In June 2019, the UK government took a significant step by making a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050. As businesses are a significant consumer of energy, with the industry and service sectors making up roughly 30% of the UK’s final energy consumption in 2016, they will have a major role to play as the UK aims to meet this target. Although the proportion of renewably-sourced energy is increasing, and harmful emissions from businesses have decreased over the years, many companies can still do more to improve their ‘green’ credentials.
Thanks to government initiatives and global organisations such as The Climate Group and The Carbon Trust, there is a considerable focus on creating environmentally-friendly businesses. So, what more can your business do to become greener?
Before looking at ways to become more eco-friendly, businesses should calculate their current energy usage. By assessing their eco impact, they can identify where they use their energy, where energy is being wasted, and consequently where they can cut down and make a difference.
Online resources and advisors from organisations, both local and national, can help businesses to calculate their carbon usage and environmental impact, and offer guidance on where they can make savings.
One such example is Business Energy Efficiency Anglia (www.beeanglia.org), which has helped hundreds of businesses to get to grips with their energy use. They make recommendations on how businesses can become more eco-friendly, and can also offer grants and support to businesses looking to enhance their green credentials. BEE Anglia claims to identify savings of £6,000, or 40 tonnes of carbon, per business on average.
“Generally the first step should be to understand what your impacts are. It’s a cliché that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, but it’s rule number one for greening your business.” - BEE Anglia
Workplace guidance recommends temperatures are kept at around 16°C, or lower for more physical work, but keeping the premises at this temperature can use up a lot of energy. Whether it’s heating the workplace throughout the winter months or trying to keep cool during the all-too-brief summer, businesses use (and waste) a lot of energy trying to maintain a comfortable temperature.
As well as using ‘green’ energy suppliers, which is discussed more later on, there are also some environmentally-friendly, low-carbon heating systems businesses could consider, such as biomass boilers and heat pumps.
There are two main kinds of heat pump- geothermal (or ground-source) and air. Instead of generating heat to warm a building, they simply transfer heat from one area to another which requires much less energy. As well as heating, many pumps can also cool a building too.
There are different varieties of ground-source pumps, depending on how much space is available and the layout of the site. Closed-loop pumps are the more common system, and they essentially use refrigerant liquids and electricity to extract heat from the ground, which is then compressed in a heat exchanger before being ready to use.
Air-source pumps also transfer heat, this time from the air rather than the ground. The air is compressed, which causes its temperature to rise, and this is then used to heat the building.
Because heat pumps only use electricity, they produce a significantly lower level of carbon emissions than traditional systems. According to the Energy Saving Trust, ground-source and air-source pumps can save between 1,500kg to 2,320 kg of carbon dioxide per year compared to a new, A-rated gas boiler. The savings can be even greater compared to older and less efficient boilers, including gas, electric, oil and LPG models.
The coefficient of performance (COP) of a heat pump is typically around 4, although this does vary between manufacturers and individual pumps. What this means is that with 1kwh of electricity, pumps can generate 4kwh of energy, which is generally more efficient than most standard boilers for example.
Installing heat pumps does require a fairly sizeable initial investment. Ground-source pumps can cost from around £10,000 to £18,000, whilst air-source pumps come in slightly cheaper at around £6,000 to £8,000 (Energy Saving Trust).
However, businesses may be able to get some financial assistance from organisations and even the government, as long as the installation complies with certain specific requirements. The Non- Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was one channel of help available to businesses, but this is due to end in 2021.
This depends on the individual pump but, although they definitely function better in warmer temperatures, pumps can still work when it’s colder outside. The pump may have to work harder and their efficiency and heating capacity may decline, but they can still perform even if the outside temperature is as low as -15°C.
Whether it’s lighting, computers, or other appliances, businesses consume a lot of electricity. Because of this, this is an area where they can make significant savings, whether it’s cutting down usage, buying energy-efficient equipment, or using renewable electricity.
Businesses can reduce their energy usage simply by ensuring they have up-to-date technology. The latest, upgraded appliances and models tend to have better energy efficiency ratings, which can result in big financial savings as well as being more eco-friendly. For example, laptops generally consume up to 80% less electricity than desktop computers and LED lights use up to 90% less energy than old-style incandescent bulbs (according to Which?).
As well as cutting down electricity usage, choosing a renewable energy supplier is another key step to becoming an eco-friendly business.
In addition to ‘standard’ tariffs, which tend to contain a mixture of renewable and non-renewable fuels, many energy companies now offer a specific ‘green’ tariff. There are also an increasing number of energy companies which promise to only sell 100% renewable electricity.
