carbon footprinting service

The beginners guide to carbon footprinting for small business

We often get asked about carbon footprinting and we provide advice and support to enable small businesses (and some big ones too) to measure their carbon footprint. See more about the service we provide here. In case you want to have a go yourself, all of the questions we are commonly asked are covered in this guide. 

The guide provides all of the information you need to develop a carbon footprint for your small business.

We have tried to use plain English and to keep everything as simple as possible. If you are busy or just find it overwhelming, Green Small Business can do the work for you. Book a call to discuss your requirements. We would be happy to help.

Here’s what you will learn:

What is carbon?

In this context, carbon refers to carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a gas which is generated by burning fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil, petrol, diesel etc) in homes, cars, power stations and businesses.

Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases got their name because increasing levels of these gases in the earth’s atmosphere are trapping more heat from the sun, causing global temperatures to rise.

Other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons or ‘HFCs’ (the gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning). Each of these gases has a different capacity to cause global warming. This is often measured relative to carbon dioxide, using CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent).

In the context of a carbon footprint, ‘carbon’ is often therefore used as shorthand not just for carbon dioxide but for CO2e, i.e. the emissions of all the greenhouse gases being measured.

When you see the term ‘carbon emissions’, it may well be referring to the emissions of all of the greenhouse gases.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint of your business is a measurement of all of the greenhouse gases which your business produces. 

The activities of your small business produce these gases directly and indirectly. They are directly produced by burning gas to generate heat for your building(s) and using fuel in your vehicles, if you have any. They are indirectly produced from using electricity, some of which may have been generated from burning coal or gas in power stations. They are also produced indirectly when you purchase goods and services, all of which will have required energy to produce and deliver to you. 

You should always include the direct emissions in your small business carbon footprint. Ideally, you would also include all of the indirect emissions but this isn’t always possible. More on that later.

A carbon footprint is a tool you can use to understand the different ways in which your small business is contributing to climate change. It will allow you to identify ways of reducing that contribution in future. Updating your carbon footprint on a regular basis will allow you to measure your progress in reducing the carbon emissions from your small business.

What are Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions?

The GHGProtocol is an organisation which has established a globally-recognised standard for measuring and managing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The GHG Protocol distinguishes between direct and indirect emissions but breaks down the indirect emissions into 2 separate categories. Overall, greenhouse gas emissions are therefore divided into 3 categories or ‘scopes’:

  • Scope 1 emissions are the direct emissions. These are the emissions produced by activities which are under your direct control as a small business. This would include emissions from burning fuel in boilers for on-site heating, burning fuel in vehicles owned by the business and gases escaping from on-site air conditioning systems.
  • Scope 2 emissions are the indirect emissions resulting from the generation of electricity which you use as a small business.
  • Scope 3 emissions are all of the other indirect emissions resulting from the activities of your small business. This could include:
    • purchasing of goods and services
    • business travel in vehicles which are not owned by the company
    • distribution of products and services that you buy and sell
    • waste disposal
    • water use

To some extent at least, your small business is responsible for all of these emissions. With Scope 1 emissions, you have alot of control and action to reduce them is often more straightforward. However, in the case of scope 2 and scope 3 emissions, they come from sources which you do not own or control so they can be more difficult to manage.

Source:GHG Protocol

How can I develop a carbon footprint for my small business?

Step 1: Decide on the scope of your carbon footprint

As a minimum, you should include all scope 1 and scope 2 emissions in your carbon footprint. Measuring scope 1 emissions requires a record of fuel used on-site (available via energy bills), refrigerants used in servicing any air conditioning (available from invoices from the service engineers) and fuel used in company vehicles (usually available in financial records).

Measuring scope 2 emissions simply requires a record of electricity used (available via energy bills).

Sometimes, utilities such as gas and electricity are shared with other businesses in the same building. Where this is the case, a percentage of the overall usage can be allocated to your business which is equivalent to the percentage of the overall floorspace of the building that your business occupies.

That’s the easy bit.

You then need to determine which Scope 3 categories are relevant to your business. They are listed below.

