Earth Day: simple actions businesses can take today to go green

22nd April is Earth Day, an annual event to raise awareness of the need to protect the planet.

Dyfi Distillery
Two men wearing aprons stand in the open doorway of Dyfi Distillery in Snowdonia.
Dyfi Distillery

In 2020, over a hundred million people marked the event’s 50th anniversary, and this year the US President is convening a global climate summit. This couldn’t be more timely; despite all the efforts of environmentalists, the planet is still on track to experience devastating temperature rises. 

A survey published last week found that over half of SMEs want to reduce their negative impact on the environment, but are discouraged because the necessary measures seem complex and costly. In honour of Earth Day, we have put together a list of simple actions that you can take today.

Switch to a greener energy supplier

A business on a standard “brown” tariff is effectively supporting the burning of fossil fuels, adding to the emissions that the earth so urgently needs to reduce. Switching to a truly green tariff means your business is doing the opposite: you will be supporting the generation of green energy from renewable sources. But beware the greenwash: many tariffs marketed as “green” don’t actually support the growth of the renewables industry at all. Ask the supplier how much of their energy is sourced directly from renewable generators before you switch.

Get more energy efficient

Most businesses are already aware of possible ways they could improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, such as insulation or boiler upgrades, but hesitate to carry out expensive or disruptive measures. Remember that energy efficiency isn’t just about buildings; it’s about how we use them. Small daily changes can make a big difference over the course of a year. For example:

  • Turn the heating down by a degree or two.
  • Make sure your heating timers are set to only warm the building when it’s in use.
  • Get staff in the habit of switching off lights when they leave a room.
  • If you have air conditioning, clean the components (such as fans) regularly.

Think about materials and packaging

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions isn’t just about energy. 45% of the world’s emissions come from how we make and use products (including food), which means that materials and packaging are a key part of the picture.

If your business makes products, imagine there is a monthly charge for every cubic foot of landfill occupied by your products and packaging. How much would it cost you? Could you cut the amount of waste by thinking about what happens to your products at the end of their lifespan and making them easier to recycle or more biodegradeable?

Packaging is an area where you may find a surprising number of “easy wins”. Are non-fragile items being cushioned in unnecessary bubble wrap or Styrofoam? Could more delicate items be protected just as well by biodegradeable bubble wrap or cornstarch chips?

Even if your business doesn’t make anything physical, there is still scope to be more environmentally responsible about materials. Roughly 95% of computers used by businesses end up in landfill, while some computers that have been thrown away end up in reprocessing plants overseas where workers risk their health to recover the chemicals in the electronic waste. Just using a reputable waste management firm for your old electronics can dramatically reduce your environmental footprint. 

Think about staff refreshments too. The UK gets through 2.5 billion one-use coffee cups in a year; could your canteen swap disposable cups, cutlery and plates for the real thing?

Encourage greener travel

Encourage your employees and customers to leave the car at home by making it convenient to reach you in other ways. Freestanding “toast rack” style bike parking is an easy low-commitment option because it doesn’t require any installation work (although you can bolt it to the ground for security once you’re happy with the location). You could also consider implementing a Cycle to Work scheme; check out the government guidance first.

Encouraging people to use public transport is important too. Could you offer customers a small discount if they show you their bus or train ticket? Could employees who use public transport get a free coffee? You will probably end up spending less on these perks than you do on maintaining the car park. 

And finally, sales of electric vehicles are booming, with more and more commuters wanting to charge them at work. One Point from Good Energy is an electric vehicle charging offering for UK businesses. It gives you access to EV and energy experts, to recommend, install and manage the maintenance of charging services that are best suited to your business and your people.

Create green champions

Making your business more environmentally sustainable isn’t a job for just one person; it’s a team effort, and you are more likely to achieve significant change if sustainability becomes part of the business culture. So why not appoint a green champion in every department to encourage their colleagues and suggest opportunities for improvement in the way your business works. Social norms are a powerful tool for effecting change, and so are the systems you put in place: people are more likely to do the green thing if they can see others doing it and if it’s easy. Are your recycling bins clearly labelled, regularly emptied and easier to access than your landfill bins? Is your bike parking safe and easy to get to? 

Addressing your company’s climate impact might require original thinking and problem solving, but if you’re running a small business these are probably among your strengths already. Taking a few simple steps today could make more of a difference than you think.

Discover some of the ways we’re helping businesses reduce their carbon footprint here.

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