Starting your sustainability journey: Why, where to begin and what to measure
You could spend the rest of the year reading resources online about sustainability, carbon neutrality and net zero, and still have plenty of material to read! At Larking Gowen, we’ve been on our sustainability journey for some time and share a brief summary of the benefits to businesses and how to get started.
The chances are you’re reading this because you have an interest in sustainability, would like to do your bit for the planet, and would like to make sure you pursue these aims while operating your business. Or perhaps you know that using sustainable businesses is important to your client base and, therefore, you want to make sure they continue to work with you.
No judgement either way, but my interest in sustainability comes from personally (and my wife’s) wanting the world to be in the best state possible. Yes, we have eco-friendly EVERYTHING at home, and yes, I grumbled at the cost difference at the start, but I really do care, and having a chance to impact that in my business life as well as my personal life is a great privilege. Moreover, sustainability in business will actually save us money in the long term.
There are several benefits to businesses in adopting sustainability, such as:
Cut your costs. The best way to cut your footprint is to cut unnecessary consumption. If you cut your consumption, you cut your costs, so you can do your bit for the planet, and also be better off.
Boost productivity. If your systems are streamlined, it follows that productivity will be increased.
Increase profit. A side effect of working out where you’re emitting CO2 is that you'll find inefficiencies. Being more efficient should lead to more profit.
Competitive advantage. Businesses are becoming more concerned about green credentials. Therefore, if you don’t act, your competitors who do will be better placed to win work.
Comply with regulations. As the impact on the environment worsens, governments are imposing more regulations on industries and businesses. If you’re already embracing sustainable practices, these rules will be easier to implement.
Attract employees. Most people will want to work for a business that actively cares for the environment and local community. Being a sustainable business will help attract and retain talented workers.
Tax relief. You may qualify for ‘green’ tax incentives, such as enhanced capital allowances on qualifying energy-efficient plant and machinery. Electric vehicles and low-emission cars also attract tax benefits, and many businesses operate a cycle-to-work scheme.
Innovation. To be more sustainable, companies may need to invent new products, systems and processes. This, in turn, may qualify for the lucrative Research and Development tax relief.
Where should you begin?
For now, only big businesses have requirements around sustainability, but it’s inevitable that, in time, smaller businesses will also have to. Why not get ahead of the curve and act now?
How should you go about this? From being involved in my firm’s sustainability goals, these are my main personal takeaways:
Make use of a few key websites to get a grounding to increase your awareness of the subject. https://www.carbontrust.com/resources and https://www.fsb.org.uk/campaign/small-business-sustainability-hub.html are really excellent starting places.
I'd also suggest that talking to other local businesses to share in their sustainability journey will mean you all learn from each other.
Once you’ve done some research, make a commitment and stick to it – whether that be carbon neutral or net zero (you’ll be an expert by the time you’ve read the above links). Set a date; now you have a target.
Advertise this target. If it’s something important to you, make sure it’s on your website. But remember, once it’s public, it’s even more important that you stick to it. Businesses who care about sustainability really know their stuff and will see through any flimsy attempt to state you have a sustainability plan with no action intended.
Once you've set a target then it’s time to measure your carbon footprint. This will inform you of areas where you have a large carbon footprint and therefore areas you can target improvement. Sounds simple, right? Let’s talk about it in more detail.
Measuring your carbon footprint
You should measure your carbon footprint once a year. It would seem sensible to tie this in with your business year end.
Depending on the complexity of your business there may be a large number of ways that you inadvertently introduce carbon into the environment. Calculating all of that exactly can be tricky. Thankfully this is broken down into three scopes:
Scope 1: The emissions created by the building you own and the cars you own, plus any fossil fuels you use directly. If you only use electricity, and don't have business premises or any company cars then your scope 1 emissions may already be nil.
Scope 2: Electricity used – in KWH.
Scope 3: Essentially, everything else – but specifically, employee commuting, business travel, any capital equipment you buy and the goods and services you use.
The ‘how’ depends on what your commitment is. You could, for example, commit to reducing your scope 1 emissions to nil by 2030; your scope 2 by 60%; and to review weakness areas in scope 3, with an eye to improving in trouble areas.
In theory, scopes 1 and 2 are relatively simple to measure; dust off those electricity bills for the last year, and enter the numbers into an online calculator. The Carbon Trust link above has a simple to use calculator that should give you your Scope 1 and 2 footprints.
Scope 3 is notoriously more difficult, which is why, for now, lots of small businesses are focusing on the first 2 scopes, tackling scope 3 further down the line when public awareness is greater, and more technology exists to help tackle that part of your footprint.
I hope this gives you a good overview of how to start the sustainability process. Keep your eyes peeled to our Sustainability Insights on our website, where we’ll post updates regularly to support you on your sustainability journey.
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