CategorySummary of what’s included
1 – Purchased goods and servicesEmissions from the products and services a company buys from other businesses.
2 – Capital goodsEmissions associated with the production and disposal of equipment, buildings, and other physical assets.
3 – Fuel and energy related activitiesEmissions from the extraction, production, and transportation of fuels and energy that a company uses. The emissions which stem directly from the use of the fuels are included in other categories.
4 – Upstream transportation and distributionEmissions from transporting and distributing products to the company from suppliers. Unless the transportation relates to products which are then sold by the business or used in a manufacturing or production process, transportation emissions are usually included in category 1.
5 – Waste generated in operationsEmissions from waste generated during a company’s operations, such as solid waste, wastewater, or hazardous waste.
6 – Business travelEmissions from employee travel in vehicles not owned by the business, including flights, train rides, and rental cars for business purposes. Emissions from travel in vehicles which are owned by the business are included in Scope 1.
7 – Employee commutingEmissions from employees’ daily travel to and from work, such as driving personal vehicles or using public transportation. Emissions from any commuting in vehicles which are owned by the business are included in Scope 1.

Employee tele-working (homeworking) is a sub-category of Category 7.
8 – Upstream leased assetsEmissions which have not been included in Scope 1 and 2 from leased assets like buildings, vehicles, or equipment used by a company but owned by someone else.  We usually encourage clients to include emissions from leased assets in Scope 1 and 2, as it implies taking a greater sense of responsibility for them.
9 – Downstream transportation and distributionEmissions from transporting and distributing a company’s products to customers.
10 – Processing of sold productsEmissions resulting from activities associated with the processing or use of a company’s products after they are sold, such as customer use of appliances or vehicles.
11 – Use of sold productsEmissions resulting from the use of a company’s products, such as the energy consumed by customers when using appliances or vehicles.
12 – End of life treatment of sold productsEmissions from activities related to the disposal or recycling of a company’s products after they are used by customers.
13 – Downstream leased assetsEmissions resulting from the use of leased assets by customers or other end-users.
14 – FranchisesEmissions associated with the activities of franchisees that are directly linked to the company’s brand.
15 – InvestmentsEmissions resulting from the investments made by a company, such as funds invested in projects or companies that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Having worked out which categories are relevant, you then need to decide which ones to include in your footprint. For small businesses which are measuring their carbon footprint for the first time, we generally recommend that they include all scope 1 and 2 emissions and the scope 3 emissions from:

  • business travel
  • home working – more and more staff are working from home so we encourage inclusion of emissions from home working where this is relevant
  • staff commuting
  • supply chain emissions from purchased goods & services
  • any other scope 3 categories that are likely to form a significant portion of the overall business footprint

We also generally recommend that businesses seek to expand the scope of their footprint over time so that they take responsibility for as much of it as they can.

Most importantly, in any reporting of your carbon footprint you should be transparent about what emissions are included and excluded. 

If you are required to produce a Carbon Reduction Plan as part of a procurement process, in compliance with PPN 06/21 there is a specific subset of scope 3 emissions that you need to measure. For full details, see our separate guide to preparing a Carbon Reduction Plan (PPN 06/21).

Step 2: Decide on a baseline year and gather the data

To be really useful in measuring your progress in reducing emissions, you will need to update your carbon footprint on a regular (probably annual) basis. However, initially you will need to decide on a baseline year that you can measure your progress from.

Much of the data which you will use for your carbon footprint will come from your financial records so you may want to align your baseline year with your accounting period.

Your baseline year needs to be the most recent year for which you have the data BUT it also needs to be as near as possible to a typical year for the business. If you choose a year in which business was significantly impacted by the Covid pandemic or some other major event, it will not provide a useful basis for monitoring future change.

Having decided on your baseline year, you then need to gather the relevant data from that year. The likely data sources for the emissions included in a basic carbon footprint are shown below.

ActivitySource of data
Heating / cooling company facilitiesTotal kilowatt hours used from gas bills.

Total litres and type(s) of top-up gases for any air conditioning units, from servicing bills. 

If you rent part of a building and do not have a separate bills, you will need to estimate your usage – a percentage of the overall bill which is equivalent to your percentage of the overall floorspace of the building, for example.
Operating company vehiclesLitres of fuel purchased from invoices and receipts (more accurate); or 

Vehicle mileage from vehicle log books/odometers (less accurate)

Plus the vehicle type(s) used for the journeys.
Electricity use in company facilities Total kilowatt hours used from electricity bills.

If you rent part of a building and do not have a separate electricity bill, you will need to estimate your electricity usage – a percentage of the overall bill which is equivalent to your percentage of the overall floorspace of the building, for example.
Home workingNumber of employee days worked from home, which might be available from timesheets or might just need to be estimated.
Business travelMode of travel (car, train, plane etc) and distance travelled for each journey taken.

