Is Going Green Good for Business?
Going carbon neutral – where a business emits zero carbon emissions – is often touted as the gold standard of sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
However, surprisingly few companies have actually made the commitment. Of those that have declared carbon neutrality, some face criticism for investing in offset programmes (such as tree planting) rather than actually tackling their own emissions.
Some household names have made the leap. Let’s take a look at three pioneers and how your small business might be able to emulate their green success.
Five years after starting their ‘Plan A’ sustainability programme, M&S became the first high street retailer to become carbon neutral in 2012. Cutting through all areas of their business, they implemented 180 different commitments, including waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fishing. So far, they’ve reduced their energy use by almost a third and now run completely on renewable energy.
IKEA are going even further by aiming to be a net exporter of renewable energy by 2020, making use of thousands of solar panels and wind turbines installed on their stores, warehouses and factories. They’re not stopping there. They recycle 89% of their waste and assess their products by 11 sustainability criteria , including how well they promote sustainable living for their customers.
With more than 70 offices in 50 countries and 13 colossal data centres housing hundreds of thousands of servers and computers, Google use a lot of power. In fact, last year they used the same amount as the entire city of San Francisco. They recently announced that they are buying “enough wind and solar electricity annually to account for every unit of electricity Google operations consume, globally”.
It makes sense economically and strategically. Since they first started buying renewable power in 2010, the cost of wind has dropped 60% and solar 80%.
“We are the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world. It’s good for the economy, good for business and good for our shareholders.”
Joe Kava, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure ( speaking to the New York Times).
Easy for the big names – but can small businesses do it?
Zero emissions might seem an impossible target, but there are plenty of examples of SMEs who have taken steps towards sustainability. The Carbon Trust’s SME Network helped Birmingham-based manufacturer APS Metal Pressings to reduce their energy usage through a combination of grants to fund more energy efficient systems and lighting upgrades to LED.
There are plenty of reasons to aim for carbon neutrality. As well as bringing down your utility bills, having a greener reputation can stand you in good stead with customers who are increasingly aware of their own impact on the environment. Some procurement processes will even ask for details of how you measure your carbon footprint. Of course, there’s also the satisfaction of knowing that your business will be contributing towards reducing climate change as a responsible, ethical organisation.
The first step is to work out your business’ carbon footprint. The Government has produced a useful guide to measuring and reporting your greenhouse gas emissions as well as a guide to energy efficiency for SMEs. Once you’ve crunched the numbers, you then need to plan how to reduce them. This will depend on where your business has the biggest environmental impact. Get creative – it’s all about creating specific solutions tailored to your business.
Small changes can add up to big impacts
Every little helps. For instance, office equipment accounts for more than 15% of all business energy consumption. A single computer left on standby round the clock costs around £45 a year, according to the Carbon Trust. Switching to energy saving settings and turning it off overnight could bring the annual cost down to just £10, as well as prolonging the lifespan of your technology.
You might not be able to invest in producing your own renewable energy for the time being. You can, however, switch your energy provider to us. A supplier that provides 100% renewable electricity, with options to invest further to tackle climate change.