Small businesses play a significant role in the world economy. They can also make a real difference in the global environment. This article will discuss how small businesses can combat climate change.
Of course, helping to avoid a climate change disaster makes sense for many reasons. There are several ways climate change can negatively impact a small business. These include:
- Potential additional costs as governments charge premiums for non-compliance.
- Increased disaster insurance premiums as extreme weather becomes more commonplace.
- Lost productivity as employee health suffers from pollution, increased allergens, or food scarcity.
- Buildings will need to be redesigned to withstand weather events and keep employees comfortable as temperatures peak.
- Loss of customers as worsening climate change causes people to reconsider their spending on goods and services.
Think of the potential impact of a major storm. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, “an estimated 25% of small to mid-sized businesses do not reopen following a major disaster.” Yet, these disasters are growing more common with climate change.
The good news? Even small business owners can make choices and take action to help avoid a climate change disaster. Plus, doing so as part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy appeals to global customers (as well as being the right thing to do).
This article shares ways a small business can combat climate change. Find out more about:
- Reducing waste
- Decreasing travel
- Purchasing carbon offsets
- Shopping local
- Investing in renewable energy, climate-friendly innovation
- Supporting sustainable businesses
- Taking part in policy discussions
Let’s go into greater detail about what these strategies would involve for the entrepreneur.
Reducing business emissions means keeping in mind the three environmental Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. You can find out how much carbon your business emits using a footprint calculator such as this one from TerraPass.
A business can:
- Recycle in the office
- Purchase recycled office products
- Reuse packaging
- Reduce heat, lighting, cooling needs with smart sensors and building asset management technology
- Cut food waste
- Use green refrigerators and air conditioners, and water-efficient toilets
- Unplug equipment and turn off computers overnight
- Pay attention to operating instructions to avoid things breaking down and needing replacement faster than necessary
In his 2020 book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, which inspired this article, Bill Gates suggests businesses join those already charging “an internal carbon tax” on their different divisions.
COVID-19 helped on this front. In fact, in 2020, carbon emissions dropped around five percent due to the global pandemic. Instead of releasing the equivalent of 51 billion tons of carbon, the estimates were for us to release just 48 or 49 billion instead. FYI: that is still way, way too much, as Gates writes.
Continuing to work with remote employees can reduce emissions related to how we get around. Transportation is a large emitter. According to the EPA, light-duty vehicles “produce the most emissions (59%), followed by medium- and heavy-duty trucks (23%), aircraft (9%), ships (3%), and trains (2%).” Transitioning to electric vehicles from those that use diesel or gasoline can help.
Using business collaboration software and online meetings to get the job done instead of driving or flying to a client meeting can also help. Yet, some business travel remains inevitable. So, consider the following strategy as a way to negate the impact of those trips.
Purchasing Carbon Offsets
There are many organizations today that offer carbon offset programs. Typically, this involves putting your payment towards energy-efficiency projects, forest conservation efforts, or renewable energy.
Marisa de Belloy, CEO of Cool Effect, a crowdfunding site for carbon offset projects, told Forbes: “Carbon credits are a great, verifiable way to assist businesses in reaching corporate emission reduction goals while more substantive changes to operations are made.”
Purchasing carbon offsets can be controversial. There is concern that the company buys carbon credits to avoid making any real changes. Plus, some carbon neutrality efforts can be counterproductive. Gates points out the impact of replanting trees “appears to be overblown” as it depends on where the tree is planted in the world, whether a tree would have grown there otherwise, and what else could have grown in that place.
Investing in Renewable Energy
Utilities in the United States continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Small businesses can encourage their local electricity provider to move more quickly to decarbonize their power grid.
Perhaps your business can invest in renewable energy sources such as solar or wind. A dental practice in Virginia installed a photovoltaic array behind its building to produce over 73,000 kWh of energy annually (offsetting its annual usage).
Being an early adopter and providing the income early-stage innovators need to continue their low-emission projects is another way companies can prioritize climate change.
Yahoo Small Business is all about shopping locally. But it really can make a positive impact on climate change. Turning to your local community for supplier relationships can cut back on aircraft and ocean-going ship travel with materials and products.
Turning to local farmers or community suppliers can also help combat food waste and the carbon emissions from supply chain transport. The Worldwatch Institute “found that a typical meal bought from a conventional supermarket chain uses four to 17 times more petroleum for transport than the same meal using local ingredients.”
Supporting Sustainable Businesses
Use your business purchasing power to support sustainability efforts. Choose to partner with vendors who are taking steps to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Review their corporate social responsibility policies and ask questions to determine if this is a PR stunt or a true company value. These queries might include:
- What raw materials do you use?
- Do you have binding environmental guidelines/objectives?
- Does your site have an environmental management system in place?
- What local environmental regulations are you required to comply with?
- Are you tracking, reporting, and managing your use of energy, water, and chemicals?
- Do you use renewable energy?
Taking Part in Policy Discussions
Small businesses in 2017 employed 47.1% of workers in the United States, according to the Small Business Administration’s 2020 profile of this sector. They also generate about 44 percent of the country’s economic activity, per a 2019 report. Small business owners can use their voice in the community to affect positive change.
Keep up with policy and advocacy related to small businesses via the Small Business Administration, the Small Business Majority, and your local Chamber of Commerce. Gates further suggests connecting with government-funded research and taking part in public-private partnerships. This kind of collaboration “gave us gas turbines and advanced diesel engines,” he writes.
Continue educating yourself, employees, and customers about climate change and the role small business owners can play. We’ll do our part to keep you informed too.