Mode of travel can be identified from expenses claims. If distance travelled isn’t also captured in those claims, this can be calculated using Google Maps or equivalent.
Staff commutingCommuting distance, frequency and usual mode of transport for all staff

This data is usually gathered via a staff survey
Supply chain emissions from purchased goods and servicesIdeally, carbon emissions data for the specific products and services you have purchased – ask your suppliers.

But you won’t be able to get that for all purchased goods and services. Most emissions in this category will likely need to be calculated based on the amounts of expenditure in broad categories – food & drink; computing; insurance etc. This can usually be extracted from financial management software

Collating all of your data in a single spreadsheet will help keep you organised and make for easier updating in future years.

Step 3: Calculate your emissions (do the math!)

Having gathered data on all of the activities of your small business that have generated greenhouse gas emissions, you then need to do some simple calculations to convert the activity data to emissions. This is done using conversion factors.

Activity data x Conversion factor = Greenhouse gas emissions

Many Governments issue conversion factors to make carbon calculations more consistent. The UK Government updates conversion factors for the UK on an annual basis and publishes them online here. Some conversion factors are published by the Australian Government – the factors for 2020 are here. Emission factors for the USA are included in this (unfortunately rather complicated) GHG Protocol spreadsheet. Various other country-specific spreadsheets and tools can also be found on the GHG Protocol website. The Climatiq data explorer is a searchable online database of all of these factors and many more, including factors for specific product and materials categories.

Once you have converted all your business data into greenhouse gas emissions in each category, you can add them together to arrive at your small business carbon footprint. Nice work!

What should I do with my small business carbon footprint?

There are three main potential uses for your small business carbon footprint:

  1. To identify priority areas for improving your environmental performance. Your carbon footprint should give you a clear idea of which activities are generating the most emissions and, therefore, where you might be able to make improvements.
  2. To monitor progress. Recalculating your carbon footprint on a regular basis will enable you to monitor your progress in reducing the carbon emissions from your small business.
  3. To establish how much carbon offsetting you would need to do in order to be a ‘carbon neutral’ business – more on this below.

How can I reduce the carbon footprint of my small business?

The answer to this question will be different for every small business. At Green Small Business, we take a structured and systematic approach to understanding all of the different business activities that generate an environmental impact and work with businesses to develop policies and action plans to address those impacts. Our free guide provides a step-by-step process for you to do the same, or you could get us to work with you.

From our work with dozens of different small businesses, there are some common areas for action, including:

  • Reducing energy use in buildings, e.g. through improving energy efficiency.
  • Developing a principled approach to business travel through reducing travel and using more sustainable modes of transport.

But there are lots of other areas that are commonly overlooked, including the choices made about things like company pensions and web hosting. Depending on how you have measured it, action in such areas may or may not make a measurable difference to your carbon footprint but they are crucial to ensuring your business has real integrity in its environmental management.

What is carbon offsetting? And should we offset?

The main purpose of calculating a carbon footprint for your small business should always be to better understand how you can reduce carbon emissions. However, you will not be able to eliminate all of your carbon emissions. Carbon offsetting, at least in theory, provides a way of compensating for the emissions that you can’t eliminate by investing in projects that result in a reduction of carbon emissions. Such projects might include tree planting or new renewable energy.

The concept of carbon offsetting is being increasingly scrutinised. It has been criticised for two main reasons:

  1. Carbon offset projects do not always deliver the promised carbon reductions.
  2. Carbon offsetting is used by some businesses as an excuse for carrying on business-as-usual.

At Green Small Business, we are not fans of the concept of carbon offsetting. We always encourage businesses to invest in high quality environmental projects. We just don’t think they should be thought of as ‘offsets’. To do so risks false or exaggerated claims being made and/or there being less of an emphasis on reducing the carbon footprint of the business.

Our recommendation: Don’t use the term ‘offset’ and don’t make any claims about offsetting your carbon. Focus on reducing your carbon and financially supporting the best environmental projects – not because it will magically offset your carbon but because it’s the right thing to do.

Why not formally commit to giving a percentage of your revenue to environmental charities? You can do this via the 1% for the Planet initiative. 1% for the Planet is a global movement working to drive investment in the charities that are addressing some of the most urgent challenges of our time.

Giving in this way is a clear statement that you recognise the environmental impact of doing business and of our long-term reliance on a healthy planet.

Green Small Business is proud to be a member.

