How a small business can offset its carbon & put net-zero plans into action

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Over the last couple of weeks the news has been flooded with articles regarding sustainability on the international stage. Climate targets, carbon emissions, and extreme weather events have focussed everyone’s minds, leading us here at Pauley Creative to question what our own impact is.

World leaders have gathered in Glasgow to attend the 2021 Climate Change Conference (COP26), following its postponement last November due to Covid-19. Meanwhile, the anniversary of Agenda 2030 has just passed, and retail giant Amazon has intensified its efforts to encourage large companies and corporations to join their climate pledge, founded in 2019.

It is encouraging to see the fight for the climate is growing momentum, and the goal to prevent global warming surpassing 1.5C is still alive. However, as individuals, or as smaller companies, we quite often feel powerless.

How to do you learn about your carbon footprint in the first place?

It is difficult to know where to start, what to focus on, and what will make direct, effective change. We all feel the same worries and frustrations on how to be consistent in our sustainability efforts.

How can we truly make a difference? Compared to large energy consumers, major corporations and industry, our personal or small business carbon footprint is minimal, so what is the point?

Yes, looking climate change square in the face is overwhelming. However, we have decided that a defeatist mind-set will not serve progression, and therefore are making a pledge to address not only our current and ongoing emissions, but our historical footprint as well. carbon-footprint-report

Stuart Dinnie, Managing Director at Pauley Creative commented,

“We’ve come to the conclusion that we need to do two things. First, improve efficiency and cut down our consumption and waste. Second, offset any remaining carbon we produce.

“We must lead by example and take responsibility for our environmental impact. It should not be written off simply because we don’t contribute as much as a company 100 times our size.

“In order to start the process, we needed to get an understanding of how much carbon we are responsible for annually, and look historically at how much we have emitted over the last 11 years.”

Looking at the results, produced with the help of an online carbon calculator, it came as no surprise that travel was the biggest contributor, accounting for more than 50% of Pauley Creative’s emissions.

So now we know how much carbon we’ve produced, what is next?

Day-to-day carbon reductions could be made by limiting travel and investing in smart meters to keep an eye on energy consumption. However, to quickly address the activities that produced the most carbon we did the following:

  • Cut client visits by a third, opting to balance face to face visits with more online meetings. During the first lockdown when the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the agency realised there would be benefits in adopting a hybrid working model once restrictions were lifted.

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The result?

By allowing for more home working, we have reduced employee commute miles by over 60% since 2019. Travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic also ruled out flying in 2019. Going forward, other means of travel such as trains will always be considered first for UK travel.

Stuart explained;

”We began looking at our carbon footprint two years ago, but this is our first action intended to directly address our environmental impact. Going forward I felt we needed a clean slate, and decided to also address our historical carbon footprint from when I joined the company 11 years ago.”

What did we learn about carbon offsetting?

Once the historical carbon emissions accumulated since 2009 was calculated, clocking in at 367 tonnes, we needed to understand how best to offset them. After some consideration we decided on planting trees. Knowing carbon offsets are controversial, however, we wanted to make sure they chose an offset scheme that would actually work.

Through our research into several schemes, we learned that to plant a sapling with the intention for it to recapture carbon there are many factors to consider.

These include:

  • The planting location
  • The type of tree you plant
  • Asking, does the tree have the necessary protections needed to grow into a mature plant?

While some companies can plant trees on your behalf, that feels very detached. Also, they could not guarantee in the future the trees wouldn’t be dug up or chopped down.

Saplings require at least 20 years to grow into mature plants that can store significant amounts of carbon, so any investment needed to be one that guaranteed the successful growth of the trees. Only then would they reach their full potential and make the good intentions a reality.

”I was hoping for an experience where we could plant the trees as a company and set the tone for how we consider the environment going forward.” Said Stuart.

“Simply parting with money to plant trees that may never capture the carbon we intended them to seemed very impersonal.  Fortunately after a bit of research, we were recommended to a company called Make it Wild,”

Make it Wild help work out your company’s carbon offsetting requirements (how many trees you need to plant). Plus, they allow you to plant trees yourself on specially acquired land that’s reserved for tree planting. The trees are then protected and able to grow, as the woodlands are part of new nature reserves created to provide a permanent habitat for wildlife.

Next year, the Pauley Creative team are set to go and offset their 367 tonnes of carbon with around 100 trees, alongside doing everything possible to reduce carbon emissions and keep the need to further offset to a minimum.

Offsetting can’t solve everything, so here is what we plan to do going forward

It is a target for the agency to become a carbon neutral company, and although it may feel like a long time away, achieving net-zero before 2040 requires action now. While carbon offsetting is helpful, it is not the complete solution to climate change, it is only part of a bigger consolidated effort.

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In light for this, we are pledging to keep making sustainable improvements to our business. The changes include installing electric charging banks at their new office, seeking out local produce for client lunches, and committing to the proper recycling of e-waste after using devices to their full-lifespan. No matter how small it may seem it all makes a positive impact.

Some further measures all companies can adopt or reach for to improve sustainability include:

  1. Lobbying landlords to switch from oil based heating to air or ground source heat pumps. Also to  move to a 100% renewable energy sourcing company.
  2. Introducing a carpool scheme to cut carbon usage
  3. Install led lighting
  4. Performing an EPC on new offices to establish areas of improvement
  5. Donating previously used laptops and IT equipment to schools
  6. Start investigating to become a B corporation

What could we achieve if we all worked together?

Most importantly, we want to encourage and inspire other small companies in the local area to make the same pledge. We know a lot of great work is happening already, however for those who haven’t thought about their sustainability plans yet, we think this is a good place to start:

  1. Calculate your current and historical carbon emissions.
  2. Committing to reducing your environmental impact.
  3. Offset any remaining carbon using responsible schemes.

It is important to remember that all contributions add up and can help to inspire change, and if all local business do their bit, a few other things may also be set in motion:

  • First, it will put pressure on larger companies who use greater quantities of carbon to also reflect on their environmental impact and make necessary changes.
  • Second, it will show other smaller companies who are unsure on where to start with their sustainability efforts that there are avenues and schemes out there that make a difference.
  • And finally, it shows local authorities and organisations that local businesses are trying to address their impact on the environment as a united front, and there is a desire for such efforts to become commonplace in the area.

To find out more about your options for carbon offsetting, download this useful factsheet: Carbon Offsetting Fact Sheet

About Nicola Litchfield

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