Small business owners can fight carbon emissions without decimating their budget
You don't have to lead an entire market to make a difference.
By now, the negative effects of the climate crisis are undeniable. If we don’t change the current global warming trends by 2030, by 2050, the planet as a whole would likely need to reach net-zero emissions to prevent disastrous effects like droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels.
While the bulk of harmful emissions is tied to large businesses and industries such as energy, farming, and manufacturing, we can’t understate the efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of smaller contributors—that includes you and your small business.
But achieving carbon neutrality for your small business can be time-consuming. You have to track and measure the output for every link in your supply chain, reduce what you can, and then research and find reputable programs to offset those emissions.
Don’t worry—everything you do helps. It’s just a matter of taking this process step by step.
Step one: Reduce
The first and most important action you can take to move your company toward carbon neutrality is reducing its measurable negative impacts.
Start by making easy and purposeful swaps in areas like packaging, for example. Decrease or eliminate the amount of single-use materials you use, and adapt the size of boxes to use as little filling per order as possible. When choosing your filling and other supplies like tape, go for biodegradable alternatives or—better yet—reuse what you already have. Shredded newspaper will protect your products while in transit, and if you already have some lying around, it’ll definitely be cheaper.
[Related: What companies really mean when they say they’re ‘net-zero’]
Clothing brand prAna, for example, has skipped individual plastic bags and instead bundles items for shipping in compostable strips of raffia. Likewise, sports nutrition brand Untapped Maple protects the products they ship with wood shavings.
The next step is to travel less. If you work with someone you can only reach by car, use technology to communicate unless strictly necessary. Likewise, encourage employees to carpool when commuting or offer the option to work from home when possible. And if you have to travel by air, choose direct flights and economy class seats, as they have a smaller footprint. For your products, opt for ground shipping instead of air freight.
A lot of people decide to go vegetarian for environmental reasons and your business can do it too. When you’re catering for customers or employees, it’s a good idea to offer more plant-based options or ditch meat altogether, as this particular industry is a top contributor to harmful greenhouse gasses.
When it comes to furnishing your office and stores (if you have them) do so with used and recycled items, and prioritize repairing instead of replacing equipment. Then you can take the next step and switch to more sustainable materials in the products you manufacture or sell. For Kammok, a certified carbon neutral company, that meant making hammocks out of recycled materials.
Of course, all of these changes can be tough for small businesses that don’t have the buying power to demand everyone in their supply chain make sustainable changes, says Austin Whitman, CEO at Climate Neutral, a consulting firm that helps businesses become more sustainable. In fact, oftentimes, the smaller a company is, the less power it has.
But once you’ve done what you can, don’t assume you can sit back and forget about it. “It’s not just ‘click a button and you’re in,’” says Kammock’s CEO Greg McEvilly. A small business’ reduction strategy must continuously evolve as the business changes and grows.
Of course, there’s a limit to how much you can reduce without closing up shop entirely. When you have eliminated as many emissions as possible, the next step is to offset the remainder.
Step two: Offset
There are many ways to offset emissions. You can hire a company like Climate Neutral to guide you through the process, but if your team is small or you want to start slowly, you can attempt it on your own.
You can use websites like terrapass.com or GoldStandard.org and use their calculators to determine what your footprint is. Once you have that information, you can help fund offset projects like wind farms, landfill gas capture, or reforestation from those same websites. Programs like these help either remove harmful excess emissions like carbon and methane from the environment or lessen our reliance on non-renewable resources.
But before you invest, do some research to make sure the projects you’re funding are legitimate. Look for third-party verifications and do some digging to see how much of your investment goes to actual offsets as opposed to the organization’s overhead and business expenses. You can also check certifying organizations’ websites and check out the offset programs they’ve approved.
[Related: A carbon-neutral burger? It’s not impossible.]
As a concept, carbon neutrality is not that complicated. It just involves a bit of research and legwork to figure out what your current footprint is, and then how to make up for it in meaningful ways. Keep in mind that no matter the size of your business, you can always make a difference, and gradual changes are definitely better than none at all.
“[Going carbon neutral] is a great way to make a conscious effort towards creating a better world through our businesses,” says McEvilly. “I believe that enterprise should be about human flourishing and that businesses are powerful vehicles that can drive that.”