Five sustainable initiatives your business can adopt to help reduce your carbon footprint

There’s no denying it – sustainable businesses are on the rise, according to a recent study by online printing specialists Solopress.

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With European ‘net zero’ start-ups raising a total of £2.1 billion from venture capital funds last year – a 129% increase on the year before – it’s vital your business takes clear steps to reduce its carbon emissions, or otherwise risk a backlash from future investors.

The UK Government’s own ambitious climate plan, announced last year, is targeting a 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to become fully net zero by 2050. This puts pressure on businesses across the UK to ensure they have their own sustainable actions in place.

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped with this goal, as the side-effects of remote working have resulted in less commuting, less office use, and less consumption, thus a much greener working environment.

But we are moving back to business as usual post-COVID, and as offices reopen and commutes recommence, it is important your business adopts sustainable initiatives – especially as over half of the UK workforce admits to being more environmentally responsible at home than they are in the office.

Thanks to Solopress, we’ve outlined five ways that your workplace can embrace sustainable practices and change for the better – remember, sustainability is cited as the fourth biggest growth driver among companies looking to expand in the next two years.

Increase flexible working

COVID-19 has undeniably accelerated the popularity of hybrid (flexible) working, and data collected by the Office for National Statistics revealed that 85% of remote workers want to use a hybrid approach of both home and office-based methods moving forward as we come out of the pandemic.

Implementing a hybrid working approach and encouraging your employees to work from home for one or two days a week will greatly help your business reduce its CO2 emissions and achieve a lower carbon footprint. Not only does it mean less commuting and fewer people in the office, but flexible working has also been proven to boost employee productivity, engagement, and happiness, with a recent YouGov survey by PUSH revealing that 35% of individuals felt that productivity levels were much higher when working from home.

Check out our article on hybrid working to find out more about the benefits it brings to the workplace.

Encourage active commuting

As your business returns to the office, some of your employees will be nervous about commuting while the COVID-19 virus continues to exist among the population. As a result, active commuting – commuting on cycle, on foot, or by e-scooter – has become a popular way to both avoid public transport and break up a sedentary working day.

At the start of lockdown, Britain’s biggest cycle retailer, Halfords, reported a 500% jump in sales on selected cycling equipment. In addition, cycle-to-work schemes (which offer tax benefits to employees buying bicycles and equipment) have seen sales double.

Use this knowledge to your advantage and encourage employees to find alternative, active routes to work that avoid public transport. E-scooters are a great way to reduce carbon emissions when commuting and are becoming increasingly popular, with over one million people across the country expected to own one by the end of this year.

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Create sustainable office spaces

It’s undeniable that the world of work is becoming greener, and the way young people’s values are shaped is certainly based on the environmental impact we have on our world. A survey of over 1,000 young people revealed that 57% of those aged between 18 and 34 would prefer to work for an employer who shared their environmental values.

In response to these findings, your business should make sustainability a key part of your employee engagement and hiring strategy, highlighting the use of renewable energy in the workplace and conveying how the company is committed to reducing its carbon footprint.

Essentially it boils down to making your office a more sustainable space, and we’ve listed a few ways you can do this:

  • Have plants in the office. It’s been well documented that office plants improve wellbeing, health, and productivity through the concept of ‘Biophilia’ – the relationship between humans and nature. Capturing CO2 AND making people happier – it’s a win-win
  • Provide reusable or 100% recyclable amenities including cutlery, plates, and napkins
  • Use sustainable cleaning products and sustainable toilet paper. Companies like Panda Soft make hygiene products out of bamboo, for example
  • Set up smart sensors to monitor temperature, water use, power consumption, etc.

Bengt Lundberg, CEO of Disruptive Technologies, on the benefits of installing wireless sensors:

Building emissions account for 30% of global energy consumption and 28% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, so it's important that we start to reduce these, and fast. Small and unobtrusive sensors can easily be retrofitted to older buildings to enable data-driven decisions and automate processes. These solutions provide full visibility into temperature, occupancy, open doors and windows, building use and water waste and can quickly optimise energy use. Minor behavioural and operational changes can be made using this data, and this will make buildings more efficient, sustainable and safe.”

Be greener with data

This initiative might be an entirely new concept to many of you… but did you know the more emails we hoard in our inbox, the more energy we consume?

In fact, the average email user hoards about 10,000 emails in their account, and over the course of a year, one inbox consumes enough energy to drive 212 metres. That doesn’t sound so bad when you think about it individually, but as you start to account for your team of 10, 50, or even hundreds of employees, the energy levels become concerning.

