warmest 20 years on record have all been in the last 22 years, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. Experts agree that this warming is what’s behind the erratic weather we’ve been seeing, including floods in central Europe, melting polar ice and forest fires. They think things will get worse unless we take drastic action to change our habits and cut our emissions.

When we talk about emissions, we mean greenhouse gases which trap energy from the sun and warm the earth’s surface and the air above it. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. If we can reduce the amount of CO2 we allow into the atmosphere we can reduce the rate and impact of climate change.

We need to:

  • Reduce harmful emissions from our own activities such as driving vehicles and heating buildings. Both can be achieved using renewable energy
  • Capture the carbon we do generate before it gets into the atmosphere and store it
  • Remove carbon from the atmosphere by doing things like planting more trees which absorb carbon dioxide.

Around the world Governments are looking at how to tackle the problem. Everyone has a part to play, including individuals and small businesses. However, while some businesses have invested a lot in making big changes to the way they operate others haven’t got to grips with this yet. Small firms make up 99% of all firms in the UK and are responsible for half of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by business. However, only a fifth have net zero on their agenda. They worry about costs and don’t know where to find the information they need.

The UK has set a target for all businesses to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050 so we really do need to find out how our businesses create carbon emissions and what we can do to reduce them as far as possible, manage the emissions we can’t cut completely, either by capture and storage, or by doing something to help remove carbon from the atmosphere such as investing in carbon credit projects, e.g. tree planting or reforestation for the emissions we continue to emit.

Here’s my top 5 tips for getting started:

  1. Measure your baseline carbon footprint. Start with data that’s readily available, utility bills, waste contracts and employee commuting surveys.
  2. Identify the carbon intensive hotspots in your operations. Often 80% of emissions will come from 20% of operations. Start with those.
  3. Engage your employees to drive emissions reductions. Appoint people to be your in-house sustainability champions and support the initiatives they come up with. They will be responsible for encouraging the rest of your people to become involved.
  4. Encourage your suppliers and customers to take ownership of their own operational emissions and champion those who do.
  5. Calculate remaining emissions regularly: deduct emissions reduced from your baseline carbon footprint and then offset this number using projects such as tree planting and reforestation that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

You can’t do everything at once so just do what you can when you can. And if all still as clear as mud there are a lot of advisers who can walk you through it step by step and they’re not as expensive to work with as you might expect.

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