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Starting your business’s net zero journey

Apple. Microsoft. Amazon. What do they all have in common? They have all recently made pledges to make their organisations carbon neutral. In fact, Microsoft is going one better and aiming to become carbon negative.


But it isn’t just the big boys who need to address their carbon output. We have spoken to our advisors to find out more about what we can all be doing in a bid to achieve net-zero.

What is net-zero?

Essentially, being net-zero – also referred to as carbon neutral – means that your organisation is not increasing the overall levels of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Those emissions occur through everyday activities, including transport and factories, where we burn fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas. And they are being created right now, as your workplace uses energy to run its servers, laptops, lighting and other machinery.

As almost every business will be emitting carbon dioxide through their day-to-day operations, it’s likely to take a mix of different approaches to become carbon neutral:

  • Reduce your energy-use as far as possible by becoming more energy efficient.
  • Think about using renewable energy sources.
  • Balance your emissions through carbon offsetting.

Why go carbon neutral?

There are a number of reasons to ensure your business hits net-zero, not least of which is that the Scottish Government has set a target of becoming carbon neutral by 2045 – just 25 years from now. That is part of the ambitious overall pledge to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, five years ahead of the rest of the UK.

Reducing your greenhouse emissions has several benefits – for you and the planet:

  • Cutting your carbon emissions will help save you money.
  • Your customers will love you more. As more and more people become environmentally aware, there is growing evidence to suggest that if you are able to demonstrate you are a sustainable business with excellent green credentials, you will nurture a growing, loyal customer base. 
  • The climate emergency is happening right now. The planet is getting warmer leading to more droughts and the potential melting of the Arctic. And carbon emissions are responsible for a big part of that. Cutting those emissions will be a big positive in protecting where we live.

What can I do?

Zero Waste Scotland’s ‘Our Path to Net-Zero’ guide outlines the five key principles:

  • All net-zero strategies must be evidence-led;
  • They must achieve absolute emissions reduction;
  • They must prioritise emissions reductions over offsets;
  • Organisations need to go beyond net-zero to tackle their whole carbon footprint;
  • To accelerate change, we must share our successes and failures.

Practical steps to get you started

  • Work out your baseline – calculating your carbon footprint and understanding where your emissions are coming from is an important first step on your net carbon journey.  Emissions can be separated into three categories:

       1. Direct emissions: From activities under your control like fuels combusted on-site and                fuel for business travel.

       2. Energy indirect emissions: Emissions resulting from the offsite generation of                             electricity, heat and steam used by your business.

       3. Other indirect emissions: Emissions from activities of the organisation occurring                      from sources you don’t own or control (for example, other business travel, water                   consumption/treatment/waste disposal and procurement). 

  • Make a plan – it takes time and planning for your business to become carbon neutral, but you can use the findings from your carbon footprint to help you set targets to reduce your environmental impact. For help in achieving this, contact our Energy Efficiency Business Support team here.
  • Improve your energy efficiency –  by reducing how much energy you’re using in your business, you are also reducing your carbon emissions. There can be lots of different savings opportunities from switching over to LED lighting, to making sure your building is well insulated, and upgrading equipment. 
  • Generate your own energy –  by investing in renewables (e.g. solar PV) or low carbon heating systems (e.g. heat pumps). That way you can reduce your emissions and reduce your running costs at the same time. 
  • Think about how you travel – emissions from business travel can be a big contributor to your carbon footprint. Thinking more carefully about how much we need to travel (would a video conference call work?), encouraging active travel, and considering utilising public transport and electric vehicles can all play their part in reaching net-zero. The Energy Saving Trust can provide valuable transport guidance.
  • Get your staff on board – staff buy-in can be really important when you’re making changes to your business. Make sure you’re communicating your plans so that everyone understands what you’re trying to achieve. It might even be a good idea to set up a green team to help staff get involved and hear their ideas.   
  • Don’t forget your indirect emissions – as these are slightly more out of your control, they can be trickier to quantify and reduce. Think about reducing your water and waste and recycling as much as possible to lower your indirect emissions. There might also be opportunities to think about your supply chain and how you procure goods and services.  
  • Consider carbon offsetting – there are lots of different ways to offset your remaining carbon footprint from investing in energy efficient or renewable projects to planting trees. With many projects and companies out there it’s important to research what you’re investing in. As a general rule the more you can do to reduce your emissions in the first place the better.  And the lower your emissions, the less you’ll have to offset. 

If you would like more detailed recommendations on specific things your business could do to hit your net-zero target, remember that Zero Waste Scotland’s team of Energy Efficiency Business Advisors is here to help. We provide free support to Scottish small and medium-sized businesses and access to interest-free loans to fund the implementation of energy-saving projects.

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Our free support to business is funded by the Scottish Government and by the European Regional Development Fund through the £73 million Resource Efficiency Circular Economy Accelerator Programme.

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