How to make your small business more sustainable: five green tools for business owners | Green to grow your business

Going green can save your business money, streamline operations and demonstrate to customers, suppliers and investors that you are committed to playing your part in tackling the climate crisis. But where do you start? Here are five online tools that can help you as you embark on your small business sustainability journey.

1 Carbon calculators
Companies everywhere are committing to the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. For many, the first step is calculating the size of their carbon footprint; once armed with this data, you can start working towards net zero carbon by reducing and eliminating carbon dioxide and other GHG (greenhouse gases).

Calculating the carbon footprint of a business provides a much clearer understanding of how a company’s day-to-day operations are affecting the environment, helps identify where its using large amounts of energy, improves business operations, and provides valuable sustainability data for stakeholders.

There are a number of online carbon calculators available for businesses, including the Carbon Trust’s SME Carbon Footprint Calculator, which has been designed to help UK-based small and medium enterprises (SMEs) measure their corporate emission footprint following GHG Protocol guidance. This includes Scope 1 emissions, direct emissions from fuel and processes, and Scope 2 emissions from purchased electricity for the assets they operate. Both the SME Carbon Footprint Calculator and the SME Climate Hub’s Business Carbon Calculator are free to use.

2 Carbon offsetting tools
Not all carbon emissions can be eliminated or reduced straight away. Instead, small businesses can offset them by investing in projects that are designed to counteract emissions. One of the most popular forms of carbon offsetting is tree planting, which can be done through schemes such as Ecologi and Treeapp. As trees grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen into the atmosphere, meaning every tree planted effectively grows into a carbon store. Although this is not a perfect solution, as any business that aims towards net zero needs to reduce all the emissions they can and offset only what they absolutely can’t. But, done well, carbon offsetting can be a positive action as part of a wider environmentally conscious approach.

Another way to compensate for your emissions is through carbon sequestration (ie the long-term storage of carbon in plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean). Intrigued to find out more? Patch.io provides access to a wide range of carbon credit projects across a range of approaches, locations, and UN sustainable development goals.

3 Impact assessment tools
Officially, the B Impact Assessment questionnaire is the first step towards B Corp certification – which requires businesses to meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. But even if you’re not planning to apply for certification, this free online questionnaire is a valuable exercise for any SME serious about improving its sustainability credentials.

David Morel, founder and CEO of Tiger Recruitment, described the B Impact Assessment as useful for his own business. “It forces you to examine your business in five key areas; community, customers, environment, governance, and workers,” he explains. “It’s not a quick tick-box exercise; it requires thoughtful responses with supporting documentation but rewards you with a report on your performance, highlighting areas for improvement.”

The B Corp Climate Collective, in partnership with Oxford University, has also developed the new B Climate Tools Base – a set of tools to guide businesses towards achieving net zero emissions.

Surplus electronics can be refurbished for reuse, or stripped back to their core components. Photograph: Estradaanton/Getty Images/iStockphoto

4 E-waste management
Responsible recycling practices help reduce GHG emissions and use less energy than the manufacture of new gadgets and devices. Thousands of devices, appliances, and other pieces of electronic equipment are disposed of every single day, many of them by businesses. Electronic trash, or e-waste, is now one of the biggest sources of waste in the world.

Stone Group is a circular IT provider with an IT asset disposal facility where it can refurbish or recycle old IT hardware such as desktops, laptops, monitors, printers, and servers etc. The company is committed to ensuring that zero waste ends up in landfill. Using the Stone 360 app, businesses can easily arrange collection of their broken or redundant IT equipment. Items that can be salvaged are given a second life, and those that can’t are recycled down to their core components.

5 Reusable packaging
Sustainable packaging can be a small business’s greatest contribution to the environment. However, while cardboard has superseded plastic as an eco-friendlier option, the massive surge in online shopping over the last few years has led to questions about cardboard’s green credentials, as increasingly, it’s become a large part of landfill.

Reusable packaging firm Boox provides an alternative to single-use packaging products, by making boxes that can be folded up and returned for reuse. Customers simply scan a QR code that tells them how to return the box sustainably, and when the box reaches the end of its life, the corrugated polypropylene is broken down into plastic flakes that are turned into new Boox boxes.

If you’d like help to green – and grow – your business, the British Business Bank should be your first port of call. Dedicated to making finance markets work better for smaller businesses, it provides free financial tools and expert information to get you moving in the right direction. Find out more at british-business-bank.co.uk/finance-hub/sustainability

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