What your small business can do right now to reduce emissions

When it comes to combating climate change in New Zealand, small businesses can make a big difference.

Businesses currently make up around 40% of the country’s energy-related emissions, which means there is a lot of room for improvement.

While large industrial businesses play a big part in this, there are plenty of ways for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to make a dent in their energy emissions, too – and doing so can have other positive spin-offs, says Georgia Brown, Senior Project and Partnership Manager at the Sustainable Business Network.

“There’s so many other benefits that businesses are seeing from reducing emissions,” she says.

“One of the main things is that it’s leading to cost savings. If you’re reducing your energy use, that’s reducing your emissions and the amount that you’re spending on your energy.”

Brown says procurers of business, like councils, are giving more weight to sustainability in procurement processes, too.

“So, if your business can say, ‘we’re working really hard to reduce our emissions and we’ve saved this much over the past year,’ you’re going to have a stronger application when you’re bidding for that work.”

Brown says moving to a low-carbon business model is also great for improved brand reputation and for attracting good quality staff.

“There are so many young people now that are really talented that are looking to work for organisations that align with their values.”

So, here are a few ideas for beginning that low-carbon journey.

1. Firstly, set out a plan

Brown says SMEs face a number of barriers when it comes to reducing emissions, such as time, capital, and resource constraints.

“[But] we are in are in a climate of urgency, so everyone every day needs to be doing what they can to reduce their footprint,” she says.

Brown says a good first step is taking a basic carbon measurement of your business, so you know where its hot spots are. Those will be different, depending on the type of business.

She suggests using the free online tools in the Climate Action Toolbox to measure emissions and then making a plan to reduce them.

2. Tackle the transport equation

Making changes to the way your business uses transport can make a big impact as transport accounts for a large chunk of New Zealand’s energy emissions.

If you haven’t already, investigate moving to electric vehicles (EVs). As well as reducing your business’ emissions, you might also reduce your transport costs.

This total cost of vehicle ownership tool compares the cost of buying, running, and on-selling EVs with other hybrid or fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

If leasing is available, look at hybrid and EV options when the lease on your internal combustion engine cars comes up.

But there are other ways to reduce your business’ travel carbon footprint if upgrading its transport fleet isn’t an option just yet.

Make it easy for staff to get to work without using their car. Provide secure bike parking and showers for those who want to cycle to work or look to subsidise public transport.

Encourage flexible working conditions where possible, so staff can work from home at agreed times and avoid travelling into work every day.

Reduce air travel wherever possible, too. One benefit to come out of the pandemic is that most people are used to virtual meeting options now, so jumping on a plane for the sake of a meeting isn’t as necessary as it once was.

Brown says freight is still a difficult issue but adds that businesses should look at all the options they have in terms of freight and choose those with lower emissions where they can.

3. Choose energy efficient products

Take stock of where your business is using energy and make changes where it might be being wasted.

“Every business decision that’s being made needs to be looked at with a low carbon lens,” Brown says.

She adds this is especially the case when the time comes to upgrade any products a business uses.

“When things are coming up to their end of life or leases are ending, [businesses] really need to figure out ... what's the lowest carbon option that we can afford and is viable for the business to take.”

Brown says there are sustainability-linked loans that businesses can tap into to help with this move.

“There's so much funding out there for businesses, especially SMEs, to help transition to low carbon business models,” she says.

“Do that research, have a look at the Gen Less website, and talk to your councils about low carbon programmes that you could be joining.”

4. Assess heating and cooling

Brown says looking for better low-carbon options is especially useful when it comes to heating and cooling, especially with so many SMEs still using systems powered by fossil fuels such as coal or gas.

She says switching to electric systems is significant in reducing emissions, as is simply trying to reduce heating and cooling within the business where possible. She says automating heating and cooling systems can be useful. You can also look to insulate your office if it’s not already to save on energy costs.

Think about how to better keep servers and copiers cool, too.

Servers can waste up to 40% of the energy they use, while copiers and printers also generate heat. Keep this equipment on the coolest side of the building and use natural ventilation where possible.

5. Survey your suppliers

Just as customers can exercise their purchasing power over businesses, so too can businesses with their suppliers.

Have a chat to your suppliers and find out their own plans for reducing their emissions. Keep sustainability credentials in mind when scouting for new suppliers. If more businesses do this, momentum will also likely build.

6. Tell your customers what you’re up to

If your business is reducing its energy emissions, be sure to let your customers know about it.

People increasingly want to buy from businesses committed to sustainability. EECA research shows 82% of New Zealanders want businesses to do more to reduce their carbon footprint.

And most importantly, keep going.

“Every bit counts at the moment,” Brown says, adding that it’s all about collective action when it comes to reducing emissions and combatting climate change.

“New Zealand is made up of so many SMEs and that in turn means there is a pretty significant part of our footprint that is made up by the emissions from those organisations,” she says.

“We just have to think about it as an aggregation of those emissions and, as a collective, our small organisations, small businesses need to be doing everything they can.”

This content was sponsored by EECA, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. You can find out more about reducing your business’ energy emissions at Gen Less. Its business section includes information and tools to inspire and enable positive climate action. Gen Less is backed by EECA.

Watch TVNZ1's Climate Special, supported by Gen Less, here on TVNZ+