If you are specifically interested in planting trees, we love 9Trees. Their vision is to tackle climate change by restoring new woodland habitats, promoting biodiversity, creating jobs within the countryside sector and connecting more people to nature.

They won’t sell you carbon offsets but they will plant trees on your behalf and in the best way possible. They only plant trees in the UK and they continue to look after your trees, so they store as much carbon as possible.

Their specialist knowledge in conservation means they’re able to create woodlands that support local wildlife and improve biodiversity. They work with local authorities and organisations to plant on carefully selected land, not destroying vital flower meadows, peat land or other Special Sites of Scientific Interest.

They work directly within communities, using local specialists to give your trees the very best start in life. All of their trees are native and grown in the UK, with the species of tree chosen to suit each site. They are also a Community Interest Company, ploughing any profits back into good schemes, training and education.

We don’t benefit financially in any way from recommending 9Trees. We genuinely just like what they do.

What does carbon neutral mean?

‘Carbon neutral’ is a label that is sometimes claimed by businesses that have offset all of their carbon emissions. ‘Climate neutral’ and even ‘climate positive’ are also used and seem to mean similar things.

If you are going to use the term (and we don’t recommend it) always be clear about what is included in your carbon footprint calculations and what isn’t.

What does net zero mean?

‘Net zero’ has been described as the most important metric of the 21st century but there is a lot of confusion about what it means.

A net zero world would be one in which the amount of greenhouse gases coming into the atmosphere was equivalent to the amount being taken out, e.g. through being absorbed by plants and trees. In that sense, it is very similar to ‘carbon neutral’ but the key difference is that net zero relies on carbon offsetting only once radical reductions in direct emissions have been achieved. By radical, we mean 90-95%! Net zero can therefore rarely be achieved in the short-term, with most businesses setting long-term targets to achieve it.

The term also implies reference to an important global movement. In Paris in 2015 a global target was set of achieving net zero by 2050 in order to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) subsequently stated that an interim target of achieving a 50% reduction by 2030 was necessary.

Businesses and other organisations have since been encouraged to set targets which are consistent with these global net zero targets. The United Nation’s Race to Zero campaign has been established to support this. Numerous country-specific initiatives have also been set up to encourage businesses and other organisations to set targets which are aligned with these global goals. 

For net zero to be achieved, clearly it requires consistency in the way it is measured. The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) is attempting to standardise and verify the setting of these targets by individual businesses and organisations. Use this methodology if you can but beware that for many smaller businesses, meeting SBTI requirements will be extremely challenging due to the often limited control over some emissions sources, e.g. when operating from rented premises.

What is carbon intensity?

In the context of carbon footprinting, carbon intensity is a measure of carbon emissions relative to business turnover. It is usually measured in CO2e per $million revenue.

As a business grows and the levels of its different activities increase, its carbon emissions are also likely to grow. Measures that have been taken to reduce carbon emissions might not then show in the business carbon footprint as they could be outweighed by the extra emissions from the growth in business activity.

Similarly, if a business was shrinking, this is likely to result in a reduction of emissions. 

Carbon intensity is therefore an important measure for getting an accurate understanding of the success or otherwise of your carbon reduction efforts. If carbon intensity is decreasing then it is an indication that carbon reduction efforts are succeeding (bear in mind though that there will be a natural reduction in carbon intensity anyway as the level of renewable energy in the grid increases, the efficiency of vehicles improves etc). If carbon intensity is increasing then it is an indication that your efforts are not having the impact you intended.

Our advice – unless your business is growing really fast, keep an eye on your carbon intensity as it’s easy to measure and can be useful but always aim to reduce your absolute carbon footprint year-on-year.

carbon footprinting service

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We would love to hear from you. If you need help with your carbon footprint or have any questions or comments about any aspect of Green Small Business, please contact us. Book a call with Tim or send us a message using the contact form.

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Help with B Corp environmental requirements

How Green Small Business can help improve your B Impact Assessment Score

B Corp environmental requirements are driving more and more businesses to seek Green Small Business certification. More and more of our clients are using Green Small Business as a way of meeting the environmental requirements in their B Impact Assessments. This article provides an overview of what B Corp is all about and how Green Small Business can help.

What is B Corp?

The B Corp movement is huge and its momentum is growing. B Corps (‘certified B Corporations’ to be precise) are ‘businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose’. Big companies you will have heard of are B Corps (Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Danone and more), as are a myriad of smaller companies that will not yet have crossed your path. The number of certified B Corps is growing at a rapid rate, as evidenced by the current warning of certification delays on the B Corp website. The movement is truly capturing the shift in business toward ‘people, planet and profit’.

