How to be a carbon neutral business

16th April 2019


Original article published on and written by Poppy Mortiboys-Harrison.

Only recently has the issue of cutting carbon emissions been recognised on a global scale. Back in 2015, the United Nations signed the Paris agreement, which set measurable targets for each country to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The effect of increased levels of CO2 is known as global warming. Since the 1990s, the Earth’s surface temperature has risen nearly 1°C. Although this is only a small fraction, the results are catastrophic. In 2016 scientists predicted that if the Earth’s temperature rose any more than 2°C the atmospheric balance would be so altered that the future of human existence will be thrown into doubt. The effects can be seen in 2019 with devastating natural disasters happening more consistently, natural habitats becoming uninhabitable for its wildlife and the rapid melting of the ice caps. These are the effects at 1°C, imagine what will happen to our planet at 2°C. One way of tackling this issue, coined in the early 1990s, is becoming ‘carbon neutral’. This refers to a process that doesn’t add to the net atmospheric increase of harmful emissions. This can be achieved through carbon offsetting, using renewable, emission free resources. Read on to know why your business or start – up should be making steps to become a completely carbon neutral company.

What is a Carbon Neutral Business?

Carbon neutrality is more than introducing an office recycling scheme or remembering to turn off the lights at the end of the day. It’s about implementing systems thinking, considering the complete lifecycle of our products from cradle to grave, and thinking more broadly and holistically about our actions in the aims to weave sustainability considerations into the fabric of our businesses, into the minds of our employees and into the hearts of our key stakeholders. So, as you can imagine, using an environmentally sustainable energy provider is a great start, but there are many more steps to take. But what does carbon neutrality really mean? Think of it like this: if you are putting CO2 out into the atmosphere then to become carbon neutral you need to remove (or offset) the exact same amount of carbon dioxide you put into it. Counteracting your carbon footprint is simple and there are countless initiatives for you to get involved in, environmental and social. VEEV, for example, is the first carbon neutral, alcoholic spirit brand and donates 1% of its sales to Rainforest Preservation and environmental causes to balance its carbon footprint. This is known as carbon offsetting. Offsetting is easier than it sounds; compensating for your business’ carbon dioxide output through participating in schemes or funding programmes that remove the equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere makes the work easy. All you have to do is get your carbon footprint calculated, and think about what type of initiative your business wants to support. If you’re struggling for ideas, we recommend looking into clean water schemes as a starting point. Or, companies such as Carbon Footprint who run a service which both calculates your Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and helps you find the perfect location for your offsetting investment.

Why Would a Business (of any size) go Carbon Neutral?

The preservation of our planet should be everyone’s responsibility – it is the only home we have. Therefore, reducing our negative Impact on our planet is paramount. We owe this to ourselves and to those who have to grow up in the world we leave them. On average, each of us is responsible for a massive 5.5 tonnes of CO2 a year. A report by the IPCC shows just how pressing the need to reduce our environmental impact is: the report highlights that by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C. If you’re still not convinced, then here are some non-environmental benefits to reducing your carbon footprint:

1. Money, money, money

Becoming more efficient with resources will save you money at the same time as saving the planet. Find us a business that’s not interested in affecting their bottom line.

Throwing things away when they cannot be reused and limiting the amount of time lights are turned on are two small - yet surprisingly effective - changes. In 2016, 190 Fortune 500 companies made combined savings of almost $3.7bn through energy efficiency initiatives.

On top of this, investing in a sustainability program can not only save you money, but will help safeguard your business’ future from profit loss. In a study of 8,000 supplier companies, 72% identified that climate change presents a risk to their operations, revenue, or expenditures. If you’re interested in saving your bottom line, then thinking about the triple bottom line - environmental, social and financial - is key to your business’ future success.

2. Recruitment and staff retention

Engaging with environmental issues has a positive impact in the workplace. Working together to have a positive impact on the planet will motivate and inspire staff. Cycle-to-work schemes, flexible working, and a genuine and thorough sustainability policy will all work towards demonstrating to your staff that you’re a business that cares. Research shows that staff morale in companies with strong sustainability programs was 55% higher than those with poor ones, and employee loyalty was 38% better.

