Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important issue for small companies. Although lots of the conversation around sustainable and ethical business practices focus on large corporates, firms of all sizes have a role to play in tackling climate change.
This need is highlighted by figures from the British Business Bank which show that small firms account for around half of all greenhouse gas emissions by UK businesses, and approximately a third of total UK emissions when households and the public sector are added to the mix.
Sustainability is a commercial issue too. Consumers are increasingly basing purchasing decisions on the environmental and social impact of a business, so being sustainable can mean a sales advantage over your competitors.
Despite all this, many business owners worry that sustainability is expensive. However, there are cost effective ways small businesses can play a part in the UK’s journey to net zero.
Tackle your energy usage
Taking simple steps to reduce your energy usage can make your business more sustainable.
According to the Carbon Trust, lighting uses 20% of the electricity generated in the UK and replacing legacy light sources with LED technology can reduce energy costs by 70%.
Other energy saving steps you can take include:
- use motion sensors so lights only switch on when someone is in the room.
- seal windows and doors to prevent heat loss.
- insulate roofs and other parts of buildings.
- switch appliances such as dishwashers and printers to eco mode.
- switch off equipment such as computers when they are not in use.
- install smart metres to monitor energy use.
Reduce waste and use sustainable materials
Tackling the physical materials you use in your business can help to reduce your carbon emissions.
Steps you can take include using biodegradable, compostable or recyclable packaging and marketing materials instead of single use plastic and other environmentally damaging options.
Introducing a recycling scheme as part of your company environmental policies can help to encourage sustainable practices and reduce waste, as can using glass and reusable cups and bottles instead of single use plastic containers.
Other actions you can take to reduce waste include sharing equipment with other businesses or renting it, and there are steps businesses in specific sectors can take. Restaurants, for example, should ensure food portion sizes are monitored to reduce food waste and work with charities to donate leftover food.
Businesses have legal obligations in this area too.
Bans on some single-use plastic are in place in England and Scotland and Wales, and the Plastic Packaging Tax applies if you have manufactured or imported plastic packaging components which contain less than 30% recycled plastic.
In addition, the extended producer responsibility rules require larger businesses to report their packaging data.
Sustainable transport practices
Adopting greener transport and travelling practices can contribute to improving a business’ sustainability.
Carpooling and lift sharing
Running a workplace carpool scheme can help to cut carbon emissions. Research by BlaBlaCar found that through lift sharing, the number of people travelling increased from an average 1.9 to 3.9 people per car and delivered CO2 savings of 0.9MtCO2, a 26% emissions reduction.
The schemes have the added benefits of cutting transport costs for employees, improving recruitment and retention and helping to create stronger bonds between staff members.
The government has advice on lift sharing here.
Cycle to Work scheme
As well as helping to reduce general emissions on the road, cycling has been shown to improve health, wellbeing and productivity.
Switch to online meetings
Conducting more meetings online using video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet means you will cut back on your use of transport.
There are various sources of funding that can help businesses be more sustainable. Examples include:
- UK Research and Innovation provides research and development grants for green projects.
- The government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme provides grants of £7,500 towards an air source heat pump or ground source heat pump, and £5,000 towards a biomass boiler.
- The Workplace Charging Scheme provides £350 per socket for the installation of electric vehicle chargepoints at business premises.
- The Energy Savings Trust manages grants and loans in England and Scotland for introducing ebikes, purchasing ultra low emission vehicles and installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
- Local councils across the UK, Local Enterprise Partnerships in the England, Invest Northern Ireland, Scottish Enterprise and Business Wales often provide funding for sustainable business practices.
The Government-backed UK Business Climate Hub has a detailed list of funding opportunities here.
Environmental labels, certifications and accreditation
Using environmental labels, certifications and accreditation can help to improve customer trust and your business’ sustainability.
Research by the Carbon Trust found that two third of consumers believe labelling on products showing what businesses are doing to tackle carbon emissions is a good idea, with the same proportion more likely to think positively about a brand that can demonstrate it has lowered the carbon footprint of its products.
Businesses can also become Certified B Corporations, commonly known as B Corps. These are companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.
The very detailed verification process businesses are required to go through to become a B Corp can help you focus on and improve your business’ sustainability. Once approved, being able to display the B Corp logo can encourage customer trust and more sales.
How TaxAssist Accountants can help
TaxAssist Accountants can help you with the right advice to support your business. While our expertise covers tax, accounting, bookkeeping and payroll, we can also connect you with other providers we work with both locally and nationally.
Date published 31 Oct 2023 | Last updated 20 Nov 2023This article is intended to inform rather than advise and is based on legislation and practice at the time. Taxpayer’s circumstances do vary and if you feel that the information provided is beneficial it is important that you contact us before implementation. If you take, or do not take action as a result of reading this article, before receiving our written endorsement, we will accept no responsibility for any financial loss incurred.
Dan is a freelance journalist and event host who writes content for TaxAssist Accountants. With 20 years of experience, he has interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind the newest start-ups. Dan was previously Head of Content at small business membership organisation Enterprise Nation.
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