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Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the need to reduce their total carbon output.
The Carbon Trust says companies with fewer than 250 employees account for almost 20 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions – so their role in the fight against climate change is vital.
But how, in a world full of conflicting advice and misinformation, do SME business owners know where to turn when setting their own sustainability targets?
With so many sustainability terms being used, it can be hard to know what’s relevant and what’s not. We’ve broken down the jargon.
Achieving carbon-neutrality means your carbon emissions – carbon emitted by your daily operations, such as manufacturing, travelling and so on – are effectively cancelled out.
To cancel out carbon emissions, businesses rely on techniques such as carbon offsetting, which involves calculating your carbon emissions and investing in schemes that are certified as removing a certain amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Tree planting is common as trees naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, helping to reduce the volume of the greenhouse gas (GHG). Carbon offsetting can also be done by not emitting carbon at all by, for example, cycling instead of driving.
You might also hear the term net zero or zero carbon – these all mean the same thing. For example, if you used 100 per cent renewable energy to power your business and used carbon offsetting to ensure that your net operations and supply chain were carbon-free, you could call yourself a ‘zero-carbon’ business.
Carbon negative – also confusingly referred to as climate positive – goes one step further than carbon neutrality, aiming to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than you emit.
For example, Drax – Opus Energy’s parent company – announced its goal to become carbon negative by 2030. It is using technology to remove carbon from the air to end up with less overall carbon emissions than it started with.
Again, carbon negative has a number of other terms associated with it, but it is the ultimate goal for businesses of all sizes.
Taking the next step
While cutting down on air travel, using LED bulbs and switching to electric vehicles is to be applauded, industry leaders and governments need to shift their focus to removing the amount of carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. This is because actively working to ensure no more emissions are released won’t stop or slow down the impact that CO2 and GHGs are having on the Earth – not unless we couple it up with removing existing emissions and collectively work to become carbon negative.
This isn’t just a job for big business and corporations. As recycling has been adopted universally, going the extra mile to reduce GHGs needs to become a way of life for all businesses.
Those looking to achieve carbon negative should first reduce their emissions by investing in energy-efficient technologies and energy storage, and potentially generating their own renewable energy.
Choosing a 100 per cent renewable energy supplier is also essential. Any remaining emissions can then be offset. While this may seem like a huge investment, particularly for smaller businesses, there are numerous benefits such as saving money, improving overall efficiency, attracting and retaining top talent, and improving customer loyalty.
With the right negative emissions policy, companies can collectively remove millions of tonnes of emissions from the atmosphere each year.