What are B Corp environmental requirements?

B Corp certification can be achieved by businesses of any size, from start-ups to multinationals. The process of achieving it starts with the completion of the B Impact Assessment, an assessment which spans community, customers, workers, environment and governance. To achieve B Corp certification, a score of at least 80 points is required across the various categories or ‘Impact Areas’.

The Impact Areas covered in the B Impact Assessment are: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment, Customers and a Disclosure Questionnaire.

The B Corp environmental requirements are tailored to the size and type of business. When creating an account (which is free and confidential), you need to specify the sector, industry category, industry and number of employees in the business. These choices determine the questions asked in the impact assessment.

The choices of sector when opening an account for the B Impact Assessment are: Agriculture/Growers, Manufacturing, Service with Minor Environmental Footprint, Service with Significant Environmental Footprint and Wholesale/Retail.

I tried creating logins for a few different types of companies to see how the B Corp environmental requirements varied. Sensibly, there seemed to be most questions for businesses in the ‘Agriculture/Growers’ sector. The questions for businesses in the ‘Service with Minor Environmental Footprint’ seemed suitably light-touch.

There were 69 environment questions for my spoof Happy Carrots agricultural sector company, but only 31 for my real Green Small Business company (which sits in the ‘Service with Minor Environmental Footprint’ category)

Although the number of environmental questions varies, the categories of questions seem to stay the same, and cover:

  • Environmental management
  • Air & climate
  • Water
  • Land & life

How we help

The Green Small Business process is supporting a number of business to meet B Corp environmental requirements. Through conducting a light-touch but systematic review of the environmental impacts of a business, we identify where action needs to be taken and where priorities should lie. We then provide a tailored environmental policy that can be used to communicate environmental priorities to customers, staff and others. The policy is accompanied by a practical environmental action plan, which provides a clear and structured route for the business to deliver the policy and improve environmental performance. With the environmental policy and action plan in place, the business is then eligible for Green Small Business certification.

The most direct benefit of this for the B Impact Assessment score is in the Environmental Management section and, in particular, the sub-section on Environmental Management Systems.

Gaining Green Small Business certification would typically allow a business to tick all the boxes in the Environmental Management Systems sub-section, earning all of the available 1.33 points in this section.

With a Green Small Business environmental management system in place, many of the other questions in the Environment section of the assessment will also have been addressed. Since our action plans cover all of the significant environmental impacts of a business, the actions included within them will significantly improve the B Impact Assessment scores in the other sub-sections such as those on waste, recycling, transportation, water use etc.

For example, the section on ‘Facility Improvement with Landlord’ asks about efforts to implement or maintain energy, water and waste improvements within leased/rented facilities. These are precisely the kinds of actions which we explore with businesses and include within our action plans.

The sub-section on Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transportation includes questions on the policies in place to manage transport emissions. All Green Small Business action plans include action on these aspects, including the adoption of transport policies where relevant – we even supply templates for these policies!

As well as using the standard Green Small Business process to improve B Impact Assessment scores, we also offer consultancy support in key areas, including energy, emissions and water use.

Richard Hatfield, founder of e-commerce start-up Ventorq, outlined how Green Small Business was helping his business:

“As a small start-up, the requirements of B Corp can feel a bit overwhelming. We needed a simple but robust way of addressing our environmental impacts and identifying ways to improve. Green Small Business provided exactly what we needed. As well as helping us with our B Corp plans, Green Small Business certification helps to position Ventorq as a trustworthy and responsible business that does not place profit above ethics.”

Check out these examples of businesses that have already gained Green Small Business certification.

certified b corporation pending

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We would love to hear from you. To find out more about how we can help with your BCorp application, book a call with Tim or send us a message using the contact form.

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How hard is it to be a Green Small Business?

Green Small Business was established to enable all businesses to think about their environmental impacts, take steps to address them and maximise the business benefits from doing so.

Lots of businesses have now benefited from getting Green Small Business certified but plenty more have thought about doing so and not taken it any further. We don’t take it personally…

From talking to some of those who have downloaded our free guide or made enquiries, one of the barriers to taking the plunge is a fear that they are not ‘green’ enough and that going green could be too challenging.

We do want the process to be challenging. Being Green Small Business certified means something.

