Survival of the Greenest: How Your Business Can Reduce Its Carbon Footprint

By Jonny Prest

Picture this: the year is 2007. You’ve just returned home with the latest movie release from Blockbuster – but not before poring over the newest Blackberry model (oh, how you wish you were cool and important enough to own the decade’s must-have phone). 

It’s a familiar scene to many of us. However, in just a few short years, these early-noughties staples would become relics of the past. Soaring with a market share of 43% in 2010, the industry Goliath, Blackberry, saw its market share fall to just 5.9% three years later. In 2010 Blockbuster drowned in revenue losses of $1.1 billion. 

What went wrong? The inability to change, re-strategise and embrace transformation to keep at the forefront of consumer trends. 

With significant momentum toward a net zero economy and increasingly strident calls for companies to prioritise climate action, sustainability is the next frontier of business transformation. Conscious consumerism is in. History has proven that companies that fail to innovate and stay ahead of the curve of trends suffer (RIP Blackberry and Blockbuster). Those who don’t take proactive climate action in time will be left in the dust by those that do. It’s survival of the greenest. 

With sustainability increasingly becoming a necessity for businesses due to changing perspectives around the world, a do-nothing approach can mean bigger losses in the future. Dr Bruno Gallotta, University of Derby, explains why businesses should make the commitment to sustainability with more urgency and intent:

Sustainability makes business sense. We know that there is a growing demand from customers who are interested in sustainability and companies that have pro-environmental practices. Several studies indicate that younger generations (gen z and gen x) are willing to pay more for sustainable/ low carbon products and are more likely to have a pro-environmental life (changing habits, such as opting for cycling and vegan diets) and look for jobs that reflect their values and views. Basically, being pro-environmental makes companies more attractive to consumers, investors and future staff.

Assemble a Green Team and Get Leadership on Board

Group of young professionals sitting around a table having a meeting

So, you’ve made the commitment to more sustainable business practices, but now what? Passionate people within organisations who want to create change are the backbone of any business transformation, but they cannot do the job alone. To create lasting sustainability outcomes, leadership buy-in is a huge factor to success. 

Begin by creating a green team, ideally made up of at least one person from each department. A company’s sustainability goals are best achieved when they allow different teams to represent the concerns and needs of their respective groups. With a team of allies in place, you can then get to work as a team to approach leadership together. The key here is to frame sustainability as an opportunity. Will increased sustainability impact customer perceptions? Will new, sustainable ways of working increase operational efficiency and, in turn, save money? 

The role of leadership teams is to safeguard the long-term value of a business, and aligning incentives alongside long-term business goals/successes is crucial. 

Take Advantage of Sustainability Support

When it comes to sustainability, there is always innovation to learn from. From training and mentoring support to funding and resources, there is a wealth of support out there to help your business achieve its eco goals. Initiatives all over the UK support businesses of all shapes and sizes in engaging with the green agenda; for example, the East Midlands Chamber offer:  

  • 6-week and 12-week graduate and postgraduate placements for businesses seeking to employ a graduate for a Net Zero role.
  • Decarbonisation plan support (including the ability to calculate and manage your carbon footprint) via the Zellar sustainability platform.  
  • Masterclasses and workshops with the University of Derby – past events include:
    • Decarbonising operations and premises
    • Electric fleet transformation
    • Environmental accreditation and management training
    • Net Zero transformation project group – facilitated peer network
    • Smart analytics for factories, offices and other workspaces.
  • Sustainability audits in areas such as energy, water, waste, procurement and travel.
  • SME food and drink manufacturer support from the Food and Drink Forum.

Wherever you are in your sustainability journey, take advantage of the initiatives in your local area that will help you manage the risks of climate change and build resilience. 

Measure, Monitor, Manage

A light switch with two switches - one is off and one is on. Coming out of the top of the switches is a black cut-out sillhouette of factory smokestacks with billowing smoke. CO2 is written in the cloud of smoke.

Before being able to confront a problem, its existence needs to be identified. It’s easy to leap to poor solutions when there’s no strong grasp of the facts. NatWest Group research has revealed that 87% of UK SMEs are unaware of their business’s total carbon emissions, yet the process of measuring your company’s carbon footprint is an important first step in your sustainability journey. There are many tools available that allow you to identify emissions hotspots within your business operations – from energy, fuel to travel. Armed with this information, you can then begin to identify the best strategic approach to reducing emissions and setting targets. 

Travel Greener 

Daily commuter journeys make up 15% of all journeys in the UK and contribute to 5% of the UK’s total emissions. It’s clear that commuting has a significant impact on the environment, and if companies want to reduce their emissions, revolutionising the way employees travel to work is key. Depending on your sector, road travel might be an inevitable part of your business, but making simple switches such as encouraging carpooling, switching to EV fleets and offering free or discounted public transport tickets can limit the emissions of your company. 

Join the Low Carbon Business Network

As with any business change, companies are more likely to succeed with the right support networks in place. The Low Carbon Business Network is a by-product of the DE-Carbonise project, a collaboration between the University of Derby, Derby City and Derbyshire County Councils to provide a comprehensive programme of assistance to SMEs seeking to reduce their carbon emissions. 

The network connects businesses that are inspired to put green practices in place across their organisation, whatever the size or sector. By joining the Low Carbon Business Network, you can:

  • Raise your visibility with large organisations looking to add businesses like yours to their supply chain. The network’s map raises your visibility amongst the growing number of pro-environmental businesses in the region.
  • Access free resources to help boost demand for your low-carbon goods and services.
  • Access free resources to support your journey to net zero.
  • Find out about specialist pro-environmental workshops. 
  • Join networking events.
  • Receive newsletters with relevant information about future events and grant opportunities.
  • Be part of a growing pro-environmental community of businesses with over 190 members.

Not local to the Derby region but want support on reducing your footprint? The network has launched its own podcast – the Low Carbon Business Podcast – so that you can develop your corporate strategy for sustainability, no matter where you are in the UK. 

A useful resource for public sector businesses within the Midlands region is the Midlands Net Zero Hub, which supports organisations to develop and finance local energy projects and transform energy systems across the region.

A Brighter Future Ahead

While there are many strategies and tactics you can take to reduce your carbon footprint, one thread remains the same: businesses that fail to form authentic and effective strides towards sustainability are businesses without competitive futures. 

Do you need a hand establishing your brand purpose? Sometimes an outside perspective can help you to understand your guiding principles. If you’re a business striving to make positive change, get in touch

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Written in collaboration with Naomi Couper

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