Reducing business carbon emissions

In a low-carbon future, reducing carbon emissions won’t just be good public relations – businesses will need to be green to survive and to grow.

The first step in reducing emissions is to measure your carbon footprint, to identify where the most effective changes can be made. The process need not be exhaustive; a sensible estimate is what you need.

For most small businesses the majority of their emissions come from directly-purchased gas and electricity and from transport – including company vehicles, employee business travel and product delivery. Most of the information you’ll need to estimate your carbon footprint will therefore appear on your energy bills and in your records of business mileage and fuel purchases.

Around 70% of SME carbon emissions come from buildings, so improving the energy efficiency of your premises and how you use them is often the most effective way to reduce emissions. If you are leasing or renting, you can still seek advice on grants for insulation and other energy-saving measures. Build a business case for the work to be done on the basis that it will not only reduce emissions but improve the fabric of the building and save money year-on-year; a green win-win for you and your landlord.

Next, focus on those elements of your carbon footprint over which you have direct control. Low-cost measures such as installing energy-saving light bulbs and switching equipment off at the mains rather than leaving it on standby make savings that add up over time. Look for grants to install smart meters. These provide more detailed monitoring of energy use which should assist you in reducing consumption, prevent overcharging and enable you to negotiate better tariffs from energy suppliers.

Be sure to engage your staff. To raise awareness, invite their suggestions and get them to identify what signs might be useful, such as reminders to shut doors and switch off lights. The more involved they are in the process, the more likely people are to change their behaviour.

And be prepared. The CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, introduced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change in April 2010 is now mandatory for organisations that consume over 6,000 MWh of energy. Though current legislation does not directly affect SMEs, emissions league tables and reporting requirements are likely to make efficient and sustainable businesses more attractive as suppliers to these larger organisations.

Changes introduced by DECC in 2009 mean that energy providers must install smart meters for all their larger commercial customers by April 2014 – by moving to smart metering now, you will be able to provide the sort of emission reporting currently required of subsidiaries that is expected to extend down the supply-chain in future.