BUT we recognise that every business has to start where they are and to move forward at a pace they are comfortable with.

That’s why becoming a Green Small Business involves meeting only two criteria:

  1. You have an environmental policy and environmental plan that incorporates all of your significant environmental impacts.
  2. That the actions in your environmental plan demonstrate a commitment to addressing those impacts in some way.

The scale and the pace of change in becoming greener is up to you. All we look for is an honest and genuine commitment to continuous improvement.

You might well be an eco-warrior with a radical approach to doing business.

You might equally be a newcomer to thinking about the environmental impacts of your business and with unknown scope for change.

Either way, Green Small Business is ideal for your small business.

frustration with current standards

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We would love to hear from you. If you need help with greening your business or have any questions or comments about any aspect of Green Small Business, please contact us. Book a call with Tim or send us a message using the contact form.

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Is ISO 14001 good for small businesses?

Implementing ISO 14001

Already fed up with ISO 14001 or convinced it’s not for you? Skip the article and go straight to our alternatives:

Otherwise, read on…

ISO 14001 is the international standard for environmental management systems. Many small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are certified to the ISO 14001 standard. The figures suggest that this can be a brilliant business move. But that is just part of the story…

A certified environmental management system can deliver thousands of pounds worth of cost savings for SMEs. Take into account the new business sales generated and the payback period for a certified environmental management system can be less than one month (see Defra, 2011 Evidence-based study into the benefits of EMSs for SMEs). Yes, the cost of getting a certified environmental management system can be recouped within one month in some cases!

Which begs the question, why doesn’t every small business have a certified environmental management system?

The evidence suggests that, when it comes to businesses at the smaller end of the scale, standard environmental management systems aren’t fit for purpose. Specifically, they are:

  1. too complex;
  2. too time-consuming; and
  3. too expensive.

Too complex

A major report examining the use of environmental management systems in SMEs across North America found that a successful environmental management system can deliver multiple benefits. However, the report also found that experiences varied considerably. It concluded that:

“most SMEs face.. many difficulties in implementing environmental management systems… Even if they are familiar with the concept of an environmental management system, many smaller businesses lack the technical expertise and resources needed to develop and implement one.” (Commission for Environmental Cooperation (2005) Successful practices of Environmental Management Systems in Small and Medium-Size Enterprises: A North American perspective).

Developing and implementing a standard environmental management system is a complex task for any small business.

One commentator speculated as to whether ISO (the authors of ISO 14001) stands for ‘irritate small organisations’.

Achieving a standard that was designed to meet the needs of all companies, including hugely complex multinational operations, is always going to be a daunting challenge for small businesses. Reflecting on the tendency of procurement managers to require the ISO standards, the same commentator suggested:

“By specifying ISO14001 certification to any keen SME that wants to be green, the procurement manager is crushing their spirit… Don’t demand they wade through pages of documentation and fill out forms – at least not at the start.” (Large, C (2012) ISO14001: loved by procurement, hated by SMEs).

And even where a small business successfully manages to wade through the guidance, interpret all of the jargon, carry out their risk assessments, develop all of the necessary procedures and produce all of the documentation, a standard environmental management system will often feel like an ill-fitting suit for most small businesses. Particularly for those who have limited environmental impacts, a standard environmental management system will feel disproportionate in it’s size and complexity.

Too time-consuming

Disproportionate complexity leads to disproportionate time being needed both to prepare and to manage standard environmental management systems.

Bigger businesses often appoint dedicated environmental managers or pay external consultants to look after environmental management systems on their behalf. For smaller businesses without that luxury, developing and implementing a standard environmental management system can simply be a step too far. Just getting through the multiple daily challenges of running the business can be quite enough.

Too expensive

A standard certified environmental management system isn’t cheap. Even six years ago, a UK Government study found that initial costs to small businesses were more than £2,700 ($3360), followed by annual certification costs of more than £1,100 ($1370) (Defra, 2011 Evidence-based study into the benefits of EMSs for SMEs). Even those convinced about the potential payback may struggle to find the necessary finance to cover the upfront costs.

Interestingly, the study found that the costs of an environmental management system implementation do not fall proportionally in line with turnover. This means that smaller businesses have to spend a higher proportion of their turnover to get the same output. This is as clear an indication as any that standard environmental management systems are simply ill-suited to the small business sector.

So what are the alternatives?

We have decades of experience as environmental consultants, advising governments, other public agencies and private businesses on topics such as energy, waste and climate change. We have helped develop environmental management systems for organisations and businesses, large and small.

