Last reviewed 21 January 2019
As more and more organisations look for ways to improve their environmental credentials, Will Richardson suggests some simple steps which can make a big difference.
Over the past year we have witnessed a steady stream of media coverage regarding businesses that appear to be failing in their responsibilities to be more environmentally friendly. Many consumers expect companies, particularly larger ones, to have a high level of ethical responsibility, with the media highlighting the need to ban single-use plastic, eliminate the use of palm oil in products and reduce the business world’s carbon footprint. Add ethical sourcing into the mix and we now have a society which expects the business world to have a high level of environmental regulation. Not all businesses will be able to afford many of the larger changes that can be made, but if every business made at least one small change they could ensure that not only do they become more environmentally sustainable but they also reduce overhead costs, improving their bottom line. Although there are many technologies available to assist businesses in making the bigger changes, a few simple changes can enable an organisation to become a greener, more efficient operation.
Here is a list of suggestions to add to your organisation’s New Year’s Resolution list.
One of the biggest contributors to a company’s carbon footprint is the way in which temperature is controlled within a building. Around 40% of the UK’s energy consumption and carbon emissions come from the operation of buildings. Whether you are operating a factory, office block or shop, your temperatures will need to change often throughout the day to keep up with the weather conditions as well as the business’s requirements. By installing controlling systems to regulate the heating system — as well as the air conditioning system — you cannot only save energy but also costs. As the air conditioning or heating will only need to maintain a pre-set temperature, it will lower its daily output thus reducing the carbon footprint. As with all pieces of technology there will need to be regular maintenance to ensure that the system is working to its full potential, but this cost will be offset against the savings made in your energy bills.
As well as temperature control, lighting is a major contributor to a company’s carbon footprint. For a long-lasting solution why not change to LED lighting? As well as requiring less wattage, which in turn reduces the amount of energy used making them last longer, LED lights are usually more value for money. Investing in movement sensors — a system that automatically turns lights on and off when someone enters or leaves a room — is also a great way to reduce energy, as many employees may not remember to turn lights on and off themselves. Another way to reduce energy is to install dimmer lighting, which offers the choice of whether you need a full light or slightly less. As these lights will often be used at a lesser capacity the electricity costs will also be reduced, saving you money on your energy bills.
Renewable energy considerably reduces a company’s carbon footprint and will be a valuable asset in changing a company’s environmental outlook. The transition away from fossil fuels is taking place on a significant scale, with Ireland announcing its decision to move €318 million of its investment portfolio out of fossil fuels in a move that shows the country’s commitment to climate action. Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) — promises that all energy you use has been renewably sourced and energy companies will equal the estimated consumption of your business. By using the GHG Protocol market-based calculation method REGOs should stop all electricity emissions.
Reducing the amount of paper your company uses is a relatively easy way to ensure your company is more eco-friendly. Set a plan in action that you will reduce the company’s paper usage by x% by the end of 2019 and this will not only help the environment but also your bottom line. Try to only print when digital is not suitable or available. Many business transactions can now be done online including signing contracts and invoicing as well as sending memos or minutes from your meetings. Send emails rather than letters, give presentations on screens and think before you print. If there is a need to print make sure you print everything double sided. A great example of this approach was taken by Red-Inc Company, who designed a closed-loop manufacturing business based on the core principles of cost, environmental impact and reducing human effort.
Take a look around your place of business and take a note of all the stationery that you have and think, is there a need for this? Change your paper for sustainably sourced products or buy recycled paper — which will reduce carbon emissions — and remove all one-use plastics including plastic cups, plastic envelopes and some forms of packaging. If you must print paper always make sure you recycle it.
Plastic is currently high on the list of items that should be banned with much media coverage showing the devastating effect it is having on both our oceans and wildlife, with experts estimating that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
Remove the option for disposable cups for both hot and cold drinks and encourage staff to bring in their own reusable mugs. If your company has a canteen, replace plastic cutlery with metal and change plastic straws for paper ones. Reducing plastic waste is a cost-effective solution to the growing demand for one-use items.
Many companies have high-carbon emissions thanks to business travel, with flying being a huge contributor. With many video conferencing facilities such as Skype providing an alternative to face-to-face meetings this is a great place to start reducing your carbon footprint. There is also the added benefit of the time and money you will be saving. If you do have to travel, opt for economy rather than business or first class and make the most of public transport rather than private car hire. Understanding your business’s carbon footprint is the first step towards making positive changes to the way you operate, and having an Environmental Management System can be an effective way to put this concept into action.
Unfortunately, you can never get rid of rubbish completely, but waste management is another factor in implementing a sustainable organisation. Although it can prove to be a challenge, reducing your consumables will see a significant reduction in your waste. Set up adequate facilities for recycling and make sure every employee does his or her bit to recycle everything that can be. Ensure there is an environmental health policy in your work and that every employee has read and signed it — electronically of course. It is often helpful to have a dedicated area for waste with clear signs explaining what goes into which area. Invest in colour-coded bins and ensure there are areas for items that are slightly harder to recycle.
Making these changes cannot only make a big difference to your company, but also to the environment so it is worth letting your customers, suppliers and employees know the steps that you are implementing, demonstrating that you are a business that is taking action.
Will Richardson founded Green Element in 2004 to help businesses better understand their environmental impact. His innovative new tool “CompareYourFootprint.com” allows businesses to compare their footprint to competitors. For more information visit www.greenelement.co.uk.