Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have become a pertinent issue for businesses throughout the UK. The importance of reducing carbon footprints is to save energy and money and reduce the impact of business activity on the environment. A growing number of SMEs and business start-ups are being encouraged to consider their own carbon management strategy and targets.

Carbon dioxide (Co2) emissions have become a pertinent issue for businesses throughout the UK. The importance of reducing carbon footprints is to save energy and money and reduce the impact of business activity on the environment. A growing number of SMEs and business start-ups are being encouraged to consider their own carbon management strategy and targets.

Measuring your business’ carbon output does not need to be an exhaustive process. But there is no reason why you cannot report your carbon emissions in much the same way you analyse your business’ financial performance.

At the time of writing there is no officially sanctioned method of measuring carbon output, although SMEs are encouraged to abide by the guidelines set within the Greenhouse Gas Protocol published by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development back in 2001.

Measuring your business’ carbon output and reducing your most carbon-intensive operations are the first steps towards a more ecologically-friendly organisation.

Identifying ‘direct’ carbon emissions

Identifying the main areas of your business where carbon emissions are prominent is a logical step to becoming a more carbon-friendly organisation and reducing the impact your business has on the environment. The most accessible emissions within your business are labelled the ‘direct’ emissions – for most small businesses these will range from on-site fuelling and heating to mobile sources.

In order to calculate your company’s electricity and gas usage your energy provider’s bills should indicate your annual usage in kilowatts. Most businesses will have electricity-dependent technologies to service their clients and in these cases it is unavoidable to pay for and use high amounts of energy.

However, controllable carbon output such as transport, air-conditioning and heating can be reduced by simply implementing carbon values within your business. Improve employee awareness of carbon reduction, engage them with the merits of energy efficiency and reduce unnecessary energy consumption.

Take this example of unnecessary energy consumption within the logistics and transport division of your business. Distributing goods and services is key to the success of any fledgling business, but it can also be an area that significantly reduces your overall carbon output and expenses.

Consider moving your freight by rail or sea rather than the highways reducing the environmental impact. A European Commission (EC) white paper, Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area, recommends that 30 percent of road freight travelling more than 300km should shift to other modes, such as rail or water, by 2030. The Freight Best Practice also offers extensive guides regarding operational efficiency and performance management.

Alex Reeves, director at Access UK, comments: “There’s a huge financial imperative for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint; for instance the high cost of fuel is a real burden for the transport and logistics sector. Looking for ways to manage this down makes good financial sense."

Addressing ‘indirect’ carbon output

As well as tackling the obvious carbon issues within your own business it is important to address the issue of ‘indirect’ carbon output – emissions created from customers using your products and your business’ inbound and outbound supply chains.

The topic of ‘greening’ business supply chains has been a matter of debate for several years. There are several concrete steps that businesses can take to cut their supply chain’s annual carbon output.
  • Consolidate shipments – eliminate significant mileage and deliveries by consolidating shipments and ensuring drivers take optimal routes to preserve fuel
  • Regional distribution – subject to funds, consider the addition of regional distribution centres to significantly reduce the number of nationwide deliveries
  • Enhanced vehicles – it may be wise to consider incorporating low-emission delivery vehicles, with fuel-efficient tyres and direct-drive transmission that offers greatly improved fuel economy.

Break down your carbon usage across your business divisions

SMEs may find that integrated software holds the answer to taking control of their carbon output without adding cost or complexity to their accounting.

In order to calculate your business’ carbon footprint efficiently it may be quickest to break down your carbon output across the many divisions of your business. From admin and HR through to sales and distribution, it is possible to analyse carbon performance in much the same way you analyse your overall financial performance.

Reeves believes the ability to break down and analyse carbon usage per department can lead to overall output reductions. “What this does is provide hard evidence as to what part of the business is emitting the most carbon emissions. Once you have this data you can then start to look at the detail, right down to individual staff members. Whilst it might not be possible to negate some emissions, it gets the business considering ways it can reduce its footprint and save money in the process.”

Using an CO2 emissions calculator

Carbon calculators are an effective way of engaging employees and customers alike with the consequences of your carbon footprint as well as the positives of reducing output for the greater good of the environment.

Instead of calculating the sums yourself why not input your energy details into an online calculator and find out within minutes how much carbon dioxide your business generates on an annual basis? In order to set initial targets for reducing carbon output a base line or approximation of carbon emissions is required, while considering options to offset the remainder of unavoidable CO2 emissions generated.

“Online calculators provide a low cost option for smaller businesses, but it is important to remember that some of these may only cover a single element, such as utility bills. However, they are a good starting point for businesses interested in monitoring their carbon footprint,” says Reeves.

Offset your remaining carbon emissions

There are everyday actions within business that are simply unavoidable, whether mass producing your popular products or simply heating your offices in the winter. However, carbon offsetting offers an attractive compensation for businesses struggling to further reduce their carbon output.

The premise behind carbon offsetting is that SMEs can buy into a scheme or project where an equivalent carbon dioxide saving is made elsewhere around the globe. Admittedly, offsetting CO2 emissions is not a cure for climate change, but it does provide an incentive for businesses to invest in projects to develop cleaner, more environmentally-friendly technologies.

An offset provider that calculates your unavoidable emissions accurately, as well as delivering up-to-the-minute information about the role offsetting plays in tackling climate change, is highly recommended. The Quality Assurance Scheme for Carbon Offsetting is a good place to start to find a good quality offset.