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A Pathway to Carbon Reduction for SMEs: Low-Cost and Easy Actions

Rosalind Kainyah MBE speaking to an audience

Here we are in 2023. We have 27 years left to achieve the Net Zero carbon emissions target. Will we get there?

In our previous articles on a pathway to carbon reduction for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), we talked about:

  • why it’s important for SMEs around the world to be as involved as large enterprises in carbon reduction;

  • how SMEs can measure their carbon footprint and set carbon reduction targets; and

  • the role African SMEs should play in carbon reduction as the world adapts to climate change.

We would now like to share some simple, cost efficient and relatively low costs actions that SMEs can take to improve their carbon footprint. Even if some of these actions seem out of reach where your business is located, they could actually be opportunities for new products and services.

Buildings & Utilities

1. Install a smart or prepaid meter: Smart meters provide you with accurate and real-time data on your gas and electricity usage – showing you exactly how much energy you are using and what it’s costing you.

You could also install prepaid meters which provide better access to information on energy purchased and consumed. They are a great first step because once you know how much energy you are using it’s much easier to set targets to reduce your consumption.

2. Start a switch off campaign: A Switch-Off Campaign is a great and easy way to reduce energy consumption and raise awareness of energy efficiency among staff. We’re all guilty of leaving chargers, appliances, and lights on overnight but small behavioural changes can make a big difference. For example, switching computers off at night and at weekends can reduce your energy consumption by 75% per year.

3. Install motion sensor lights: Motion sensor lights are designed to turn on when they detect movement within a certain range, and then turn off again when they no longer detect movement. They are a great option for ensuring that lights are not left on in unoccupied rooms.

Motion sensor lights are most effective in areas that are not constantly occupied, have irregular usage patterns, or where occupancy may be unpredictable. For example, conference rooms, bathrooms and changing rooms, storage areas and corridors.

If an entire workplace system is too expensive you can get started by changing traditional light switches to motion sensor switches. These can be bought for around $25 to $60 and are simple to install. This review details some of the best options.

Staff commuting

1. Introduce a Cycle to Work Scheme: For countries where cycling on roads is safe, support your employees to cycle to work. In some countries you can do so through a Government sponsored scheme (for example, the UK Government’s Cycle2Work Scheme). Under the scheme, employees can purchase a bike through their employer tax-free and pay for it monthly through a salary sacrifice arrangement. In some cases, employees can save up to 50% on a new bike.

2. Introduce a lift-share scheme: Initiating a simple lift share scheme can help reduce the number of cars on the road. This can be done easily through a GoogleDoc or with tailored software. Employees just need to know who else commutes from the same area and who they could potentially share lifts with.


1. Encourage the use of public transport: Opting for public transport over cars is an important step in reducing carbon emissions related to transport. You could help facilitate this by providing staff with incentives to use public transport over cars or by putting on your own bus service.

2. Join a car club: Rather than have company cars - if you can afford them in the first place - your company can join a car club. This is a pay-as-you-go car rental service that provides access to local vehicles on a short-term basis. They offer a sustainable alternative to owning private cars and can be a convenient option when public transport is not possible or is challenging. Zipcars in the UK and Komboa in Kenya are examples.

The average car club vehicle is newer and more fuel efficient than the average privately owned car, and many are now also electric. For example, the London Borough of Croydon saved over £500,000 by transforming the way employees travel during work. One of their initiatives was switching to an EV car club.


1. Attach tap aerators: These little devices are easy to attach to the end of taps and cost as little as $4. Tap aerators mix air into the waste to reduce your water usage.

2. Install a water fountain: A water fountain provides employees with access to instant cold water which means they don’t have to run the tap and wait for the water to cool down (which leads to a lot of wasted water).


The amount of waste a business produces is part of the calculation that goes into measuring its carbon footprint. So here are a couple of suggestions for reducing waste – which has other environmental benefit.

1. Encourage litterless lunches: You could try encouraging staff to reduce the amount of waste they create with a litterless lunches campaign. You could do this by providing reusable cups and tupperware. For example, Spex Africa in Ghana provides sustainable and reusable packages to restaurants and customers to reduce or eradicate single-use plastics packages.

2. Go paperless: A great way to reduce the amount of waste you produce in the office is to go paperless. For example, this means you cut down on the amount of paper used by opting for emails over letters and replacing paper copies with cloud-based storage.

By implementing a few of these low-cost and easy actions, SMEs can make a significant impact on their carbon footprint. Although there will often be an upfront capital cost, businesses can save money in medium and, even possibly, short term.

And there is always the opportunity for new business products and services. For example:

  • if you don’t have a car club near you, why not join forces with one or two other SMEs to set one up as a new business venture: or

  • set up a factory to produce motion sensors and tap aerators if these are only available through export and are therefore expensive to purchase in your country of operation.

In the article that follows, we will take you through the best ways to demonstrate and communicate your carbon reduction initiatives to internal and external stakeholders.

Written by Rosalind Kainyah MBE and Helen Stickler. Rosalind is an authority on #Sustainability and #responsiblebusiness with over 30 years of combined legal, international, executive and board level experience. Her focus and passion are supporting #africanbusinesses 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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