There’s a growing realisation amongst consumers that the environmental crisis facing the planet can only be addressed if we all act as individuals and make changes that will collectively slow or stop the damage being done.
Just a stern telling off from David Attenborough gave birth to plastic guilt in the UK and millions have changed their habits to cut down their use of single use plastic for example.
So why, in business, does everyone look to the legislators and big businesses to lead the way when it comes to environmental policies and behaviours?
Given recent events here in the UK, the reasons not to leave things to the legislators and government should be fairly obvious, but what about those big businesses, the ones that seem to control and own so much? Surely they’re the only ones can can make a significant difference?
Us little people working away in our micro, small or medium sized businesses can’t do anything;
“My business is just me and my van, any change I make won’t be noticeable, not like the big boys and their huge fleets.”
Fictitious Dave, Mobile Mechanic, Preston.
“We’re just a small office with 4 people, what difference can we make?”
Made-up Mandy, Events Manager, Basingstoke.
The difference that can be made by such businesses is actually huge.
It’s a numbers game. In the UK in 2018 there were 5.7 millions SMEs – that’s businesses with less than 250 employees – making up 99% of all business in the UK.
Still doesn’t sound like you and your business?
OK, lets take away the Ms and the Ss and just leave the micro businesses, those with just 0 to 9 employees, that still leaves a whopping 5.4 million businesses, or 96% of all UK businesses.
That’s a big opportunity to make a difference, but how?
Small business and energy
Let’s start with the big one – energy.
The idea that this planet can only provide a finite amount of certain resources is not a new one, we’ve known this for decades, and the advantage for us tree huggers is that saving energy has a direct impact on saving money, thus making it a pretty easy sell.
With energy prices seeming to have gotten their playlists stuck on Yazz’s ‘The Only Way Is Up (Baby)’ cutting energy consumption is no brainer to improve your bottom line.
If a third of those micro businesses cut their electricity usage by just 10% that would be enough to power around 225,000 UK homes for a year.
This is based on actual figures, I’ve put my calculations here…
Average electricity use for micro business 5000 – 15000 kWh
5.4 million micro business x 5000 kWh = 27 billion kWh
A 10% reduction would save 2.7billion kWh, a third of which is 0.9billion kWh
The average UK household uses 4000 kWh per year (World Energy Council figures)
0.9 billion divided by 4000 = 225,000
So it’s a bit like what all those personal finance whizzes are always going on about; stop buying that daily coffee from a lifeless chain every day of your working life and you don’t just save £3 on a skinny mocha lanky wacko-cino, you save over £700 across the year.
The collective power of micro businesses works in exactly the same way.
I realise that on its own, the “use less energy and save money” tip wasn’t really worth you wading through my rambling words and numbers above, so here’s a few more ways you can individually and therefore collectively (see ramblings above) make a difference –
Our relationship with deliveries
Obviously there’s the don’t use your car unless you have to, take public transport, share journeys blah blah blah which hopefully we all know by now and are doing our best to implement in our business lives.
What you probably haven’t thought about are the journeys you already don’t make – the couriers that deliver stuff to you and take your stuff to your customers. Do you really need those spare staples to be driven to your door by the end of today, and whatever little individually packaged thing you’ll think of tomorrow and so on?
No one’s suggesting you should never have anything delivered again, just don’t get deliveries every day when one a week (or even less often) would suffice. If there’s a few of you, check if anyone else needs anything from the same supplier when you’re placing an order to avoid multiple orders, packages, deliveries and journeys.
One less delivery per week means potentially 20 million less short inefficient polluting vehicle journeys per month.
OK, so that’s incoming deliveries sorted, but what if you’re one of the ever increasing number of ecommerce businesses, sending stuff out to customers daily?
Surely you can’t just send stuff out once a week?
Maybe not once a week, but do all your customers really need everything straight away? Don’t know? Well ask them.
- Incentivise customers to opt for a less urgent delivery: offer it free or for a small discount if you already offer free shipping. This way you can batch your courier pickups to specific days each week, reducing those carbon producing journeys still further.
- Use local cycle couriers: Do you have local customers who you deliver to? Why not see if there are local cycle couriers to do these deliveries? A standard courier delivery to a customer a few miles away will require journeys much longer than that to get to the local courier depot or distribution centre and then back out to the customer.
So you’ve reduced the number of deliveries and your single delivery arrives in a nice big box.
But wait, what madness is this? “Who ordered all this air?” you cry, to your mostly bemused colleagues tired of your poor humour.
Wasted space in packaging is a massive issue, if your suppliers are sending you largely empty boxes, it means they’re sending trucks and vans out full of air, wasting space, journeys, fuel and carbon. Ask them why. If you’re the one doing the sending, are you happy that your packaging is efficient as it should be, does the size of your packaging match its contents?
A quick google for ‘right size packaging’ or ‘custom size boxes’ will turn up a range of solutions from very small quantity boxes for the small supplier, right up to amazing box on demand machines that measure your orders and produce a perfectly sized box with minimum card wastage.
Start in the workplace
Now we’ve optimised everything arriving at and leaving your business premises we’re doing well, but future generations won’t be thanking us just yet – the greatest opportunities to make a difference are in the workplace.
Again, we find reducing energy consumption to be at the centre of this.
Easily the greatest reduction in your environmental impact (and costs) can be made by simply replacing your halogen and incandescent light bulbs with LED ones. These can use as little as 10-20% of the energy of the ones they replace and the cost of buying them can be made back in savings in just a few months.
This light bulb moment will then spur you on to assess all your other power consuming appliances, are they the most efficient they can be: do you use them too much or do you even need them at all?
- Do you really need that huge fridge in the office kitchen just for some milk and five people’s sandwiches?
- Would something smaller and more efficient be more suitable?
- Something broken?
Although it’s easy to get something new ordered and delivered, you’d be surprised how many appliances can be repaired, thus saving them from landfill and all the resources and energy required to make and deliver a new one. It’s all about thinking what do you actually need, and thinking about the wider implications of using the things you do need.
But why should we do any of this?
Well it’s not 14 hours, but you have to have been living under a rock to have not heard about the warning from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report in October 2018.
We have until 2030 to limit Climate Change in order to avoid catastrophic consequences.
That’s just over a decade to act.
Along with the now overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is due to human activity, the stark reality is we can’t wait for legislation and for big business to do something about it.
We must all take responsibility and act now, because if we all do something, we can limit the effects of the damage we’ve done up to this point.