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The future is green: 5 ways you can make your business more environmentally friendly

February 2, 2021
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The public is more aware of the impact humans are having on the environment than ever before, and they expect businesses to do their bit too.

With the dark cloud of COVID-19 continuing to pose immeasurable challenges to our nation’s public health and economy, it may seem futile to search for a silver lining. However, since the coronavirus first squeezed the breaks on life as we knew it back in March of 2020, its impact on our global environment has proven to be just that. To be specific, since the virus forced many of us to carry out our operations at home, air pollution levels across Western Europe, the U.S, and northern China dropped by as much as 60%, according to this study. And, closer to home, during the first two months of lockdown, some areas in the U.K. saw nitrogen dioxide levels decrease by up to 64%.

Despite this victory, however, with vaccination efforts currently being rolled out across the world, many of us are slowly preparing to get back to life as normal. So, with human activity expected to pick up to pre-covid levels sometime in the nearish future, now seems like an optimal time for business owners to reflect on their environmental footprint. Also, aside from the obvious ecological motives, adapting a greener tact can actually improve a businesses bottom line in a variety of ways.

But, aside from adding a couple more recycling bins and a refillable water station to your office, what else can you do to make your business more environmentally friendly? In this article, we’re going to show you by outlining five simple (but effective) ways to make your business more environmentally friendly; before suggesting how you can implement them in your own workplace. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how your small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) can turn over a new green leaf this year.

Embrace working from home

2020 oversaw a radical change to the way we work. As a result of the first national lockdown was announced in March, nearly half of the British workforce were forced to carry out at least some of their practices remotely. Despite initial concerns that this switch would lead to a lack of productivity and innovation, the new reality of work proved to be popular, with 57% of us expressing a desire to work from home at least some of the time after the coronavirus crisis is over, according to one YouGov study. In addition to proving popular with employees, working from home can also improve your company’s environmental footprint in a variety of ways, namely by reducing carbon emissions and decreasing the use of single-use plastics.

Moving your operations out of your offices and into peoples homes is the quickest way to reduce your carbon footprint. Since 67% of the UK workforce travelled to work using a car or van before COVID-19, by enabling your team to continue working from home after the virus, it has the power to significantly cut your whole company’s carbon emissions. This doesn’t mean you need to go remote 100% of the time. According to findings from Global Workplace Analytics, if people who were able to work from home conducted their practices remotely just half the time, the global greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent to taking the whole New York State workforce off the road permanently.

According to data from Breathe London, since Londoners began working from home at the start of the pandemic, emissions decreased 25% during the morning commute, and 34% during the evening commute. Based on the findings of this data, if we continued to embrace working from home, we could slash around 11 billion car miles per year, which would cut greenhouse emissions by 3.3 million tonnes in London alone. So, with low air pollution in urban centres like London, Birmingham, and Manchester continuing to pose a threat to its inhabitants (not to mention the environment around them), cutting down the daily commute could be an effective way to improve air quality in cities, as well as in their surrounding suburbs.

In addition to air pollution, another negative consequence of working in a shared office space is the increased use of single-use plastics. From Pret-A-Manger lunches to disposable plastic cups at the water cooler, disposable plastic waste generated in workspaces contributes heavily to the 300 million tons of plastic disposed into the ocean each year. So, by switching tacts and encouraging your workforce to embrace remote work, you also have the power to dramatically decrease your employees’ daily plastic use.

How can I keep this up in the long term?

So, if you’re interested in making your business more remote in the long term, there are a couple of things you should consider. First of all, it’s crucial to implement a robust communication strategy across the team so everyone can stay connected and information can be relayed quickly. This can be achieved by harnessing online tools like Google Drive, Slack, Zoom, or DropBox, to name a few.

Secondly, developing an employee WFH contract that takes the new realities of remote working into consideration is also an excellent way to safeguard you and your employees against the impact of these new arrangements. Lastly, looking after your employee’s mental health is paramount. Therefore, by checking in with them regularly, offering them the option to work in shared social spaces if requested, or by sending them care packages, it’s likely to help employees settle into this new reality much easier.

Encourage green transportation

If you aren’t quite ready to take the leap into long-term remote work, it might be sensible to encourage your team to use greener forms of transportation. As we’ve just gone over, carbon emissions are a big problem facing our generation, so the more we adopt carbon-neutral commuting methods, the more chance we have in reducing hazardous levels of air pollution. Additionally, by rewarding your team for choosing to cycle, walk, or even run to work, it could massively benefit the health of your workforce. And with a cycle to work proving to be 50% faster than driving during the rush hour, it could also improve the efficiency of commuting, as this study points out.

