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The subject of climate change and carbon emissions are at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the moment, following the recent COP21 Climate Change talks in Paris. Going into the discussions, the UK had original targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050 (compared to levels in 1990), which were widely considered to be extremely ambitious. However, dozens of the largest countries across the world came away from Paris having agreed to the new goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

It’s not going to be easy to reach these targets, but everyone from the biggest corporations down to individual homes and SMEs all have their bit to do to work towards them. Rather than simply reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, many companies have decided to go a step further and work towards complete carbon neutrality. Sound like something you might want to implement? Then read on for our explanation of carbon neutrality and how you can achieve it.

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What does being carbon neutral mean?

Every business across the country, and indeed the world, uses energy and therefore emits a certain amount of carbon emissions. This ranges from business travel and water usage, disposal of waste and the heating and lighting used; it all contributes to a business’ emissions. In order to be climate neutral, a business must measure its carbon emissions then actively work to reduce them and offset anything that cannot be eliminated, in such a way that their net calculated carbon emissions equals zero.

Why should SMEs consider being carbon neutral?

Making a conscious decision to become a carbon-neutral business will come with a lot of hard work, but the benefits will far outweigh the effort you put in. The biggest benefit, first and foremost, is the financial savings that stand to be gained from reducing your spending on heating, electricity and travel. If you’re using less, then you’re bound to spend less too.

As the world becomes more aware of climate change and the effects that our energy usage may be having on the planet, people are starting to appreciate the effort that others go to in order to do less damage. Clients, partners and other businesses are likely to be attracted to the idea of working with a brand that is carbon neutral. Not only that, but it may help them to inform their own CSR policy in the future, so you may help to inspire others to follow in your (carbon-free) footsteps.

And finally, the greatest benefit is knowing that you are having a positive impact on the world around you, as when it comes to climate change, every little bit really does make a huge difference.

It may sound like a daunting task, but it is actually possible for SMEs to become climate neutral, or as close to neutral as they can. 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 more about your business’ own carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon dioxide that your company’s actions release into the atmosphere. There are numerous calculators on the internet that you can use to find out your carbon footprint; they will ask you a series of questions and then give you a figure.

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Once you have a rough figure of how much carbon emissions your business produces, you can start to take proactive steps towards reducing that. For example, look at ways of cutting your power usage if one of your biggest energy wasters is technology and electrical equipment, or encouraging colleagues that live close to one another to carpool and reduce the amount of petrol being used.

2) Where does your energy come from?

As a business, the vast majority of your energy will be used up through the electricity that you use to power the lights, equipment and heating that keeps you and your employees warm. 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 energy suppliers isn’t often publicised as one of the ways to reduce your energy consumption and bills. After all, aren’t you just changing where your energy comes from? Nowadays, the energy market is no longer dominated by the ‘Big Six’ suppliers, and there are dozens of smaller suppliers now providing energy to homes and businesses across the country. Not only that, but many of these suppliers only take their energy from renewable sources, meaning that the gas and electricity given to your business is as green as can be.

3) Offset what you can't eliminate

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

Carbon offsetting allows organisations to purchase ‘carbon credits’ where the money is instead invested in projects that actively work to cut down the amount of carbon dioxide emitted, such as wind farms, solar farms, biomass generation plants or reforestation.

4) Set yourself a realistic target

It’s impossible to become climate neutral overnight, no matter how small or big your business is. So, get everyone together and inform them of your goals and set yourself a target that seems realistic to you, and work collectively to smash it. Although the responsibility will predominantly lie with top-level management to ensure that changes are made, getting everyone on board will help you to achieve those targets much quicker.

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According to the Federation of Small Businesses, SMEs were predicted to account for 99.3% of all private sector organisations at the start of 2015, with a combined annual turnover of £1.8 trillion. Given these statistics, it’s clear that small businesses not only 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. Even if you don’t achieve complete carbon neutrality, being as close as possible and producing a fractional amount of carbon dioxide will all help towards achieving those all important climate goals.