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A Pathway to Carbon Reduction for SMEs: The journey is as important as the destination


Rosalind Kainyah walking and smiling

Each year I take a break to detox and relax in Austria. I love the long train journey from Vienna to my destination and back.


I always have a health or fitness goal in mind for each visit, but I use the train journey to reflect on my challenges and achievements since my last visit as I look out of the window and appreciate the absolutely beautiful landscapes we go through.


The journey is just as important to me as what I will do when I arrive at my destination. It puts me in the right frame of mind to achieve my goal. My achievements encourage and spur me on, and my challenges get me thinking about what I should change.


It is right that companies are required to set targets for managing the environmental and social impacts of their operations and to report on these. However, I would dare to say that regulators, investors and society as a whole, are more interested in how they are reaching their targets rather than simply in the targets. There is a danger of companies being so driven by reporting and showing that they are “the best in class”, that they forget to, dare I say, “enjoy” the journey of getting to their set targets.


So, Helen and I hope that our recent series on a pathway to carbon reduction for SMEs will help them in investing appropriately in the journey and to make a difference when they do get to their destination.


This article is a conclusion to that series, summarising 5 must-knows for SMEs in reducing their carbon footprint. If you would like additional information on any of the five points then please read our previous articles.


1. Develop your understanding of key terms


We’ve all heard of the terms carbon footprint, Net Zero and carbon neutral. But if you’re not sure exactly what they mean, then you’re definitely not alone.


Put simply, your carbon footprint is the emissions you produce and includes all greenhouse gases (GHG). It is often expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2-e).


Net Zero means achieving a balance between the amount of GHG produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. This involves reducing your emissions as much as possible, often by 90-95%, and then offsetting the remaining emissions.


Being carbon neutral means that you achieve a balance between the amount of emissions emitted and the amount offset. So, while Net Zero is all about reducing emissions, carbon neutrality allows for much more off-setting.


2. Measure your carbon footprint and set (realistic but ambitious) targets


There are plenty of tools out there to help you measure your emissions – such as Triplo’s Free Carbon Calculator. Whichever tool you use, you’ll need to start by collecting some data - for example what you spend on utilities, business travel, and products and services, the waste you produce, homeworking habits, and staff commuting.

Once you know your emissions, you can then set targets for how much you want to reduce your emissions and when you want to reach those targets. We would recommend setting both absolute and specific targets. For absolute targets, you could aim for a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030. For specific targets, you could aim to halve business travel emissions for example.


3. Start by opting for low-cost and easy actions.


You should start by prioritising low-cost and realistically achievable actions. Some of our favourite initiatives are starting a switch-off campaign, installing motion sensor lights, introducing car-share schemes to reduce the number of staff commuting, and going paperless.


Implementing these kinds of actions first is a great way to quickly and effectively reduce your carbon footprint whilst also building momentum. They help establish a culture of sustainability within the company and demonstrate your commitment to sustainability. These actions can then pave the way for more comprehensive and costly sustainability initiatives in the future.


4. Engage your employees


One of the most crucial (and all too often overlooked) steps is getting employees engaged and involved in everyday sustainability efforts. By involving all employees – from top management to front-line workers – companies can ensure their sustainability strategy isn’t something that just looks good on paper.


Again, some of our top initiatives are, educate employees about sustainability and the business case, offer incentives to employees, create healthy competition between departments or teams, and set up a green team.


5. Report on your progress


Lastly, report on your progress. This will help keep your employees motivated and act as evidence to your customers that you’re making positive changes.

As we’ve said before, for smaller businesses that are just starting we would recommend having a page on your website dedicated to sustainability where you can keep everyone updated.


When creating this page, you should include the actions you are taking (no matter how big or small, tell your stakeholders what you’re doing), your goals, the progress you are making, case studies, and the business benefits. It doesn’t have to be overly complex but remember to always be honest!


Wishing you all the very best on your pathway to carbon reduction. Remember to pause and reflect on:

  • your achievements to spur you on,

  • your challenges to make changes as soon as possible and.

  • the world around you, to learn from others.


We really do hope we have been helpful companions and would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.


Written by Rosalind Kainyah MBE and Helen Stickler. Rosalind is an authority on Sustainability and responsible business with over 30 years of combined legal, international, executive and board level experience. Her focus and passion is supporting African businesses to operate sustainably and profitably. Helen is the Co-Founder of Triplo ESG, a Sustainability advice platform that empowers smaller businesses.

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