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Reducing the Carbon Footprint: Practical Steps for Organisations to Go Green

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Taking steps to reduce the carbon footprint of our organisations is going to be absolutely crucial when it comes to businesses adapting to the hard realities of life in the next decade.

With the IPPC estimating that society has just 6 years left to make the vast transformational changes that are needed to stop temperature change exceeding 1.5ºC, when irreversible impacts on our climate will occur, we have a very short window of time in which to act.

Whilst governments around the world are busy creating legislation to try and make sustainability a key feature of all aspects of our societies, it will take the practical actions of every individual and every organisation to reduce our carbon footprints.

In short, businesses need to embrace sustainability. In this blog, we’ll explore some practical steps that organisations can take to go green and do just that.

Why do organisations need to go green?

Even if the weight of the scientific community, physical evidence and history fails to convince you of the need for your organisation to adopt sustainability as a key tenet of the way that it works, there are a range of non-ethical related reasons to go green.

One of the key points is that the modern consumer expects it from the organisations that they buy products or services from. A survey by Smurfit Kappa found that over 60% of consumers expect organisations to have a commitment to sustainability and clear sustainability practices. That alone should be a wake up call to companies who are wavering on showing a clear commitment to sustainability – you could be actively sabotaging your sales by not doing so.

On top of that, commitment to sustainability principles like recycling and reusing can help businesses reduce costs and save money, as well as making them much more resilient.

Ways to make your organisation more sustainable

1.   Create a dedicated sustainability policy

Creating a dedicated policy that outlines your organisation’s approach to sustainability is vital when it comes to encouraging wider cultural change. A physical policy will provide a clear document that people can refer to when it comes to educating themselves about sustainability and your organisation’s practical response to climate change.

A policy is essentially a working document. This means that it’s something that you can use to guide your approach to sustainability. It should be accessible and easily accessed so that members of your team can consult it when they have any questions or need clarification about the steps that your organisation is taking to become more sustainable.

A sustainability policy should aim to do these things:

  • Outline what you’re trying to achieve, your main objectives and why you want to achieve them
  • Show how you’re going to achieve your aims
  • Assign responsibility to people/ groups of people over areas of the policy

If you want some advice on how to create a dedicated sustainability policy, this blog by the British Assessment Bureau has some great advice.

2.   Promote remote working

When it comes to the UK, commuting to and from work produces 18 billion kg’s worth of carbon emissions every year: that’s a staggering 25% of the country’s transport emissions and 5% of the country’s entire total emissions.

If the UK is going to achieve its CO2 targets, much more concerted action on emissions is needed. Asking organisations to tackle how much they make their staff commute into office is a practical way that they can reduce one of the key drivers of emissions in modern society.

Luckily, there’s a solution available already: remote working!

During COVID-19, remote work came into its own and was used widely across the economy, allowing work to continue when social distancing rules were in place. Remote working, with its emphasis on employee autonomy and flexibility, proved popular with huge numbers of employees and is still a major part of the way we work now, two years on.

For many employees, remote work showed the morning and evening commute to and from work to be an expensive waste-of-time, with employees able to replicate the same (if not better) levels of productivity when working from home rather than in a physical office.

Remote work doesn’t just make sense when it comes to trying to reduce carbon emissions. It can also help to improve employee happiness, wellbeing and retention, saving you money on hiring costs over the long-term.

In effect, the pandemic gave people a chance to reevaluate their relationships to work and most found that they enjoyed the extra flexibility that working from home gave them.

3.   Encourage sustainable travel

As we’ve stated above, commuting is actually one of the main sources of emissions that a typical, service-sector organisation produces.

If you’re not willing to relinquish grip on your employees and are still convinced of the need for office-based working, one way that you can mitigate the carbon impact is by encouraging more sustainable forms of travel.

So, what exactly counts as a sustainable form of travel? Think of any type of movement that saves emissions in some way – walking, cycling or jogging, or even public transport like electric buses and trains.

It’s estimated that someone who travels 4 miles one way each day to work would save 6% of their annual carbon footprint by switching to cycling rather than driving. When you consider the amount of employees in an average company, that adds up to an awful lot of carbon that has been saved.

Some practical ways that you could encourage sustainable commuting to and from your workplace include things like:

  • Cycle to work schemes, which encourage employees to buy a new bike or E-bike with discounts
  • Bus or train season ticket schemes, helping employees to save money on public transport
  • Provide office infrastructure to support active travel, like showers, bike lock stations etc.
  • Encourage car sharing and offer incentives

4.   Recycle

In the UK, waste that your business produces is your legal responsibility until it’s been collected.