Luckily, it seems like this switch to carbon-neutral commuting is already starting to take place. Ever since the coronavirus first hit the U.K., widespread fears of contamination have dramatically changed the way we use public transport. With findings from this First Voice study suggesting that, even after the pandemic is over, it’s unlikely that we will commute in the same way again, now seems like the perfect time to embrace environmentally-conscious alternatives. But how can you go about making these changes?

How can this be done?

Business owners can adopt this strategy using many different methods. By pushing a bicycle-friendly policy in your workplace, it’s a promising way to pave the way for more alternative forms of travel. You can do this by providing employees with a storage area for their bikes, helmets, and equipment, designating an elevator for those who want to park their bikes in the office space upstairs, or installing showers to help staff members freshen up after they’ve completed their morning commute. Additionally, you could also ask your H.R. team to create and circulate maps that highlight safe bicycle routes, making sure that they include paths to as many of your employees’ neighbourhoods as possible.

Another way to implement greener modes of commuting is by getting your business to join the government’s Cycle to Work Scheme. The scheme operates as a ‘salary sacrifice scheme,’ which means that, if employees enrol themselves, they are agreeing to exchange part of their salary for a bicycle (before tax and national insurance is applied). Introduced by the Department for Transport as part of an effort to encourage healthy living while reducing pollution, this scheme can save the employer National Insurance Contributions of up to 13.8%, and save employees around 25-39% on the cost of a new bicycle.

If you pay your employees through the Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) system, your company will be eligible to join, and it is also available to directors of limited companies, even if they only operate with one sole employee.

Consider using more sustainable energy sources

With large businesses like Google, M&S, and IKEA already pledging to switch to more renewable energy supplies as part of the RE100 initiative, now is clearly a great time to get your SME into greener energy solutions. There seem to be more renewable energy options out there than ever before, from solar panels to kinetic energy adapters that create electricity from pedalling bicycles. So, why might it be smart for your business to adopt more eco-conscious energy solutions?

First of all, sustainable energy sources help your business to be less reliant on fossil fuels. Traditional electricity is sourced from finite fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal, and mining for these resources is often a highly arduous process which can leave dangerous pollutants in the earth, and can even lead to water supplies being contaminated. In addition to this, when these fossil fuels are burned and converted into electricity, they release toxic particles like heavy metals and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Aside from posing health risks to humans, these dangerous gases also accelerate the process of climate change, so it’s in every businesses best interest to try to harness renewable energy as possible.

In addition to mitigating the effects of climate change, going green can also improve your company’s reputation by making your business seem more attractive to customers compared to those who are less eco-conscious. Since pressing environmental concerns are encouraging an increasing amount of us to be environmentally aware, by emphasising a sustainable approach to business, consumers and fellow SMEs will be much more willing to show support. Additionally, by making your company’s environmental values public, you’ll also increase your chances of finding like-minded employees.

How can my business switch to renewable energy?

Before you go about overhauling all your pre-existing systems, you should make sure your company has received planning permission from the relevant authority. And to make sure you’re choosing the best renewable option for your specific business, it’s recommended to take the Low Carbon and Renewable Energy Economy Survey before any changes are made. When your business has decided on an option that is best suited to its needs and individual circumstances, you need to make sure your installer has been approved under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) to ensure all changes are made to the highest standard possible. So, with all this in mind, here’s the rundown of two popular renewable energy options.

Solar - Standing as the most commonly-used method for generating sustainable energy, solar energy requires relatively low start-up costs. Once the systems are up, they are essentially maintenance-free. From installing solar P.V. panels to generate electricity to using this power to heat up your company’s water tank, there are a few different ways to harness solar power. In terms of investments, small-scale solar panels can cost anything from around £5,000-£10,000 to install, and solar thermal energy systems cost typically less than £5,000.

Wind - For companies that are willing to invest larger amounts of capital, wind turbines can also be used to generate electricity. They’re more suitable to businesses who have acres of building-free land, and due to the scale of the project, start-up costs tend to be much steeper than other renewable energy methods. For instance, microturbines that generate 2.5-6 thousand watts can cost up to £10,000, and larger turbines that generate 1-2.6 million watts can cost considerably more, at up to £3.3 million.

Reduce your waste

Business waste is the term used to refer to waste material that’s produced by commercial entities. According to the Waste Resources Action Programme, It makes up around ¼ of all waste that is created in England, and the main types of business waste include general, dry mixed recycling, food, clinical, glass, and e-waste.