Becoming more sustainable as a business will not only help retain and inspire the staff you already have, it will also impact the recruitment process. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial, Strategy (BEIS) found that 65% of 16-24-year olds would prefer a job in the green economy. This equates to 3.7 million young people eagerly looking for work within a sustainable business.

3. New Business Leads

Research suggests that 55% of consumers are willing to pay higher prices for goods from environmentally conscious companies. Green marketing has become one of the most popular ways to promote a product, with many customers moving away from companies and products which are known culprits of environmental harm. This is known as conscious consumerism.

How do we Become Carbon Neutral?

Here are your five steps to becoming carbon neutral:

Step 1: Calculate your carbon footprint

Step 2: Set targets to reduce your carbon footprint year on year

Step 3: Offset carbon emissions by investing in a cause or programme that actively reduces global carbon emissions

Step 4: Gain carbon neutral accreditation

Step 5: Publicise your carbon neutral achievements, and encourage others to follow suit. Using social media, your website and any other marketing tools you may have in your toolbox is the perfect way to get the message out there.

Want to know more? For the best possible, in-depth advice on how to become carbon neutral, we asked Halina, our Sustainability Consultant, to share some of our own sustainability story, particularly our steps to carbon neutrality:

Halina, what are the first, most achievable steps to running a carbon neutral business?

"It’s important to get a baseline calculation to work with. It’s really simple to get your carbon footprint calculated. This will help you to understand your business’ carbon emissions whilst benchmarking you against other organisations. Next, you offset. It’s a really good opportunity to make a genuine difference in the world, so choose something meaningful to you and your team. However, running a carbon neutral business is about more than calculating and offsetting your carbon emissions. You have to have a long term view to reduce the amount of carbon you produce at source. Last year, for example, Studio Republic produced 3.63 tonnes of CO2 emissions, and has set a target to reduce this to 3 tonnes of CO2 emissions by the end of 2019."

Studio Republic offset five tonnes of CO2 by donating to a Ugandan Borehole Rehabilitation project, Halina shares a little more about that?

"To offset our carbon footprint, we wanted to choose a scheme that allowed us to make a positive social and environmental contribution – sustainability does, after all, encompass people too. We chose the Ugandan Borehole Rehabilitation project because the positive impacts of this project are countless. Borehole water is safe and does not need to be boiled, which greatly reduces the need to gather firewood to purify it. This saves firewood and prevents the unnecessary release of carbon emissions. Also, the borehole rehabilitation and maintenance in Lango sub-region, Uganda, will be the very first programme to implement the new Gender Equality methodology from the Gold Standard. We chose to offset more carbon than we produced because we wanted to make more of a positive impact. It’s not a necessary step, but if you have the means to do so, we would highly recommend it. Choosing a project that is meaningful to you, your team and your business is really the key takeaway from our experience with offsetting. We advise sitting down with your team to get everyone’s input into choosing what scheme to opt for – your staff will feel great about it and really feel part of something good."

From a recruitment perspective, millennials are more likely to be drawn to businesses with strong sustainable promises. Halina shares why:

“The statistics show that 73% millennials are willing to spend more on sustainable products, and this mentality spreads into recruitment too. Since refocusing our business back in 2017, online job applications have quadrupled and all of our applicants have expressed a passion to work with an ethical and sustainable business.
So much so, that three quarters of millennials are willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company, the same amount consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding who to work for, and 64% of millennials won’t take a job if their potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility practices. It’s clear throughout our brand, our business plan and our company mission, that sustainability is at the heart of everything we do and this has had a massive impact on our recruitment process. We’ve been able to utilise our sustainability actions as a business tool to bring in new talent, and generate business: opening up a world of opportunity for us.”

Sustainability: A No Brainer

One day, it may be possible to run a business that doesn’t produce any carbon emissions at all. Unfortunately, we are not at this level of efficiency yet, and reduction followed by offsetting is the best solution we have in reducing the impact of unavoidable carbon emissions. Big corporations such as Google are getting involved with the simple remedy: reduce the amount of carbon you use, then offset the remainder. In the words of our Sustainability Consultant, Halina:

“Carbon neutrality, as with sustainability, gives back countless benefits to businesses across the board, there’s no reason not to go for it.”