How businesses can reduce their carbon footprint and get to Net Zero.
If you understand the need to reduce emissions and incorporate more sustainable practices into the day-to-day running of your business but are struggling to know where to begin, the good news is that there is a wide range of information, supports and funding available to help you start the journey.
As part of its commitment to the Paris agreement, a global framework aimed at limiting global warming to well below 2°C (and ideally to 1.5°C), the Government last year passed the Climate Action Act 2021, which commits Ireland to achieving Net Zero emissions no later than 2050, and to a 51% reduction in emissions by the end of 2030.
“It’s important to put in place the right resources to deliver on your Net Zero plan and align it with your company’s overall strategy”
But what does net zero emissions actually mean? It’s about achieving an environment where the amount of greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide) we add to the atmosphere is no longer more than what we take out. In practice it means that, government, businesses and organisations across every part of the economy need to take steps to get as close to zero emissions as possible in the years leading up to 2050.
So how can you ensure your company is firmly on the path to Net Zero emissions?
1. Tap into free supports and resources
The first step is to tap into the many environmental and sustainability supports available specifically to SMEs here. The Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Enterprise Ireland (EI) all offer such supports, ranging from guidance documents and tools to free one-on-one consultancy, nationwide workshops and financial grants.
The Irish Government has revealed a Climate Action Toolkit to help firms embark on their journey to Net Zero.
The SEAI’s SME Support Centre offers free advice and mentoring, training and useful case studies.
The EPA’s Green Business service is another free service aimed at helping SMEs improve their resource efficiency, which includes free site visits, workshops and an extensive resources section.
Two other resources run by the EPA are the Green Enterprise Funding Programme (co-funds projects aimed at producing goods and services with cleaner production methods) and the Smile Resource Exchange, where member businesses exchange resources to save money and reduce waste.
EI’s GreenStart is a programme for SMEs that aims to help them comply better with environmental regulations and to manage environmental activities in-house. It’s one of a number available under the organisation’s Green Offer package, including the Climate Action Voucher (two days of independent technical or advisory services support) and GreenPlus ( a medium-scale training project facilitated/supported by an external environmental expert).
If you’re a tech company, Techies Go Green is a network of IT and tech firms that aims to enable each member to become carbon neutral by 2030 by collaborating and sharing practical know-how.
2. Set a net-zero ambition
The next step should be to set an to achieve Net Zero emissions target and to set a target date. Needless to say, you should engage with your stakeholders to ensure that the target is realistic and to find out what their needs are. And if you have engaged with various supports and networks mentioned in the first step, you should be able to benchmark against industry or sector peers and see how it will affect your competitive position.
3. Conduct a sustainability SWOT
The resources outlined in step 1 should also help equip you to conduct an SWOT assessment of your business’s ability to withstand the risks of climate change. There are a few well-established frameworks to help explore a range of different scenarios, including the Task Force on Climate Related Disclosures (TCFD) and the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi).
4. Measure your current carbon emissions
The next step is to measure your current carbon emissions. Many firms use the widely-known Greenhouse Gas Protocol Accounting and Reporting Standard, which categorises emissions in three ways: Scope 1, 2 and 3.
- Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from company-owned and controlled resources, (e.g. fuels, heating sources).
- Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy from a utility provider – basically any emissions released in the atmosphere arising from the consumption of purchased electricity, steam, heat and cooling.
- Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions linked to a company’s operations. Business travel, employee commuting, waste generation, and purchased goods and services would be among activities in this category.
Then, using science-based targets (SBTs), set a range of short, medium-term and long-term targets for reducing carbon emissions to net-zero – and start a plan to achieve them.
This plan could include practical steps like:
- Switching to green energy suppliers
- Reducing business waste
- Switching to electric vehicles
- Reducing business travel
- Encouraging home working
- Installing renewable technologies
- Buying from green suppliers
- Switching to financial providers with strong sustainability record
To achieve this, it’s important to put in place the right resources to deliver on your Net Zero plan and align it with your company’s overall strategy. This could include appointing a sustainability lead but, equally, encouraging all levels of the company to take ownership of the plan and ensure its success.
5. Report and verify
It’s crucial to be able to verify that you’re hitting your own targets, so using a reputable reporting framework, like TCFD (Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures) or GRI (Global Report Initiative), is recommended. And once you’ve hit your targets, communicate it to your stakeholders and customers.