Many of the largest corporations on the planet are making grand claims that they will become carbon neutral in the coming years.
For example, Amazon has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2040, and other companies have followed suit.
Microsoft has gone one step further and pledged it will be carbon negative by 2030, so it plans to begin removing carbon from the atmosphere by this date. In fact, the tech giant even plans to remove all of its historical emissions by 2050.
These pledges are good news for the environment as it becomes increasingly clear that the current business climate and practices are largely destructive in nature. Such commitments are becoming common among large, multinational corporations. But where do smaller entities fit into this trend, and how can you push for net-zero emissions in your business?
Small Businesses Can Also Pursue Net-Zero Emissions
While there might not be the same infrastructure in small businesses for establishing carbon neutral operations, your company can still take steps towards this. In fact, it is more simple than many might think it is. The processes underlying the push towards carbon neutrality are generally the same regardless of the organisation’s size.
The first thing to focus on when driving towards lower emissions is the current carbon footprint of your business. Once you have a robust idea of your current environmental impact, you can set attainable goals. These goals must be quantifiable, so they could include pledges to reduce your carbon emissions by X amount annually with the ultimate goal of becoming carbon neutral in the future. Once your goals are outlined, you can then begin to take action and implement strategies for reducing and offsetting your emissions.
While it is Possible, There Might Be Extra Roadblocks For Small Companies
There are some challenges these aims can cause for smaller enterprises that might not be as apparent in large, multinational corporations.
One of the most significant issues small entities face when moving to sustainable business practices is a lack of capacity. Smaller companies do not have the same resources as larger organisations like Amazon and Apple. Companies without vast resources like finances, time, attention and knowledge like these corporations might struggle to work on the same timescale or reduce their emissions significantly.
Another problem smaller entities often face in the push towards carbon neutrality is that they often do not own the buildings they operate from. Not owning the property can significantly limit the control small businesses have over their operations. For example, if an organisation wants to install renewable energy solutions like solar panels, they might run into issues if they do not own their facilities outright.
Despite these hurdles that make reducing emissions more challenging for smaller companies, having more limited operations can make carbon neutrality more simple. Generally, the value chains of these businesses are much less complex, and there is also a smaller network of stakeholders. These factors can allow such entities to move towards carbon neutrality more quickly than their larger counterparts as fewer elements are pulling in different directions. Additionally, the upfront investment for emission reduction is likely to be much lower for companies with simpler operations.
How Can Your Business Become Carbon Neutral?
While the expenditure associated with becoming carbon neutral is not insignificant, it is often much lower than many people realise. It is estimated that offsetting carbon emissions costs just 0.4% of annual revenue. While this is a viable option for reducing carbon emissions, it should be the last resort of a business. Ultimately, the path to carbon neutrality relies on directly decreasing your carbon footprint.
One of the first steps your company should take on its journey towards net-zero emissions is to enhance efficiency across your operations. For example, it is astounding how many small businesses are not paying attention to inefficiencies in heating and cooling their operations. Many companies will cool and heat their facilities simultaneously.
Making these improvements to the efficiency of your operations can pay for itself. The immediate impact of making changes like switching to energy-efficient lighting in your facilities significantly reduces your power consumption. This will have a beneficial effect on your expenditure and your organisation’s carbon footprint.
You should also take a look at the entirety of your supply chain when reducing your emissions. A good example of companies that need to consider this is food and drinks firms. These companies need to account for the carbon emissions across their entire supply chain if they wish to become carbon neutral. These considerations range from the environmental impact of growing crops, transport, and packaging disposal upon delivery.
Another option to help you evaluate the impact of your business on climate change and push towards zero emissions is to take a business and climate change course. Learning about the effects of business on the climate can help to inform you of steps you should take in your own operations to reduce your emissions. If you are interested in developing novel solutions to reduce emissions in your business, you can look into the University of Cambridge Business and Climate Change: Towards Net Zero Emissions online short course.
Remember, You Can’t Avoid All Emissions
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try to improve efficiency and reduce emissions, you are unlikely to achieve total carbon neutrality in this manner. Current technologies inhibit net-zero emissions in many ways. For example, air travel or cargo shipping is often an unavoidable reality of business, and no other viable solutions currently exist for these.
Once you have reached a point where you have reduced your direct emissions as much as possible, it is time to start to offset your carbon emissions. You can do this by knowing the carbon footprint of your operations and then purchasing quality carbon credits equivalent to your outstanding emissions. These credits are then used to drive investments in green projects such as renewable energies or reforestation. As a result of buying these, you either contribute to a direct reduction in carbon emissions, sequester atmospheric carbon or prevent future emissions.
While this is a viable strategy once you have reduced your emissions as much as possible, it can also be a controversial practice. It has been reported that some companies have not removed the required amount of carbon from the atmosphere promptly. For example, some companies might plant up to four trees to offset one tonne of carbon. These trees will likely take 40-100 years to remove that amount. Therefore, it is best to find reliable companies for offsetting your carbon emissions to ensure that you are not faced with potential controversies.
On the whole, the goal of becoming carbon neutral is a noble one for all businesses, regardless of their size. While small entities face some difficulties in reducing their emissions, that is not to say it’s an impossible endeavour.
Ultimately, we all have a collective responsibility to develop new sustainable practices in society and industry to preserve the global climate. There is undoubtedly a link between climate change and business, so small companies are not exempt from this. The tips above are some effective ways for companies with limited resources to reduce their environmental impact over the coming years.