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Net zero essentials: hacks to help small businesses succeed

05 Mar 2024 10 min read

Sharon Livingstone and Dave Evans have joined forces to write this piece providing top tips on supporting small organisations with their net zero journeys.

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In Autumn 2023, Sharon Livingstone FCCA, FRSA, PIEMA, founder of sustainability consultancy Natura Spira, was recognised by the UN Global Compact Network UK for exceptional work supporting her small business clients on their net zero journeys.

This accolade led Sharon to join a distinguished panel at the Net Zero Festival in London, alongside representatives from the UN Global Compact Network UK, the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi), and the SME Climate Hub. The festival, attracting over 3,000 experts, focuses on sustainability trends and innovations. During a panel on ‘Net zero strategy #101 for small businesses,’ Sharon imparted practical advice for small businesses embarking on their net zero journeys.

Spurred by the positive response, Sharon, alongside Dave Evans, CEnv, FRGS, FIEMA – an esteemed IEMA registered trainer and CEO of Act Sustainably Ltd. – shares with us here invaluable insights and tips to guide small businesses at the outset of their net zero journeys, aiming to inspire and support more businesses towards sustainability.

Embrace continuous learning:

  • No one is an absolute expert in net zero. Approach each day as an opportunity to learn, understanding that trial and error are part of the process.

Foster a supportive environment:

  • Ensure everyone in your organisation champions your net zero journey. It’s a long path and challenges will arise; detractors can drain energy and divert focus.

Create a passionate working group:

  • Start with a dedicated team of environmental enthusiasts. Recognise their dual roles in their day jobs and environmental efforts. As momentum grows, involve more employees to foster a collective responsibility. Achieving net zero is a collaborative effort.

Stay informed and connected:

  • The sustainability field is dynamic, with ongoing advancements and diverse opinions. Seek recommendations from your network and identify credible experts in your industry.

Recognise your impact:

  • No company is too small to contribute to net zero. Larger organisations are increasingly integrating sustainability into their reporting and expect the same from smaller businesses in their network.

Begin early:

  • Start your net zero initiatives before any urgency arises. Allow time for effective and efficient implementation, acknowledging that initial efforts may take longer than expected.

Select an appropriate base year for greenhouse gas inventory:

  • Choose a year that reflects normal operations with reliable data, to accurately benchmark your typical emissions. All organisations should consider the best way to determine their organisational boundary, whether that be an equity share, operational or financial control approach.

Understand your operational boundary:

  • This includes scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Small businesses should initially focus on their direct emissions, while larger entities could also consider the upstream and downstream elements of their value chain. While data collection can be challenging, aim for progress over perfection. Adhere to principles of relevance, completeness, consistency, transparency, and accuracy.

Develop a greenhouse gas inventory as an ongoing process:

  • Accept that data quality will improve over time. Utilise spend-based tools for initial scope 3 emissions assessment and expect a move to standardisation in carbon reporting, as in financial reporting.

Engage with accountants:

  • They are crucial for accessing the data needed for your greenhouse gas inventory, such as energy and waste invoices. Collaborating with them can unveil potential cost and efficiency savings.

Proactively collaborate with suppliers:

  • Many are on their own sustainability journeys and can provide essential data. This collaboration can enhance the accuracy of your scope 3 emissions calculation.

Consider independent verification of your greenhouse gas inventory:

  • While not mandatory, this provides assurance and insight for continuous improvement. Understand the costs and choose a verification method that aligns with standards like the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard and ISO14064-1.

Integrate net zero activities into business processes:

  • Include them in company objectives, bonus structures, and job descriptions to normalise these tasks within operational activities.

Select suitable target-setting frameworks:

  • Opt for those that align with your specific objectives and commitments, considering frameworks that industry leaders in your field have adopted.

Concentrate on impactful carbon reduction efforts:

  • Identify and target the significant sources of emissions in your carbon footprint, ensuring that these initiatives are clear, quantifiable, and reported on a regular basis. Also consider broader sustainability issues like biodiversity, zero waste and resource conservation.

Navigate reporting and disclosure requirements:

  • Understand mandatory and strategic reporting requirements for your business. Maintain a schedule of obligations to identify overlaps and synergies.

Photo through buildings in London, with St Pauls cathedral in the background, and a red London bus

We trust these tips and insights will aid you on your net zero journey. The trend towards sustainability is increasingly evident, with small businesses being encouraged to initiate their net zero efforts. In the complex sustainability landscape, a solid starting point is to consult with IEMA and seek advice from IEMA-qualified professionals.

IEMA is instrumental in equipping sustainability professionals with the knowledge and skills to make significant sustainable impacts, and the Green Careers Hub demonstrates IEMA’s dedication to fostering a skilled workforce capable of tackling today’s pressing environmental challenges.

This is a guest blog written by Sharon Livingstone and Dave Evans for the Green Careers Hub.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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