The irony is that even in the small environmental consultancies we have worked in, whilst advising others on protecting the environment we have struggled to manage our own environmental impacts. The mainstream standards and approaches have simply been too onerous and expensive.

Alternatives to ISO 14001 are now available, including many offered at the local level. However, not many are genuinely fit-for-purpose in the case of businesses at the smaller end of the scale. And none that we’re aware of would be realistic options for sole traders or the self-employed. Yet there are many such businesses with a desire to be ‘green’ and to be seen to be green.

On the back of our frustrations with mainstream environmental management systems, but with a firm belief in their potential, we have developed Green Small Business. It provides small businesses and other small organisations with a simple system which is proportionate to their environmental impacts and recognises that their finances and time are precious.

For more information, get in touch (see below for your options). Otherwise:

man fed up with ISO 14001 implementation

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We would love to hear from you. If you have any questions about Green Small Business or about managing the environmental impacts of your business, book a call with Tim or send us a message using the contact form.

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First Steps to Environmental Management

Before you launch in to thinking about lighting, recycling and everything else that might need to be part of your approach to environmental management, there are three essential steps to take.


If you’re the boss or you’re a sole trader, then you’ve got this covered already. Otherwise, to get an effective approach to environmental management in place, senior management need to be behind it.

Some of the actions you want to take may cost money, which may need to be authorised by your managers. More importantly, senior management support will be important in conveying to all staff that environmental management is something that is important to the organisation and that they need to take account of it.

An important early task, therefore, will be ensuring that senior management are committed to environmental management and have communicated this to all employees.

This may not be straightforward. Some may need a little persuasion. If so, some of this material may be useful.

See if you can persuade them of the value of environmental management and, if possible, to communicate this to all employees, maybe via an email or in a meeting.

Which leads on nicely to step two.


Studies have shown that small businesses that achieved higher levels of staff involvement in developing and implementing their environmental management system achieved the highest cost savings. Involving other staff helps to ensure that the approach is realistic, practical and adds value.

In addition, involving staff can improve their attitude towards working for the company. In one survey of small businesses with an environmental management system, all staff who were surveyed were more positive towards their companies since the environmental management system was implemented.

Before you start preparing your environmental management system, all staff should be made aware of what’s happening and why. A kick-off meeting is one way of achieving this or you could include it in any regular communications such as staff meetings, newsletters or email updates.

Other staff can also be a useful source of ideas and inspiration. Why not use an online survey of staff as part of your data collection process (Survey Monkey is a great, free tool that you could use for this). It might involve just two simple questions:

  • From the business activities you are involved in, what environmental impacts are you aware of, either positive or negative?
  • Do you have any ideas for ways in which we could manage these impacts better?

It would take staff a matter of minutes to complete such a survey but could generate an invaluable list of suggestions and ideas which you could use to complete your environmental management system.


OK, so you have made other staff aware of the environmental management system and why it’s important. Having done that, it will also be important to think about how you can keep them interested and involved. After all, it’s likely that implementing many of the actions in the environmental management system will be reliant on them.

It will be important to let them know how things are progressing and gather feedback and ideas. Maybe there’s a regular staff meeting, at which the environmental management system could be a brief standing item on the agenda? Or it could just be a case of scheduling regular email communication with staff. It’s a good idea to make a plan for this at the outset to avoid the risk of it being neglected.

Getting these three steps ticked off first, will allow you to go ahead with the confidence that your environmental management system will be implemented successfully.

first steps to environmental management

Environmental Management | Why Bother?

If you run a small business or other type of small organisation, your time is precious. Simply doing the basics can be a big enough challenge from day-to-day. Thinking about managing your environmental impacts may feel like a tall order but here’s five reasons why it’s a very smart business move.


In many countries across the world, Government and other public sector bodies will require their contractors, suppliers and funding recipients to demonstrate environmental management in some way. This could be through having an environmental policy or environmental management system.

Many private companies also now expect their suppliers to adopt environmentally-friendly practices and may want evidence to demonstrate this.

Similarly, grant-making bodies may require some form of environmental management as part of their criteria for awarding funding.

Getting a simple system in place to manage your environmental impacts can help to ensure that your well-placed to access new opportunities.


Your business can save money by understanding and managing better how you use and dispose of energy, water and other resources, whether that be raw materials, stationery, office equipment, food & drink or the cleaning materials for your premises.