To put it into context, all the inboxes in the UK consume enough energy to drive to the Moon and back 18 times!

It’s projected that over 347 billion emails will be sent and received globally every day by 2023. That’s an awful lot of data sitting around in inboxes, and leaving it there is only going to exacerbate the problem.

Despite it being a seemingly small initiative, making your employees aware of this issue and encouraging them to take control of their data storage can make a definite difference to your business’s collective energy consumption. Highlight to them that an inbox clear out is a positive step to reducing carbon emissions, and they can manage their data by reducing email file sizes, deleting calendar invites and managing newsletter subscriptions.

Promote a greener future

Businesses need to make money to survive: they need sales, they need profit, and they need to attract the right people to join them to ensure they can do this.

Adopting the four previous sustainable practices leads to the final initiative, which is ensuring your employees’ success by helping your company grow. Recent findings from HSBC show that three in four businesses have set sustainability targets in 2021, and 86% expect their sales to grow as a result of adopting more sustainable practices.

Becoming a more sustainable business is integral to your success. Follow the above steps and you’ll start to reap the benefits. The next generation of workers want to work for a company that is environmentally conscious, so if you begin to implement changes now, you’ll attract the right people moving forward.

Below we’ve included some examples of companies that are already implementing sustainable initiatives into their workplace.

Meet the sustainable businesses

Ross Mitchell, Founder – London Smoke and Cure

“Thinking and acting sustainably is something all businesses should be doing – whether we do it or not is no longer the question we should be asking ourselves. At London Smoke & Cure, acting sustainably is one of three core principles that dictate how we operate.  

We’ve certainly put in a number of improvements to the way we work to make some easy and immediate reductions to our impacts. These include using cargo bikes for deliveries across London, using a greener energy supply, insisting on biodegradable insulated packaging, providing a cycle-to-work scheme, using comprehensive waste management, and incentivising staff to eat meat-free meals. There are numerous other examples of these small actions that we’ve integrated into our operations, and we’re excited by the changes these are making and the sort of company that it helps make us.”

Andrew Conway, CTO at cloud-based work automation platform Proteus developed by Xergy

 “We need to break down the barriers of reliance on outdated processes. Old and inefficient technologies use and waste significant amounts of valuable energy through disparate systems and controls. Work management automation tools optimise business processes and are low-carbon, so they are already greener than your other tech. Automation through data capture, storage and utilisation creates end-to-end visibility of projects, allowing companies to make evidence-based decisions resulting in better stewardship of resources, assets and emissions. Integrating work management automation into daily work processes not only fosters connectivity, but simplifies and enriches processes as we get closer to our goal of a greener new world.”

Nick Oldridge, Head of Marketing, Naturesave

“We have always had a no-fly business travel policy and use public transport wherever possible. Back in 2009, we had an idea to help our staff reduce the impact when they travel on their holidays. The option of travelling overland is often ignored, due to the extra time involved, so we awarded extra holiday for staff members who ditch the plane and opt for the train. We now offer up to 4 days holiday per annum under this policy. There are T&C’s to ensure it cannot be abused. Here are a few words on why we did this

It is also worth noting that we offer our commercial insurance clients a free environmental performance review. The report, conducted by an independent chartered environmentalist, offers small businesses a clear pathway to becoming more sustainable using the Bioregional One Planet Living framework.”

Joss Ford, Founder - Enviral

“People and sustainability have always been the foundation of Enviral – we exist to effectively communicate purpose to the world. It's a complete no-brainer that we put protocols in place to encourage our colleagues to learn about, and take action on the climate and ecological crisis. A big part of this is getting outside, and being inspired by nature – something that we were lucky enough to do on a recent staff trip to the Brecon Beacons. As well as this, we have a particular focus on purpose, whether that's through our purpose committee meetings to decide on our company direction, our purpose handbook, and the creation of our purpose checker to ensure our work is benefitting the planet (as well as sharing monthly facts in our signatures!).

On top of all of this we encourage our colleagues to learn and share, by providing books, away days, and memberships to the National Trust, The Woodland Trust or Surfers Against Sewage, and always give time to have conversations around the topics, watch the latest sustainability documentaries, and offer paid volunteering options.”

So, there you have it, the five initiatives your small business can adopt to become more sustainable, now what are you waiting for?

Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur's section of the website.

He's previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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