It is relatively common knowledge at this point that large organizations and corporations are responsible for the vast majority of carbon emissions. Understandably, the larger a company is, the more waste it produces, the more resources it uses, and the more energy it consumes. And over the years, greedy corporate practices have led to a significant increase in pollution and dwindling resources from the burning of fossil fuels, plastic waste, water usage, wasteful use of materials, and an overall detrimental carbon footprint.
Although just 100 of the largest companies are responsible for around 71% of all global emissions, large corporations do not and should not carry all of the blame. Small businesses, too, play a part in the harmful practices damaging the planet. Though small businesses individually have an impact on a much smaller scale, there are over 30 million small businesses in the U.S. alone. So the carbon emissions, resource consumption, and waste production from every small business add up.
This article will look at the damaging effects of both large and small businesses and how small business owners, in particular, can take action to reduce their carbon footprint to help protect the environment.
All Companies Have a Responsibility to “Green” Up Their Acts
Corporations are responsible for the majority of things that people buy, use, and dispose of, which means they are the source of the vast majority of waste and resource consumption. However, even though larger companies bare the brunt of the responsibility, this does not mean that small businesses get a pass.
Every business, large or small, produces waste pollution and consumes energy and resources. So just as individual people and households are making an effort to live more sustainably, so too should small businesses. It is a corrupt way of thinking to assume that you don’t have a responsibility to take action just because someone else is getting more attention for the harm they are doing. Harmful practices are harmful practices, no matter who is doing them.
What is a Carbon Footprint and How Do You Measure It?
As mentioned, every business, no matter its size, has a carbon footprint. Some footprints are as large as the business itself. Others are minute. A carbon footprint is the measurement of the total greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane that are produced by a company’s actions, such as industrial production or heating and air conditioning. Even every human creates a carbon footprint. To measure your carbon footprint, you can use a commercial carbon footprint calculator that factors in things like your business’s electricity usage, company vehicle mileage, and shipping costs. This will give you the footprint you need to offset via business practices.
The damage that is being done to the planet is nearing the point where some effects may even be irreversible, so it is time for every business to own up and act to mitigate further environmental damage. In 2019 alone, the U.S. was responsible for over 6,000 million metric tons of carbon emissions, and though the EPA does not state expressly where these emissions come from, it is clear that the majority of this pollution is from industries and businesses of all sizes.
The Carbon Footprint of Small Businesses
One of the biggest contributors to small businesses’ carbon footprint is energy use. This is either direct or indirect energy use. Businesses need energy to power and heat their premises, and the power companies that supply the power need power to generate the power. You get the picture.
Transportation is also a top creator of carbon emissions among small businesses. Many small businesses use company cars or employee vehicles to conduct business, not to mention the commutes it takes for employees to arrive at offices. While the pandemic has mitigated many of these commutes, companies like furniture stores or construction companies must still provide vehicles for their fleets.
Steps Small Businesses Can Take to Become More Sustainable
Small business owners understandably have limited resources and less money compared to large corporations to make sustainable changes on a larger scale. Still, there are steps that they can take to reduce their carbon footprint over time to have a more positive impact on the environment. It’s not about restructuring your entire business all at once but about taking action one step at a time until you have achieved sustainability.
Establish Your Sustainability Goals
To start, it is helpful to first set and establish clear goals for your company and your employees to aim for. Simply stating you want to be more sustainable with your practices and then trying to do so without a clear plan can find you taking unnecessary risks and losing money. Instead, work to establish a clear set of sustainability goals and what you can do step-by-step to achieve them. This will give you a guide to follow that can help keep you on track and aware of what is and is not attainable or what could be a potential risk.
Implement Green Initiatives in the Workplace
Building a sustainable small business starts from within. Your internal practices and how your employees operate play significant roles in the overall carbon footprint of your business. Start small by implementing a recycling program in the office. From there, encourage your staff to be more mindful of the resources they are using and consuming, such as office supplies, paper products, and utensils. Everything you use and dispose of in the office contributes to waste and pollution in some way.
Find Ways to Reduce Energy Consumption
Replacing devices and systems that consume large amounts of energy with energy-saving products is another great way for your small business to reduce its carbon emissions. You don’t have to replace everything at once; just change things over one at a time until everything you use is more energy efficient. This can include energy-saving light bulbs, appliances, thermostats, and more.
Automate and Digitize as Much as Possible
Though digital devices do consume energy, they are much more efficient than conventional methods that use up too many resources. Paper processes, for example, are extremely harmful to the environment because it leads to deforestation. So try to automate and digitize as many of your processes and operations as you can. This can include offering remote work as an option to limit the resources needed for in-office employees.
Encourage Employees to Live More Sustainably
Aside from the actions you take internally, you can also encourage your employees to live more sustainably in their personal lives. You can offer incentives for employees who actively work to reduce their carbon footprint or partake in company volunteer events that support eco-friendly causes. Encouraging ride-sharing and public transportation or bicycle commuting is another great way to have a positive impact as it helps reduce emissions from fuel-burning cars.
All businesses have a responsibility to “go green”. Though most people like to talk about corporate social responsibility because of the bigger impact larger companies have, we all essentially have a responsibility to do better to protect the planet and ensure a viable future for generations to come. Small businesses may have a smaller footprint, but that footprint still has an impact that can be harmful to the environment over time.