How to make your business carbon neutral

Is it possible to do your bit for the environment without impacting the success and growth of your business?

Amazon, with its aim to be carbon neutral by 2040, thinks it is.

Microsoft, with its pledge to become “carbon negative” by 2030, and undo all its negative impact since it was founded by 2050, certainly thinks it is.

But they are companies that make tens of billions in profit per year and have masses of resources at their disposal. They can easily analyse and offset their emissions, not to mention compare their new-found environmentalism against the impact of years of pumping out masses of emissions into the air.

For many small and mid-sized businesses, reducing emissions and achieving something like carbon neutrality can thus seem like a bit of a luxury. Something you get to when you don’t have to worry about simply surviving the year and maintaining a stable revenue.

But reducing your carbon footprint doesn’t have to cost the Earth. In fact, doing so can help bring in more business, for instance, by giving you an edge over the crowd and opening your offerings up to new audiences.

There are three simple steps you can follow to begin your business’s journey toward carbon neutrality:

1. Measure.

To reduce the size of your footprint, you first need to know how much greenhouse gas emissions—any gas like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that contributes to the “greenhouse effect”—your business emits.

For service-based businesses like web agencies and law firms, the largest part of their footprint may be the energy use of offices or employee’s travel.

For businesses that make physical products, most emissions will likely come from transport and factory work within the supply chain.

If you fit into the former category, you can use online calculators such as this one from CarbonFund to roughly calculate carbon emissions. It’s more tricky for the latter as you have to consider the whole operation—including things like the activity of your customers using your products. It can be done, but you may need to supplement your own measures and findings with secondary studies and resources. 

2. Reduce.

Once you have a good idea of the size of your footprint, you can then start to take steps to reduce your emissions and, crucially, track your results.

There are many ways you can do this. One company might focus on converting their offices to use renewable energy, or getting rid of office altogether by adopting a remote working model.

Another might realise certain elements in their products are unsustainable and look for workarounds or more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Another still might do away with travel and make all their meetings virtual, or introduce eco-schemes into the workplace such as local, organic veg deliveries and incentives for employees to reduce their individual footprints.

It can seem difficult at first to reduce your footprint without affecting the quality of your products/services or your bottom line, especially if you’re already a lean business. But when you look at the whole picture, there are always actions you can take, whether in reducing or offsetting your emissions by investing in organisations and projects working to reverse climate change.

3. Communicate.

It’s all well and good putting in the effort to make your business carbon neutral, but as there are few tangible feedback mechanisms to reducing emissions, if you don’t tell anyone what you’re doing and why, then it can be an unsustainable process in itself.

Soon there will be process businesses can go through to obtain the likes of a “Carbon Neutral” label to place on its products and promotions. But until then, businesses have to be proactive in shouting about how they are reducing or offsetting their emissions, and do so in a clear and humble way.

You don’t want to overdo it and end up on the side of greenwashing. But being loud about your carbon efforts will help inform consumers so they can make better purchasing choices, which, in turn, will reward your business and others for their commitment to doing their bit to look after the environment.

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Joe Hunt is a freelance writer based in Barcelona. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Medium to find more articles on work, technology, mindfulness, and everything in between.