26th November, 2021
As climate strikes continue to take place around the world, some small business owners are asking whether they can reduce their carbon footprint.
Climate change is being heralded as perhaps the most serious issue our generation faces, with many initiatives taking place around the world to raise awareness about its potential impacts.
Aside from being an issue discussed in government, homes and schools, climate change has moved to the top of the agenda for businesses as well.
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by the actions of a person, business, product or organisation. A building or a place can have a carbon footprint, too.
There are lots of things that contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases like burning fossil fuels, clearing land or producing and consuming products and services.
The authors Wright, Kemp, and Williams proposed the following definition of a carbon footprint:
A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions of a defined population, system or activity, considering all relevant sources, sinks and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of the population, system or activity of interest. Calculated as carbon dioxide equivalent using the relevant 100-year global warming potential (GWP100).
Reducing your carbon footprint mitigates the effects of global climate change. It also improves the health and wellbeing of the population, boosts national and global economies, and maintains biodiversity. Cutting carbon emissions helps to make sure we have clean air and water, and enough food for now and the future.
As society becomes more aware of climate change, it’s more important than ever for people to understand the impact their day-to-day activities may have on the environment.
There are many startups around the world that’ve been working tirelessly to develop technology-based solutions that help fight climate change. ClimateClever.org is one of these.
Founded by Dr Vanessa Rauland in 2017, ClimateClever is an innovative software solution that allows people to calculate and track their carbon footprint, audit their buildings and create evidence-based (and achievable) action plans to reduce energy consumption levels.
Dr Rauland has many ideas on strategies that small business owners can use to play their part in addressing the negative effects climate change may pose. takes shape as four simple steps. And it turns out that her ideas and strategies could actually save your business money.
It isn’t possible to calculate carbon footprint exactly due to the complexity of calculating the interactions between contributing emissions.
But it is possible to get a very rough estimate by using a carbon footprint calculator or a specialised app. There are both free and paid resources that you can use for this.
Measuring a business’s own carbon footprint can be challenging.
“Knowing how to measure carbon consumption is one of the hardest things for businesses to do,” Rauland said.
“Existing energy meters are not particularly transparent, and businesses don’t have a frame of reference as to what the energy consumption benchmark is supposed to be.
“You can’t set targets if you don’t have visibility.”
There are low-cost and free options online for calculating your carbon footprint. They take things like transport and logistics, business operations and travel into account.
Have you ever walked into the kitchen after you’ve hosted a dinner party at your house, looked at the huge pile of dishes, overflowing rubbish bags and dirty benchtops, and felt too overwhelmed to know how or where to start the clean up?
If so, you know exactly how many business owners feel about addressing climate change at work.
In order to break down this barrier, Rauland encouraged business owners to go right back to basics.
According to Rauland, another big part of the issue is that the accounts team of a business often pay energy bills automatically. It could pay to look for anomalies that may indicate where emission reductions might take place.
“If you aren’t looking at the numbers, you tend to miss big ticket items.”
If business owners can increase their efforts in measuring their carbon consumption, the ability to reduce their impact becomes much more realistic.
Rauland encouraged business owners to reach out to colleagues from businesses of a similar size to their own and ask about their energy consumption and compare numbers.
“This will help businesses create that frame of reference about where they fit into the climate change story.
“Training the accounts staff to mindfully pay company energy and other utility bills and to flag large changes in energy consumption patterns to upper management can also create more of a climate-change-conscious environment at work.”
“Big appliances like air conditioning systems and heating are a great place to start, as they consume enormous amounts of energy,” said Rauland.
“During the summer months, set the temperature on the air-conditioning system to 22-24 degrees and encourage people to dress for the weather.
“Workplaces that have their thermostats on 17-18 degrees don’t realise that they’re increasing their energy consumption by 10 percent with every degree.”
You may find there are other large appliances needlessly chewing up your power bill and increasing your carbon footprint.
“Take fridges, for example. Try to use them efficiently by filling them up as much as possible before turning on a second one,” said Rauland.
“Aside from being better for the environment, fridges work more effectively that way as well.”
There are lots of smaller things in your business that could make a big difference.
One thing that could make a measurable difference is switching to more efficient lighting.
On average, LEDs consume 80 percent less energy when compared to incandescent light bulbs. Switching to LED lighting offers energy savings over incandescent, halogen and compact fluorescent alternatives.
Composting is one way to reduce greenhouse emissions from organic waste. When organic waste is sent to landfill, it begins to rot without oxygen and releases methane, which contributes to a higher carbon footprint. The impact of methane on climate change is around 25 times greater than carbon dioxide.
Organic waste that can be composted includes food, kitchen and garden matter. You can compost fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and plant clippings.
An easy way to start is to keep a container lined with a compostable bin liner in the kitchen. You can even buy simple filters for them if you’re concerned about the smell. Then dispose of it as you would normal waste, except pop it into the green bin instead of the regular bin.
Being conscious of a company’s energy consumption levels can’t just be the passion of the business owner.
Rauland explained that if a small business owner truly wants to make a difference, they need to understand that reducing their business’s carbon footprint has to be a group effort – everyone in the organisation has a role to play.
“Spread the roles across the entire company and encourage everybody to take part in reducing the organisation’s impact on the environment.
“Talk about it in meetings, send out emails about it, write climate-change and sustainability policies collaboratively and make everyone in the organisation part of the conversation.
“The key is to bring everyone on board.”
As part of her advice to small businesses, Rauland recommended that business owners consider donating a sum to a cause that their employees collectively decide on.
“It puts a deeper level of meaning and impact into the business’s climate change narrative.”
According to Rauland, allocating some money to incentives that encourage staff to be conscious of climate change outside of the office as well is also a great way to add another dimension to a business’ efforts to reduce its impact.
“Taking the money saved from your overuse of electricity and giving it back to the employees can be a great way to offer a financial incentive to employees.
“Things like paying for their train or bus tickets to work is a benefit to them, while also encouraging them to think more about their own personal carbon footprint outside of the office.”