Going green: What ‘Net zero’ means for small businesses

Solar power

Liam Burlinson, Head of SME Energy Efficiency at British Gas Business explains what SMEs can do to improve sustainability and move towards net-zero emissions status.

In 2019, the UK became the first major nation to set official targets on achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 having successfully cut carbon emissions faster than any other G7 member.

Despite this, the Committee on Climate Change has warned that Britain will miss its target without more action to change behaviour. The UK’s SMEs have a key role to play in delivering this ambition.

According to The Carbon Trust, companies with fewer than 250 employees account for almost 20 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions.

SMEs are aware of the challenge facing them, with 60 per cent of small businesses reporting that sustainability is already on their agenda. And, it’s likely this figure will rise, as large corporations like British Airways and Sainsbury’s publicly pledge their support for net zero and begin putting pressure on the smaller firms within their supply chain to help achieve this goal.

Knowledge is power

The big question for small business leaders is where to start on the journey towards a more sustainable future. The first step should be to understand their current energy use.

As part of the government’s commitment to reducing energy consumption and improving emissions levels, all small UK businesses are eligible to have smart meters installed by their energy company.

As well as the obvious benefits, such as an end to estimated bills and the ability to monitor energy usage in real-time, smart meters also provide businesses with invaluable data-driven insight.

For example, by identifying peaks and troughs in energy consumption, smart meter data can be used to inform operational decisions like deferring the use of energy-intensive equipment from peak times.

With a more comprehensive understanding of how they consume energy, businesses will be able to take proactive steps towards minimising energy waste, lowering costs and reducing carbon emissions.

Green is good

The adoption of green energy tariffs is becoming increasingly popular amongst SMEs. And the availability of renewable tariffs provides a simple and cost-effective way for firms to take positive steps towards reducing their carbon footprint.

These tariffs work by matching 100% of the energy a business uses with electricity generated from renewable sources. So, every megawatt-hour of electricity a business uses will be matched with the same volume of renewable energy supplied to the grid, effectively making the energy that business purchases from the grid carbon-neutral.

Such tariffs enable SMEs to report zero grams of CO2 per kWh from purchased electricity, helping boost a firms’ green credentials.

Simple solutions

For many SMEs, the simplest approach to managing energy can often be the most effective and there are a range of easy-to-adopt technology solutions that businesses can utilise.

This could be installing LED lighting, improving roof insulation to retain heat, or installing building management systems to enable heating and air conditioning to be controlled remotely.

LED lighting, for example, uses on average 80 per cent less energy than most traditional bulbs, bringing down a company’s overall energy use and consequently, its carbon emissions.

Similarly, by controlling heating systems remotely, firms can manage the temperature of the workplace – even when they are not in the building.

Figures show reducing the temperature of the average workplace by just 1°C can save enough energy to print over 40 million sheets of A4 paper, a small change that can make a big difference to a business’ carbon footprint.

Advanced energy technology

For some larger SMEs who are further along in their journey to lower carbon missions more advanced energy technology can also play a role in their approach reducing their carbon footprint.

In these cases, the use of sophisticated energy management technology – such as on-site energy generation and storage solutions – can help businesses meet their energy needs by generating, storing and managing their own energy on-site, independently of the grid.

For example, a business could install solar panels and battery storage on its premises, using the electricity generated through the solar panels to power its operations directly. Any surplus that isn’t needed right away can be stored in the battery. Stored energy could then be deployed at a later time, for example when the weather is cloudy, and the panels aren’t able to generate enough electricity to power the business effectively.

In this way, not only can modern energy tech allow an SME to become more efficient in the way they use energy, but – through the use of renewables – can support overall carbon-cutting and lower energy costs.

Investing in sustainability

As the pressure to achieve net zero continues to mount, the need for SMEs to improve their carbon credentials has increased significantly.

By working with the right partner, business leaders can ensure that becoming net zero is both good for the planet and good for business.