However, although the tariff or company may be described as ‘100% renewable’, this doesn’t guarantee that your supply comes solely from renewable sources as all electricity, whatever its origins, comes from the National Grid. If a supplier claims to provide 100% renewable electricity, it means that they should at least match the amount of energy they sell to customers with renewable energy purchases.
Some energy companies may also ‘carbon offset’ and invest into renewable energy developments and sustainability projects such as wind farms.
By law, UK suppliers have to disclose the mix of fuels they use to generate their electricity, and also have an obligation to source increasing amounts of their energy from renewable origins. This makes it easier for businesses to research a supplier’s green credentials and switch to one which promotes renewable energy sources.
This emphasis on renewable energy is having a real impact too, as generation of renewable electricity, excluding nuclear, increased by 11.8% from 2017-18 (according to the UK’s 2018 Energy Statistics). This is supported by figures released by the National Grid which show that, between January and May 2019, Britain got more of its electricity from zero-carbon sources (renewables, nuclear, and imports) than from fossil fuels.
Several leading brands, such as Nestle, Apple and Ikea, have made major investments in renewable energy and generate their own electricity, to power their own premises and/or feed it back into the National Grid. This may be something other businesses could consider, by installing solar panels on their building for example.
There are three main ways to become greener from your paper usage.
Instead of automatically printing out items, such as statements, invoices, and agendas, stop and ask yourself if you really need to print them or if they can be sent via shared drives or email. By sending them online, people can still easily access the documents and print them themselves if they want or need to!
Of course, sometimes using paper is unavoidable. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t still work towards becoming a green business.
Paper can be recycled approximately 4-6 times until the fibres become too short to make any new sheets, so disposing of it correctly allows this sustainable cycle to continue. Furthermore, recycling paper isn’t just an environmentally-friendly disposal method, compared to landfill and incineration for example, but also for producing new sheets of paper.
Producing paper from recycled material can use anywhere from 30% to 70% less energy and harmful emissions than manufacturing paper from new, although this does depend on the type of paper involved.
“Business recycling is often a misunderstood industry. Even in DEFRA’s latest waste consultation it claimed that “very little non-household municipal waste is segregated for recycling”. In our experience however, the majority of businesses already do recycle to some degree.
One sector that does particularly well are offices as they tend to have relatively low levels of contamination. For instance, food easily contaminates waste streams that could otherwise be recycled; such as paper. Paper makes up to 80% of office waste and typically offices have low level of food. Thereby, once engaged, offices tend to have good recycling rates.
There are a few challenges to overcome [in convincing firms to recycle], such as building trust and promoting long term behaviour change." - Paper Round
As well as paper, disposing of old equipment correctly is also an important way for businesses to become greener. Rather than grouping all items together as general waste for landfill, separate them and look at how you can dispose of them more effectively.
For example, rather than throwing away old technology, appliances and other office equipment, recycle them! You could donate them so they can be re-used or, if they are broken, you may be able to take them to a specific organisation where they can be dismantled and disposed of correctly.
Ink cartridges are other items that can be recycled but often aren’t. Instead of throwing them into the bin, businesses can take them to a set recycling point (which may be found at certain shops and retail outlets), or send them to/have them collected by a specific organisation which is authorised to deal with them. Some companies which sell cartridges may also have a scheme to take back the used ones and recycle them.
To facilitate and support these recycling processes, separating paper, cans, glass, and other recyclable products from general waste is an important green business practice.
Paper Round is a commercial recycling and waste-management company that works with businesses of all sizes to help them recycle effectively and promote a circular economy. They ensure the waste gets recycled separately at specific plants across the UK and Europe, and this waste is then transformed into new products, such as eco-office supplies, clothing, reusable bottles, and more!
"Unfortunately, in the past some companies in the industry have made mistakes in giving out false statistics and not being ethical in recycling waste. When news breaks that supposedly recycled items are ending up being dumped or burnt in developing countries, it means we have to take extra time to explain our zero-to-landfill policy and the fact that we don’t export any products outside Europe.
Similarly, one of the biggest determining factors of an organisation’s recycling rate is the commitment from a client and its employees to do the right thing in the longer term. Our job is to use our recycling expertise to make significant initial recycling improvements, but then also engage with customers in the longer term to maintain and continue to grow them, based on latest best practice.” - Paper Round
With 68% of us commuting to work by car in 2017 (according to the Department for Transport), this is an area which is ripe for green improvements. Of course, how easy it is to change your commute depends on where the workplace is located and where your employees live.
Walking, cycling, and using public transport are the major ways to reduce the environmental impact of a commute, but these are not always feasible options. However, there are an increasing number of ‘green’ commuting options available to employees and businesses, particularly car-sharing.
