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10 ways you can reduce your company’s environmental impact

Business as usual is not an option. It’s imperative that all of us – individuals and organisations alike – strive to minimise the negative impact of our activities on the world around us.

In this article I briefly present 10 ways in which you could reduce the environmental impact of your business practices, whether you’re a small, medium or large company, or a freelancer. This is far from being an exhaustive list, but they are some of the low-hanging fruit we can all easily grab hold of.

1. Repair, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This mantra, or a version of it, has been around for some time and is something we should really all be living by – both in a personal and professional capacity. We can no longer act as if we have infinite resources, and that our consumption is not having an impact on the world around us – both of which are far from the truth. We must be more conscious of the impact our consumption is having on the world around us.

In any organisation, large or small, it’s important to have oversight – knowing how much of something is being consumed, but also how it’s being consumed and how any waste generated is being handled.

The industrial system has us prioritising convenience and cost. As a result, we have become disconnected from how things are produced and what happens to the waste we generate. It’s set up to exclude and ignore externalities – the costs related to the impact of the production and consumption, such as water pollution, air pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, or climate change, which are not factored into what we pay at the time of purchase. Unless we proactively seek to understand those costs and the impact of our consumption, we are blindly contributing to these and a whole host of other environmental and social issues.

Consequently, the nature of the system we function in – one that is largely extractive, exploitative and destructive – means the most effective way of reducing our impact is by reducing the amount we consume. Ideally, we would only buy what we absolutely need, repair anything we can, and reuse as much as possible. We would only replace things when absolutely necessary and send them to be recycled as an absolute last resort.

When you do have to buy something new, consider the ethics of the company from which you are purchasing it, and the materials used. For example, is the product ethically produced, or using organically grown, recycled or recyclable materials. Become aware of how the product was produced and the measures the company has in place to minimise its own environmental impact, and that of its supply chain. All this information is readily available on the Internet. But, be sure to dig deeper than a company’s policy pages on its website – these may only represent aspirations, and not necessarily reflect their current or future actions.

For research on companies producing consumer goods as well as services such as banking and energy supply, Ethical Consumer magazine is a fantastic resource. It’s UK-based, but since we live in a globalised economy, many of the companies they report on are selling their wares across the globe. There are a myriad of organisations to engage with, but to begin your exploration, you could, for example, do a search for the company and add ‘environmental impact’ to the query. Make sure you look at reliable, third-party reporting, and not at the company’s own website.

2. Avoid buying anything considered ‘disposable’

When we don’t or can’t repair, reduce, reuse or recycle then we throw things away. It’s all too easy to discard things like food packaging, take-away cups and containers, and plastic bottles, without considering what happens to it next, and the impact it goes on to have. Products that are viewed as ‘disposable’ are ultimately creating waste that, if not managed in an effective and considered way, will be contributing to many environmental issues. For example, the amount of plastic ending up in the ocean each year is thought to be over 12 million tonnes – causing extortionary damage and loss of aquatic life.

Our concern should not be limited to ‘disposable’ packaging and products. Whether you’re buying a mobile phone or a microwave, with a culture rooted in mass production and throw-away convenience, it’s worthwhile, both from an environmental perspective as well as economic one, to do your research and buy the best you can with the resources you have. The saying ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is truer now than ever before.

3. Reduce energy consumption

This might seem obvious, but I think it’s still something that needs to be reiterated. Look at an image of any cityscape and you will see all the office blocks with their lights on. We have so much more we can do to minimise our energy consumption. Switching off the lights, having motion detectors in lesser-used areas of the office, switching off computers and screens at night, and using energy-efficient appliances are a few of the accessible measures you can implement. Even turning down the brightness of your screen helps reduce the energy you consume. These are small actions, but if everyone did them, and other ways to reduce energy consumption, it would have a significant impact on electricity demand, and therefore CO2 emissions.

If you want to take things further, when buying electrical goods you could invest in the most energy-efficient options. If battery operated, you could ensure you use rechargeable batteries. And you could also do some additional research on the companies you’re buying from, and see what their environmental policies are – supporting those doing the most to reduce their own impact (both current and aspirational activities).

4. Change your electricity provider

This is such an easy action to take in many countries, and, if more and more businesses do it, has the potential to have a profound impact on the energy production landscape. We need to move away from fossil fuels and embrace and support renewables. The more support given to the producers and suppliers of electricity produced using renewables, the faster this can happen.

Many countries will have their own renewable (or ‘green’) energy providers. In the UK there is Good Energy, in France there’s Enercoop. Enercoop has regional chapters, which means you’re supporting producers local to you, which is taking things to another level. The more electricity production is decentralised, the better – not only from the perspective of efficiency (around 8% of electricity produced globally is lost during transmission and distribution), but also in terms of managing disruptions to the network.

One thing to be aware of is that some providers – in particular those that market themselves as providers of ‘green’ rather than renewable energy – will have a portfolio or mix of sources, labelled ‘clean’ energy, which includes nuclear. So, if you don’t want to support nuclear energy production, be sure to check out the provider’s mix of sources before committing to them.