Essentially, organisations have a legal responsibility to focus on recycling and reducing waste, as well as disposing of it in a responsible way. Although it can vary depending on whether you’re in England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, organisations in the UK are also legally required to separate their recyclable waste from their non-recyclable waste.

Whilst many organisations can take a short-sighted view that views recycling as a pain in the spreadsheet, it’s actually one of the most practical ways that you can engage employees directly in your organisation’s efforts to make itself more environmentally-friendly.

Unlike some green measures, (like cycling to work, for instance) everyone – regardless of age and ability or disability – can usually take care to make sure they put waste in the right bin. Asking employees to recycle items help to share ownership of your sustainability policy and gives everyone a part to play in the fight to make your organisation greener.

The key to promoting recycling in the workplace is communicating what you’re asking your staff to do clearly. You can do this through dedicated training and

Many employers can go a bit overboard with information and signs, listing exhaustively everything that can and can’t be recycled. Detailed information like this can end up causing more harm than good though as people don’t have time to read and process a lot of information. As a result, they’ll either recycle things incorrectly or not at all.

The best way to counteract this is to combine simple information with dedicated training. Presuming you have the resources to spare, it should be easy enough to integrate a short section on office recycling into a staff induction or general health and safety training, so it won’t be as difficult as you might think!

5.   Compost your food waste

Rubbish isn’t the only thing that can be recycled and given a new lease of life: so can food!

Food recycling is actually one of the most practical ways that we can look after the earth, physically giving something back to it in the form of compost! And it doesn’t take much to do: just a plastic bin and a willingness to encourage people to put their organic waste in a dedicated bin.

When we throw food scraps away or anything that’s organic, it usually ends up in a landfill where it’s buried deep and decomposes. Surrounded and crushed by tonnes of other inorganic/organic rubbish, there’s obviously a lack of oxygen. As a result, anaerobic bacteria (microbes that thrive in environments without oxygen) grow and break down the organic matter, releasing methane in the process.

Methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas and is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming the environment, in the first 20 years after it has been released. It’s a big problem when it comes to reducing global warming, so it’s vital that we take steps to reduce the amount that we produce.

When we compost organic material, we encourage aerobic bacteria (ones that thrive in environments with oxygen). This type of microbe can break organic matter down without producing methane, making it a vital ally in the fight against climate change. At the end of the composting process, you’re left with compost, an incredibly useful material that sequesters carbon and can be used for improving the fertility of soil or for improving habitats for insects and animals.

Whilst British workplaces may vary drastically, there’s one defining trait they usually all have in common: the sheer quantity of tea and coffee they consume in a week. According to one study, the average UK worker will drink 24,684 cups of tea during their time at work. All of that tea and coffee drinking will probably result in a lot of leftover tea and coffee grounds that could be composted!

5. Encourage green volunteering days

Research has shown that one of the best ways to improve motivation and get people really invested in the completion of a task or goal is to give them ownership of it.

When it comes to sustainability and improving your green credentials as an organisation, a great way to do this is by implementing a volunteering scheme that allows your employees to dedicate a few hours of work time per year to a particular green cause or initiative.

Volunteering schemes not only help to give employees a sense of ownership and agency over sustainability at a company, they are also a practical way for an organisation to make a physical difference in its local area when it comes to protecting the environment.

6.   Transition your fleet to electric vehicles

If your organisation has a fleet of company cars or vehicles it’s likely that they’re powered by fossil fuels like petrol or diesel. And, as we’ve alluded to above, fossil fuels are one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

According to the BBC, an average petrol car creates about 180g of CO2 every kilometre travelled and an average diesel car will create around 173g of CO2 every kilometre too.

Whilst in the grand scheme of things that might seem small, when you consider the fact that your company will likely have multiple vehicles that will travel hundreds of miles in a year, and that there will be thousands of other organisations just like yours doing the same thing, the emissions soon add up.

Transitioning to a fleet of electric vehicles could help to reduce the amount of emissions that your organisation produces.

The cost of electric vehicles has come down significantly in recent years and they’re now much more affordable for the average business. The range – the distance that the car can travel before needing recharging – has also increased drastically too. Electric vehicles are a perfect option for organisations who need vehicles for journeys under 100 miles.

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