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The subject of climate change and carbon emissions are more and more in the public consciousness, particularly following the 2015 Climate Change Accord in Paris.

Following this international agreement, the UK now has ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions dramatically by the year 2050 (compared to levels in 1990). With dozens of other countries across the world, the UK has agreed to a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within the next 30 years.

Policies already announced by the UK government to reach this aim include the phasing out of the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2035, to be replaced by electric vehicles.

The huge social, economic and political changes that the COVID-19 outbreak has unleashed during 2020 may well be the turning point in the fight against climate change. Many politicians, businesses and pressure groups are urging the government to sue the crisis to invest in a green economic recovery.

It’s not going to be easy to reach the UK’s ambitious targets to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. It will involve changes in our homes and businesses.

If you are running a small-medium sized business (SME) you may be looking to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions or even go a step further and work towards complete carbon neutrality.

Not only does reducing your carbon emissions save you money in reduced energy bills, but it can also be a great way to promote your eco-credentials to your customers. Read on for our explanation of carbon neutrality and how you can achieve it.

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What does being carbon neutral mean?

Carbon emissions refer to the release of gases like methane and carbon dioxide when we use fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.

Every business across the UK consumes energy to operate and therefore, directly or indirectly, emits a certain amount of carbon emissions.

The energy business uses ranges widely; from heating and lighting of offices or retail space, business transportation and logistics, the use of water and even disposal of waste. It all contributes to a business’ emissions.

In order to be carbon neutral, sometimes called climate neutral, a business must measure its carbon emissions.

Once you know the amount of greenhouse gases your company generates, then you can reduce them by making your business more energy efficient. This might include measures such as switching to a renewable business energy supplier

A business or energy supplier can be considered carbon neutral by using carbon offsetting to make up for emissions that cannot be eliminated.

Carbon offsetting involves investing in environmental projects to compensate for the cO2 you emit. This could be through supporting environmental projects or paying to plant trees.

Why should SMEs consider being carbon neutral?

Making the decision to transition to a carbon-neutral business is a big step. Despite advances in renewable energy, the UK is still reliant on fossil fuels across virtually every sector and industry.

Aspiring to create zero emissions is challenging, but can also yield significant practical benefits for businesses.

Firstly, there are financial savings from reducing your spending on heating, electricity and travel. If you use less, then you tend to spend less too. During these challenging economic times, you may find that reducing your business costs also reduces your energy consumption making your business greener.

Another advantage is the social capital or reputational value. Heightened awareness of climate change and the effects that our energy usage may be having on the planet – plus continued interest in conservation all mean that consumers are appreciative of green or eco-friendly initiatives.

There is evidence that clients, partners and other businesses prefer brands that are carbon neutral or sustainable. Not only that, but it may help them to inform their own improved corporate social responsibility policy in the future, so you may help to inspire others to follow in your (carbon-free) footsteps.

Finally, the benefit of knowing that you and your business are having a positive impact on the world around you and doing your bit to leave the world better for future generations is a great incentive.

It may sound daunting, but it is possible for almost all SMEs to become carbon neutral. All it takes is just a few simple steps, some dedication, and a realistic goal that you can aim for.

1) Learn more about your carbon footprint

Before you can take measures to reduce your energy usage, you need to understand the current carbon footprint of your business.

Your carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gases that your company’s operations release into the atmosphere. There are tools online, like this carbon calculator from the Carbon Trust which allows you to calculate your carbon footprint. All you need to is answer a series questions about your business to receive your results.

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Once you have a rough idea of how much carbon emissions your business produces, you can start to take proactive steps towards reducing it.

For example, your power consumption is one of the biggest energy wasters so becoming more energy efficient with the technology and electrical equipment you use will help you become carbon neutral.

You can also look at converting your fleet, if you have one, to electric vehicles and encouraging colleagues that live close to one another to carpool and reduce the amount of petrol being used to get to work.

2) Where does your energy come from?

As a business, most of your carbon emissions will come from the electricity that you use to power the lights, equipment and heating that keeps your company functioning. This means that your energy supply will make up the largest portion of your carbon footprint - so why not take steps to reduce it?

Switching business energy suppliers isn’t often publicised as one of the ways to reduce your energy consumption and bills. A lot of people think all energy companies are the same.

However, there are now a number of green business energy suppliers who offer 100% renewable electricity and 100% carbon offset gas which can make your business far more eco-friendly and may even reduce your energy bills.

3) Offset what you can't eliminate

No matter how many measures you implement within your business, you will never be able to eliminate 100% of your carbon emissions. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t become carbon neutral; instead, you can offset those emissions.

Carbon offsetting allows organisations to purchase ‘carbon credits’. It is a little bit like a voluntary tax, with the money invested in projects that reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. This often involves investment in renewable technology such as wind or solar farms, biomass generation plants or reforestation.

4) Set yourself a realistic target

It is not possible to become climate neutral overnight, no matter how small or big your business.

The best strategy is to bring your team together and set goals that seem realistic within a certain period and work collectively to achieve them.

For example, you might set a short term goal to install LED energy efficient lighting in your office, warehouse or other business premises.

A long term goal might be to switch to using renewable energy, by switching to a renewable energy supplier, installing electric vehicle charging points or solar panels. There are government incentives available for businesses who invest in these technologies so now is a great time to make the change.

Responsibility for change usually sits with management but getting everyone on board will help you to achieve these targets much quicker. You could introduce incentives to encourage staff, knowing their efforts will also reduce your costs.

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Small businesses have a hugely important role to play in the country’s economy, but also in helping the UK to achieve its harmful gas emission reduction targets for 2050. Figures by the UK government from 2019 show that SMEs account for 60% of the UK workforce and around half of the annual economic turnover of the country.

Even if you don’t achieve complete carbon neutrality, making your business more energy efficient and producing a fractional amount of harmful carbon dioxide and other gases will ensure you are doing your part to achieve the UK’s climate goals.