If you wanted to take things to another level, you could invest in your own energy production – small-scale wind or solar, for example – catering for your own needs, and potentially selling residual energy back into the national grid.

5. Change your bank

The biggest banks provide significant support to the fossil fuel industry, and many other industries that are contributing to social and environmental issues. According to a report published in a report by a coalition of NGOs, the world’s biggest 60 banks ‘poured a total of $3.8 trillion into fossil fuels’ in the 5 years after the Paris climate deal in 2015.

Banks are doing far too little to meet even their own pledges around reducing the environmental impact of their investments, let alone what actually needs to be done to engage effectively with the climate crisis.

As mentioned in an article in the Guardian, research by campaign group ShareAction revealed that “Europe’s 25 largest banks are still failing to present comprehensive plans that address both the climate crisis and biodiversity loss”, and that “none of the banks it reviewed were taking action across all key areas.”

If more of us moved our money and our business to banks adhering to a strong, comprehensive code of ethics, the rest of them would eventually take heed. And this simple action carried out at scale could have massive repercussions. With time this would catalyse the greening of the economy and the improved sustainability of our societies.

Triodos Bank is one of the best out there, but unfortunately only offers accounts in a handful of European countries. If you live in the UK, you have some good options open to you – check out Ethical Consumer magazine’s analysis (you will have to subscribe to see their rankings, but the article offers a wealth of information…excuse the pun).

6. Change your pension provider

This is up there with changing your bank. The amount of investing power the pension companies have is staggering, and as a consequence they have the potential to change the landscape in so many ways. As the Guardian points out in its ‘eco guide to pensions’: “Vast amounts are paid into Britain’s pensions schemes and, sadly, much of it still goes into supporting fossil fuels.”

It was revealed in a report published by Friends of the Earth that the local governments in the UK invested almost £10 billion into fossil fuels in a single financial year (2019- 2020), despite 75% of them having declared a climate emergency. This is a small fraction of the tip of a very large iceberg.

There is a well-supported movement for switching to better pension providers, and the Ethical Consumer magazine can help people based in the UK with navigating through the options.

7. Remote working and conferencing

Covid turned conventional working practices on their head. It forced businesses to adopt video conferencing and, where feasible, allow people to work from home. Hopefully this will have highlighted the viability of video conferencing in place of face-to-face meetings – particularly those that might involve significant travel.

So long as there is a reliance on fossil fuel-based modes of transport, anything we can do to minimise our use of such transport is going to help us reduce our impact on the environment.

Green Website Hosting

This might not be an obvious action, but the impact of our web presence is not something we should be overlooking. As the datacentres grow ever larger to accommodate more and more websites and Internet traffic, more and more energy is being consumed and emissions created.

Unfortunately, very few hosting companies have an environmental policy of substance, if at all. But you can use and support one of the few progressive-thinking hosting companies that consider their impact on the environment and the world around them. One of the most comprehensive range of actions taken by a hosting company that I’ve come across is by Infomaniak, based in Switzerland. Other options include Kualo in the UK, and GreenGeeks in the US (they also have servers based in Amsterdam).

I have been using Kualo for years, and been happy with the service they’ve provided. Since moving to France, I’ve been using Infomaniak – my first impressions of them are good, but for now I can only recommend them based on their ‘green credentials’.

9. Change your telecoms provider

This is about thinking beyond your own direct impact on the environment, by engaging and supporting enterprises that are already embracing green business practices. These companies will be taking measures to minimise and offset their CO2 emissions, have an active environmental policy, and in some cases strive to go beyond carbon neutral to be climate positive. In the UK you have Zen and the Co-op, in France La Poste is striving to become a carbon neutral company, and offers mobile phone contracts.

On the subject of mobile phones – consider buying a Fairphone when you next need to replace yours. This is an ethically-produced mobile with replicable parts.

10. Offset your CO2 emissions

This shouldn’t be used as a way of maintaining current levels of consumption and destructive business practices – the minimisation of your direct impact should always be a priority, and always be something you audit and refine over time. You can use carbon offsetting in parallel to cater for the remainder of the emissions you produce.

We all need to go beyond being carbon neutral and start being climate positive – to proactively help restore and regenerate. Only then do we have a hope of keeping global average temperature increases below 1.5C, which is necessary to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

I’m hoping to start a project which will allow me to offset the emissions generated by the work I do for my clients – to plant trees for each client, and provide them with updates as to their tree’s growth. Until I’m able to realise this, I am supporting the work of Ecologi. In 6 months this has helped reduce CO2 emissions by 5.28 tonnes.

The above is a brief introduction to 10 easy and accessible steps we can all take to help move our societies and economies towards a more sustainable means of operating. We can no longer ignore the link between our everyday actions as individuals and organisations, such as purchasing a product or service, and the unfolding climate crisis, biodiversity loss and devastating pollution of land, air and water.

I hope you will use the information I’ve shared to take action. If you do, please get in touch and I will happily share your story.