It’s in a businesses best interest to manage their waste levels for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost because it is their legal and civic responsibility to do so. Every UK SME with a registered business site is legally required to dispose of their business waste responsibly. Suppose a business doesn’t correctly dispose of their waste. In that case, they can be convicted of illegal waste disposal under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and this can result in unlimited fines being sanctioned against them.

Furthermore, under the same act, U.K. businesses are subjected to a Duty of Care, meaning that their waste is not meant to cause any damage to people or the environment; and that any waste generated must be kept to a minimum. With types of e-waste like mobile phones, computers, and tablets causing particular harm to our health and our surrounding environment, it’s increasingly important that business owners understand how to dispose of such items safely and efficiently.

What’s the best way to reduce my company’s waste?

You’ve probably heard this one a thousand times before, but one of the best ways to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill is to recycle, recycle, recycle. Although, fortunately, this is already standard practice in most workplaces in the U.K., a lot of recyclable materials are often unable to be processed due to a lack of education around the subject. So, by informing your staff about what products are able to be recycled, the various states they have to be in, and the location of the bins in your office, it may drastically decrease your company’s waste levels.

Going one step better than recycling, the best way to reduce your company’s waste levels is to not create as much surplus in the first place. Since paper is up there with businesses’ most-wasted materials, cutting down on paper use (or going completely paper-free) is a simple and effective way to cut down waste in the long term. Since most SMEs in the U.K. already rely on digital technologies, it’s becoming easier and easier to make the switch to a paperless workplace. Additionally, by using digital channels to conduct daily functions, such as communicating with clients and paying bills, it also saves the company a lot of money in the long run, making the obvious choice for any forward-thinking SME.

Finally, another way to improve your company’s waste habits is by partnering up with experts in the waste field. This is because, by teaming up with local experts, you’ll be able to streamline your businesses waste management strategy and work together and figure out what positive changes can be made in your workplace.

Track your energy consumption

Akin to the importance of managing your bodily waste, it’s also crucial that your business tries to reduce its energy waste, too. Luckily, a growing amount of digital technologies like smart sensors and algorithms designed to track energy uses in different parts of the building are helping businesses to track their energy consumption. So, here are a couple of reasons why it’s becoming increasingly important to harness these technologies.

First of all, if your workplace is relying on non-renewable sources of energy, using too much energy can significantly increase your company’s carbon footprint. According to the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, 18% of the U.K.’s net greenhouse gas emissions are created by businesses in the form of electricity use, heating, and waste. Therefore, by taking care to reduce energy waste where possible, businesses are able to try and have a less detrimental impact on their surrounding environment.

Secondly, unnecessary energy waste ends up costing businesses big bucks. To be specific, according to a report from Green Alliance, it was calculated that businesses annually pay around £60 million in unnecessary energy bills as a result of corporate energy wastage. The research also found that the energy wasted by offices in the City of London could be used to power upwards of 65,000 homes, which is equivalent to the electricity required to power Kingston upon Thames.

By utilising energy optimisation systems that are powered by artificial intelligence (A.I.), it’s estimated that energy consumption can be reduced by as much as 14% in a couple of months. So, to follow this logic, it’s possible that businesses within the City of London could collectively save up to £13 million in energy bills if they all chose to integrate these smart technologies.

How can I track my business’s energy consumption?

The easiest way to monitor your company’s energy use is by installing smart meters. Smart meters are digital devices that tell you, in real-time, how much energy you are using. In addition to this, they also automatically send your businesses data over to your energy supplier, so your bills won’t have to be estimated, and you don’t need to continue manually reading your meters- saving you time, money, and helping you stay green, too.

Smart meters often give the users live comparisons, so you can measure how much energy you’re using, helping you to tailor your consumption so less of the energy you use is wasted. Additionally, some more advanced smart meters can enable managers to track the energy consumption of individual pieces of machinery, so if you operate a larger business, or if your operations rely on a lot of machinery, this is a great way to control your overhead costs while minimising your impact on the environment.

Even though in the long run switching to more environmentally-friendly initiatives can help your company to save on costs while also make your brand appealing to consumers, sometimes the setup costs of going green are enough to deter some SMEs from taking their first steps. If this sounds familiar, it’s possible that MarketFinance could be able to help. MarketFinance provides SMEs across the U.K. with financial advice and support in the form of interest-fee government-backed loans.

So, for more information on what we do here, or for more expert business guidance for your SME, simply visit us at our site here.

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