Car-sharing is a good alternative if the other more eco-friendly options aren’t possible, as it reduces the number of cars on the road, therefore reducing harmful emissions. Trying to haphazardly organise lifts and car-sharing can be difficult, and may explain why more people don’t do it. However, there are a growing number of car-share companies to help people, and businesses, to coordinate lifts, which makes it an easier and more attractive option to commuters.
Online platforms and apps enable businesses to create their own car-sharing system for their employees. From providing designated car-sharing parking spaces to establishing a structure that allows employees and employers to see the sustainable ways they can commute to work; these sites can help businesses implement a more coordinated approach to car-sharing.
Transport accounted for 40% of the UK’s final energy consumption in 2017, even greater than industry and domestic consumption. And with businesses owning over 50% of all registered vehicles on the road (according to The Climate Group), they can certainly make changes to become greener.
Electric vehicles are an increasingly popular and viable option to reduce car emissions. There is a greater focus on making electric cars a practical choice for businesses, with several schemes set up to facilitate the transition from fuel to electric vehicles. For example, The Climate Group created the EV100, an initiative which aims to make electric vehicles the ‘new normal’ by 2030.
Businesses could particularly look into electrifying their vehicles if they have a fleet of company cars. Although there are points to consider such as the expense and the convenience of charging ports, there are grants available which can help businesses incorporate electric vehicles into their company.
This is certainly not an option for every business, but office-based companies where employees work a lot on computers may be able to incorporate remote working into their policy. By working from home and eliminating the commute, this can significantly reduce the eco impact of the business and its employees.
With emails, cloud storage, online organisational apps, instant messaging, and video calling software, many office workers would be able to perform a lot of their duties effectively from home. Even holding a virtual meeting with a client, rather than travelling a great distance to meet in person, could add up and result in significant environmental savings.
Some businesses take the plunge and are fully remote, but a more realistic option for most businesses might be to have a mixture of remote working and in-house working. This flexibility has also been argued to make a more productive and positive workforce that are happier in their job, so remote working could have more than just an environmental impact!
Using recycled paper has been covered already, but looking at where your other company supplies come from is just as important. Whether you’re a manufacturer, a shop, a restaurant, or simply an office, using sustainably-sourced items can improve your ‘green’ status.
Looking in particular at how offices can limit their environmental impact, they can use cards, envelopes, folders, pens and other items that are made from 100% recycled products, as well as recycled paper. Rather than buying a host of new products, they could also look at buying second- hand furniture, in addition to the following three points:
As well as recycling ink cartridges, businesses can purchase cartridges made from recycled materials, or even an EcoTank printer which removes the need for cartridges altogether. Instead, this printer has a large ink tank which you can fill up from replacement ink bottles. The initial cost of these printers is generally higher than other models, but the long-term benefit may make the investment worth it.
These are another quick and simple way for businesses to improve their ‘green’ profile. Bleaches, polish, and other cleaning liquids are often filled with lots of potentially harmful chemicals, but there are more environmentally-friendly options available which use natural ingredients and/or come in recycled, biodegradable bottles.
Whether they’re a restaurant, a company with a big canteen, or simply a company with a few drinks and snacks in a communal kitchen, businesses of all sizes and sectors can promote sustainability through the produce they supply. Buying local products and organic food for example, is one way to help to give your business a more eco-friendly profile. As these items generally involve less airmiles/emissions and use less energy-intensive technologies and chemicals in production, buying them helps to promote environmental biodiversity and sustainability.
Almost all businesses have a website or operate solely online, but this too has a significant environmental impact. Web hosting is an energy-intensive operation which has large data centres, high CPU and drive usage, and large cooling systems to manage the large amounts of heat generated.
Jack Amend, founder of the Web Neutral Project, calculated that the average website produces 4,500 pounds of CO2 equivalent each year.
In an effort to reduce their eco-footprint, some companies offer specific ‘green hosting’ options, but there are also increasing numbers of ‘green’ web hosting companies emerging. To limit their environmental impact, they may invest in carbon offsetting schemes and buy ‘clean’ renewable energy based on how much energy they use to power their operations. They also often support ‘green’ initiatives such as tree planting and wind farms to further promote sustainable actions.
Some other web hosting companies power their operations with renewable energy (as well as offsetting their carbon emissions) and aim to promote ‘green’ actions within their company. A major area they may tackle is their data centres, specifically the cooling systems, to make them as efficient as possible and use natural cooling methods if they can. For example, they may take advantage of the environment and use nearby water as a coolant, or even situate the centre in naturally cold regions. Many web hosting companies also look to dispose of their technology and hardware in an eco-friendly, sustainable way.
Although online services are useful for reducing paper waste, they do still have an eco-effect, so switching to a green web hosting company can help firms to become a more environmentally- friendly business.