Last week, we attended ‘A Practical Guide to Achieving Net Zero in Start-Ups’ -- an event and panel discussion part of London Tech Week’s exciting “fringe” line-up, hosted by TechZero and ECG_VC. The webinar’s aim was to provide start-ups with a detailed insight into measuring the carbon footprint of their business, and to offer guidance on how to set their net zero target off the back of that.
We heard from a range of speakers from an even wider range of industries, including Tessa Clarke and Anne-Charlotte Mornington from OLIO; Karen McCormick, Chief Investment Officer for Beringea; Ben Knight of Fintech GoCardless; Garreth Griffith, Chief Risk Officer/Chief Impact Officer at Habito; Matus Maar of Talis Capital; Lucette Demets, Head of Sustainability at London & Partners; LuBomila Jordanova from Plan A; and Amy Lewin, Deputy Editor of Sifted.
The consensus? It’s not always simple to eliminate or even reduce your carbon footprint, but it also doesn’t have to be difficult. There are simple and efficient steps you can take towards making your business carbon neutral -- even as soon as after you finish this article.
1. Just Get Started
As Ben Knight said in the webinar, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good -- even if you don’t have a perfect plan for eliminating emissions, just get started. You don’t need to be an expert, nor eliminate emissions right off the bat, to make steps towards environmental change for the overall good of our planet and its people. In fact, reduction should be your main focus to begin with. You can even consider reading this article and getting informed as your first step towards developing a business that is carbon neutral.
What Lubomila Jordanova from Plan A did make clear, however, is that you should at least know and understand the basic terms. These are,
- Carbon Neutral - a state of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. In order to achieve net zero emissions, all worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will have to be counterbalanced by carbon sequestration.
- Greenwashing - Sustainability used as a marketing tool, rather than for actual impact. This deceives consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly or have energy-saving benefits, when this is not the case.
- ESG - A set of criteria designed to scan companies for their potential environmental impact (more on this in the next step).
2. Calculate Your Carbon Emissions
To get started, you should first calculate your carbon emissions. You can do this using ESG, a set of criteria designed to scan early-stage companies for their potential impact -- a response to the urgent, social, environmental and economic challenges that face these businesses.
The ESG is split into three sections: environmental, social and governance. In this article, we will focus on environmental, which takes into account your performance on emissions, waste management, and overall pollution.
Within the Environmental section of the ESG, there are three sources of emissions that any company will create. As we heard from LuBomila Jordanova from Plan A, these are known as scopes.
Scope 1. Direct: e.g. Company Facilities, Offices, Storage, Vehicles, Transportation.
Scope 2. Indirect: e.g. Electricity, Heating, Air Conditioning Units.
Scope 3. Indirect e.g. Suppliers, and other third parties.
Sources will differ between businesses so look inwards and think about what your emission sources are and under what scope they'd fall -- you know your business best.
“The way the Greenhouse Gas Protocol thinks about Scopes is in concentric circles. Scope 1 is the closest to you as a business — the parts you have direct control over, so your [vehicle] fleet, or something else you own. Scope 2 is indirect emissions, such as the electricity you purchase. Scope 3 is basically everything else. It’s what you have the least direct [control] over, because it’s the farthest away from your business. If you buy [products] from a factory, for example, the production of the product would fall under Scope 3.” - Sustain Newsletter, Sifted.
The next step is to access and collate this data. To begin with, this might just look like gas and electric bills and your expensed business trips, but you should also endeavour to investigate your recycling scheme; supply chains; office food supplies; hardware; website host and server; and your team’s commuting behaviour.
When you’ve got this data, and indeed if you need more help knowing what data to get to begin with, there are a host of free tools you can use to calculate your carbon footprint in more detail. The Carbon Footprint Calculator from Carbon Trust has been designed to help UK based SMEs measure their corporate emission footprint. Alternatively, Much Better Adventures have released a toolkit (with a spreadsheet!) to help.
You can also outsource an expert like Plan A to make accurate calculations and bespoke solutions for your business and its footprint.
3. Aim for Quick Wins
Anne-Charlotte of OLIO advises that, once you’ve looked at a calculator and established where you’ve got the most emissions, go for the quick wins. These are easier, carbon-reducing acts that can be implemented in the short term.
This might include switching energy providers (for Habito, this reduced emissions by more than a quarter), eliminating single-use plastic from the office, or changing your website provider to a greener host. On the topic of a greener host, this Website Carbon Calculator will let you know how much carbon your website uses, how this converts over time, and advice on how to lower this.
You might have even experienced a quick win with the recent lockdown. Working from home, or a hybrid approach to work, reduces your commute and time spent in the office, leading to a reduction in your carbon emissions. You could even consider moving your workforce to an on demand coworking space like Tramshed Tech in Cardiff, where there is a focus on shared resources, utilities, appliances and supplies, and one set of utility accounts for many different businesses.
Your more carbon intensive sources of emission might require a little more time however.
4. Plan Ahead for The Long-Term, Bigger Changes
Carbon intensive changes will require you to plan ahead. For example, if your office or company vehicles are a significant cause of emissions, you (likely) won’t turn the keys over that week. However, over time, you might consider changing to an electric car that emits less carbon, or eliminating transport altogether.
Likewise, the next time it comes to replacing your office equipment, plan ahead and purchase refurbished and recycled IT equipment.
What Garreth Griffith wish he'd known before Habito started their mission towards net zero is to build capture and monitoring into your systems right from the start - i.e. the data and info needed to measure your carbon footprint. This saves you time when preparing for your final carbon emissions report but, more importantly, it allows you to track your progress more dynamically (by day, week, month) rather than just at the end of the year. The more data means the easier it is to learn, iterate and course change as you go.
5. Reap The Benefits
Alongside the obvious benefits for the environment, reducing your carbon footprint benefits your business.
There are clear financial benefits with a reduction in energy and costs, as well as a reduction in risk for the future if you moved to a carbon beneficial scheme later. As Karen McCormick put it, there is also a degree of common sense; why wouldn't you use a better alternative?
You'll also see an increase in revenue as people tend to prefer to do business with socially and environmentally responsible companies: a study of consumers in the UK and the US found that 88% would choose the brands that would help them be more environmentally friendly and ethical. This is the same for your employees too. According to Deloit, 67% of millennials research sustainability credentials before applying for a job; the more sustainable your business then, the higher the attraction and retention rate of staff.
Not to mention that investors, limited partners, and stockholders are more than aware that this is an important agenda -- not just because it is a common sense, but because it also makes business sense. When surveying your business then, this is something that will factor into their decision.
...and that's it! You're on your way to making your business more carbon neutral. Remember to utilise those online tools and, remember, this is not always a perfect process, but it is an essential one.