A UK Government study found that certified environmental management systems delivered cost savings for the majority of small businesses. With cost savings alone, the payback period for the costs of setting up an environmental management system was a mere 3 months! That was for the costs of meeting the full International Standard for an environmental management system (ISO 14001), which is far more costly than simpler alternatives like Green Small Business.

“Each time we tried to do the right thing for the environment, regardless of the cost to us, we ended up saving money” (Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia)


With environmental awareness ever on the rise, demonstrating your commitment to the environment will enhance your reputation among your clients, customers and potential customers. And it pays. The UK Government study referred to above found that two thirds of small businesses had either achieved new sales or were expecting to do so as a result of getting their environmental management system in place.


If your business is affected by environmental laws and regulation, you are probably well aware of the requirements they place on you already. Making sure you comply with them is no doubt of great importance to you. An environmental management system can provide a systematic way of ensuring that you regularly review these legal and regulatory requirements and make any changes to your business practices that might be required.


For many, this is the most important reason of all. We only have one planet and we don’t always do a great job in looking after it. Having an environmental management system helps to ensure that your business takes account of all of its significant impacts on the environment. And they can make a difference! A successful environmental management system can reduce resource use, energy use and waste.

For example, in the UK Government study referred to earlier, small businesses achieved an average saving in carbon dioxide (the main cause of climate change) of 38.9 tonnes per £m turnover as a result of their EMS. To give you an idea of how amazing that is, one tonne of carbon dioxide is emitted when you burn roughly 320 litres of diesel.

recycling bins multi coloured

Sustainable Business | The Patagonia Story

“Anyone who thinks you can have infinite growth on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist” (Kenneth Boulding)

Let My People Go Surfing is Yvon Chouinard’s story of outdoor equipment brand Patagonia. It is, as Naomi Klein puts it in her Foreword, the story of “a sincere attempt to address the core tension between the market’s demand for endless growth and the planet’s need for a break”.

Chouinard’s agonies and wrestling over this core tension are apparent throughout. He sees both good and bad in business. On the one hand, he suggests that:

“business has to take the majority of the blame for being the enemy of nature… and for poisoning the earth with the effluent from its factories”.

On the other, he recognises that:

“business can produce food, cure disease, control population, employ people, and generally enrich our lives”.

It makes for a compelling and fascinating business tale. At one point, Chouinard seeks the advice of a leading management guru who advises him to sell the business and establish a foundation to support the environmental causes he is so passionate about. Chouinard doesn’t take the advice and instead seeks to radically reshape the business. He sets out to build a business which is not only successful in conventional terms but which also impacts on the wider business world.

“Patagonia exists to challenge conventional wisdom and present a new style of responsible business. We believe the accepted model of capitalism that necessitates endless growth and deserves the blame for the destruction of nature must be displaced”.

It may sound like idealism but this is a vision which drove the company to action. Seemingly, no stone was left unturned in their pursuit of environmental and social responsibility. Chouinard and his colleagues developed a whole series of philosophical and inspirational guides for each of their main departments and functions. All employees went through week-long seminars to introduce them to these ‘philosophies’.

Each of the philosophies is detailed in the book. The Product Design Philosophy alone comprises nearly 30 pages and is an expression of the company’s commitment to ‘make the best product’. This is seen to embrace not just functionality and aesthetics but environmental responsibility in its deepest sense. The aim is not just to minimise the impacts of production but to minimise whole-life impacts through addressing durability, repairability and the environmental impacts of care and cleaning.

This approach is perhaps most famously expressed in their ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ advert (below) but also through their publishing of more than 40 free repair guides for their products and through their dedicated repair facility, which is reported to have carried out more than 40,000 individual repairs in 2015.

“Let’s behave like owners, not consumers, and repair rather than inflict something new on the planet if we don’t truly need it. It’s a radical thought, but change can start with just a needle and thread”. (Rose Marcario, CEO, Patagonia)


Chouinard is honest enough to admit that even the most sustainable business cannot fully resolve the tension between profit and planet. He acknowledges that “Patagonia will never be completely socially responsible. It will never make a totally sustainable nondamaging product”. But Chouinard, in spite of all of his idealism, is clearly also a pragmatist.

“Any attempt to achieve sustainability on this planet with more than seven million of us is doomed to fail. But rather than shut the doors, bury our cars, and become hermits, we can work towards sustainability, recognising that it’s an ever-receding summit.”

Amen to that.

let my people go surfing