May 26 2022

Six steps to reduce your carbon footprint at work

There’s an ever-increasing corporate focus on climate change. That’s because we all have a responsibility for protecting the environment. Understanding what your organisation can do to make a real and achievable reduction in carbon footprint can be tricky. That’s why we’ve outlined six actionable steps to help reduce your carbon footprint at work. 

All companies (but especially SMEs) can make a real difference

The UK business sector is responsible for around a 18% of all greenhouse emissions produced by the UK. While 18% may seem like a small contribution, remember that the UK is the fifth largest contributor to climate change globally. So that 18% really counts.

We might think that only large companies can achieve a real difference when it comes to carbon footprint reductions. And to a certain extent that’s true. 

A 2017 report found that just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of the world’s emissions.

However, according to new research by the British Business Bank, smaller businesses account for between 43% to 53% of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by UK businesses.

Given that over 99% of all UK businesses are SMEs, this highlights the collective impact of those businesses and their employees. This means that every company can and should make a positive contribution to carbon footprint reduction. 

Corporate impact on the environment is far-reaching

Some aspects of business operations, like logistics, are easily linked to their carbon footprint print. But other aspects are less obvious.

1. Increased consumption of non-renewable resources

Non-renewable resources not only increase greenhouse emissions, they also release toxic pollutants into the soil and atmosphere. Many buildings are made from non-renewable sources such as concrete, bricks and clay.

2. Higher levels of pollution

Heating and air conditioning units pump gas emissions into the air. The burning of fossil fuels contributes to about 89% of greenhouse emissions and is the main contributor to climate change.

3. Waste

Offices produce vast amounts of paper. Even if much of it is recycled, still more winds up in landfill or is incinerated. Incineration releases vast amounts of C02 into the atmosphere.

4. Loss of natural habitats

Clearing our greenspaces and pushing human activity ever outwards from cities is affecting the natural environment. As a result, we’re seeing a reduction in wildlife numbers. The endangered bumble bee is a poignant example of this.

5. Harmful chemicals

Non-recyclable waste such as computers and photocopiers typically end up in landfills. They don’t break down and can leach harmful chemicals into the ground and water.

6. Transport

Transport and the commute to work contribute 27% to the UK’s total emissions of greenhouse gases. This makes transport one of the key contributors that we should be working hard to reduce.  

Are net zero aspirations realistic (or even beneficial)?  

Action to mitigate the impacts of climate change is at a tipping point. It’s crucial for smaller business owners (as well as individual employees) to feel empowered, informed and supported in reducing the carbon footprint of their business.

Some fear that the actions required to reach net zero could have a negative impact on business. However, a report by Mckinsey suggests this isn’t true. 

In fact, as the global economy transforms, businesses would see numerous benefits by switching to zero carbon. Among these benefits are:

  1. Lower energy costs;
  2. Operational costs savings;
  3. Increased resilience; and 
  4. An improved reputation among customer bases.

The Race to Zero can feel overwhelming

To bring businesses on board to the net zero way, the UN launched the Race to Zero campaign in June 2020. The campaign aims to ensure that businesses and investors worldwide work together to reach a zero-carbon future that also creates jobs and maintains sustainable growth.

However, according you a YouGov survey, only 29% of UK businesses have joined the campaign. In addition, 50% of UK senior business decision makers say they have no net zero strategy

42% of those surveyed say they’re overwhelmed by the steps they need to take to reach the net zero goal. We get it. It can seem overwhelming, so let’s break it down.

Actionable steps to help reduce your carbon footprint at work 

1. Reduce waste

Wrapping sandwiches in cling film? Think again. In 2021 it was estimated that UK households use 1.2 billion metres of clingfilm a year. That’s a lot of single-use plastic waste. 

So what alternatives are there?

  • Beeswax food wrapping, which is reusable. 
  • Paper snack and sandwich bags (some of which are also compostable). 
  • Silicone food lids which are useful for covering food stored in the office fridge.

2. Reduce power usage

Many offices leave their computers and photocopiers on standby overnight or over the weekend. This only increases electricity bills but also consider that the more power your office uses, the higher your carbon footprint. 

How can you reduce your power usage?

  • Turn off lights when not in use or consider installing sensors. 
  • Turn off printers and other machines at the end of each day.
  • Consider having photocopier-free or no-print days. 

3. The commute

It’s tempting to drive, especially when the weather is unpleasant. But commuting is responsible for vast quantities of carbon emissions, and we really need to take decisive action. Here are some suggestions to consider: 

  • Opt for sustainable transportation.
  • If your company allows it, work from home or opt for hybrid working.
  • Consider car-pooling with colleagues once a week.
  • Use public transport. 
  • Invest in a bike. Biking to work will mean you can skip the gym too!

4. Recycling

Waste from offices can be huge, when you consider aspects like printing and packaging from take-out lunches. But another big area of waste is IT equipment – much of which can’t be recycled. 

These forms of waste can be a significant contributor to your carbon footprint. Here are some positive steps you can take:

  • Have a recycling bin in the office. There is very little that can’t be recycled today.
  • When computers and electronics reach end of life, consider contacting local charities that might be able to use them. 
  • There are companies that specialise in recycling computers and other IT equipment.

5. Water bottles

Bringing drinks bottles made from single use plastic into work can soon add up. Many companies provide bottles of water in meeting rooms, when really there’s no need. So what could you do instead?

  • Consider buying a reusable water bottle and ditching the plastic one (in the recycle bin or course!) 
  • For an employer-led initiative, consider giving employees a branded company water bottle.
  • Use jugs and glasses for meetings that can be washed and used over and over again.

6. Green days: A chance to bond and help the environment

Another way to reduce your carbon footprint is by off-setting your current activities. This has become quite popular with carbon-offset flights. But it’s possible to do something on a corporate level too:

  • Why not support team building by hosting a team tree planting event. Trees help combat global warming by absorbing CO2.
  • Join the Plastic Pledge and challenge the office to go for a month without using plastic utensils.
  • Clean up your local area with a litter pick. 
  • Plant flower boxes that attract bees and generate more wildlife habitats.

Green and environmental events organised by outside companies are also a simple but fun way of incorporating team building and boosting your green credentials. Boosting these credentials was the second biggest driver (60%) for UK companies joining the race to net zero campaign.

Find out more about the Net Zero campaign and how your company can join.

Key takeaways

  • Corporations, SMEs, employers, and employees all have a role to play.
  • Achieving net zero can create more jobs and lead to sustainable growth.
  • Simple actions have far reaching consequences and can make a big difference.