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How to reduce your business's carbon footprint

Nearly a fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions (17%) are from businesses*. Reducing those emissions will be a big part of the UK’s effort to reach net zero carbon. But where do you start? In this section, you’ll find suggestions for how to reduce the carbon footprint of your business.

* Source: Gov.uk

“The fight against climate change is everyone’s, and businesses are in a unique position to lead the charge.”

The role of business in the UK’s net zero ambition

The Climate Change Committee published a report in December 2020 outlining the role of business in delivering the UK’s Net Zero ambition. Here’s what they recommend for businesses:

  • Ensure climate change is addressed at the highest possible levels of leadership
  • Adopt the highest possible ambition
  • Address all emissions, and go beyond
  • Do the basics well

Let’s look at some of this in more detail.

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1. Leadership

Enshrining sustainability within your organisation’s culture and addressing it in all your policies and decision making are essential.

To do this, you’ll need to consider what the core mission of your business is and the values that underpin it. Then, you need to think about how that shapes your product, your interaction with your market and the way you manage your environment.

You’ll also need to empower your employees to drive carbon reduction within their roles. To do this, they need to understand why it’s important – providing carbon literacy training is a good way of supporting this. They might also need to be trained in the new, low carbon ways of delivering your business. Finally, encourage them to contribute ideas on how to achieve your targets – their insights could be valuable and their involvement in the planning will help ensure they’re onboard.

2. Ambition

To limit global warming to safe levels we need “radical and far-reaching transitions”. This is the time for ambitious carbon reduction targets.

The UK government’s target is to achieve net zero by 2050. Many businesses are targeting much earlier dates, and some believe they are there already. Some even have “climate positive” targets.

You could do the same. You could either determine what reduction is achievable and use that as the target, or set a future target and work backwards to plan how to achieve it. The first approach will be more deliverable, but the second might push you to be more radical and ambitious.

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

Sir David Attenborough

3. The basics – measurement, planning and monitoring

To be successful, you’ll need some form of environmental or carbon management in place. You should choose something that is suitable for the size and complexity of your business and that meets any legal requirements.

It may be as simple as a strategy and action plan, or you may wish to develop something to a certifiable standard – see below.

Measuring the environmental impact of different aspects of your business is helpful. It will help you decide which areas to tackle first. We have a carbon footprinting tool for small and medium sized business that is free to use. Monitoring your impact over time is important so that you know whether the changes you have made are actually delivering the desired results. You could either rerun your carbon footprint calculation or review your new energy or resource consumption against the baseline audit. Find out more >

You may wish to commission an audit to look at your energy consumption, your resource usage and waste, and/or perhaps your business transport. These audits should come with recommendations on how to reduce your environmental impact. Changes may require upfront investment but usually result in cost savings over time. Grants or green finance might be available to support you. See our list of guides for businesses, for information on where you might find support >

Support and inspiration

CAfS runs events covering a range of topics around carbon reduction. These are usually interactive, giving you a chance to ask questions that are relevant to your business. Have a look at our events page for details of any events coming up, and sign up to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything. 

Here’s recording of the business webinar we ran in January 2021. It includes presentations from: 

  • Tim Maiden from Green Small Business talking about environmental management and support available (subsidised by South Lakeland District Council).  
  • Molly Hogg from CAfS providing examples of businesses embracing the circular economy 
  • Nick Lancaster, outlining the approach that Langdale Leisure took to reduce their environmental impact 
  • Mike Siddal from the Eco Innovation team at the University of Cumbria, explaining the research support Eco-I NW can offer business to help them innovate, and  
  • Danny Coward from the Lake District National Park and Sarah Smith from the Lake District Foundation, launching their new Low Carbon Grants Scheme  

As explained in their presentations, these organisations provide a range of support, including grant funding to businesses. Check their websites for the most up to date information and for eligibility criteria. Another organisation supporting our events is Future Fixers. 

You can also browse through our Green Building and Lifestyle Directory, which includes some companies that may be able to give you further advice on how to improve the sustainability of your business. 

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This guidance section has been created thanks to support from South Lakeland District Council.