How small businesses can get started on reducing carbon emissions

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By Carolyn Wincer, 31st March 2021

In this article Travelife for Accommodation shares information to help small to medium enterprises start thinking about how to address carbon emissions.

Whilst most of us understand the importance of reducing carbon emissions, understanding where and how to start can be really daunting for a lot of small businesses. In this article we have tried to demystify carbon emissions for SMEs.

Carbon emissions vs greenhouse gas emissions

Carbon comes from the burning of fossil fuels so pretty much anything you can do to reduce your consumption of this type of energy (petrol, coal, oil, etc.) will help to reduce your carbon impact.

There is a bit of confusion around the difference between carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. In simple terms, greenhouse gases cause changes in the delicate balance of our atmosphere, causing more extreme and unpredictable weather events that are harmful to people, biodiversity and the economy. 

Carbon is one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and thus why this type of emission is such a hot topic right now. But other greenhouse gases are also being released due to things like the world’s increasing population. For example, methane has a serious impact on the climate change and is most commonly caused by the production of meat, meaning that by changing the way we produce and buy food we can help reduce our impacts on climate change.

However, whilst both issues are important, in this article we focus on carbon emissions and that means the energy your business consumes from electricity, gas and all other types of fuel. By reducing this consumption you will reduce your carbon emissions.

"The only way to reduce the severity of the climate crisis is to either significantly reduce the carbon emissions we produce or to offset our emissions by implementing measures that take more carbon out of the atmosphere than we produce."

Measuring and reporting your emissions

There is a lot of talk about measuring and reporting your carbon impacts, including new legislation in some countries that will require businesses to do this. Whilst you should check what legislation is upcoming (or in place) for your specific country or sector, most of these new regulations relate to large businesses. You may still be asked by your customers to report your emissions, but for most SMEs there is little legislation in place…yet!

Reporting on your carbon impact is much easier than it sounds. All you need to do is to keep monthly records of all the energy you use from all energy sources. That means keeping track of more than just electricity by also recording your use of natural gas, petrol/gasoline and diesel along with other sources of energy you might not immediately think of such as kerosene for outdoor lanterns and gas used for barbecues. Once you have this information there are various tools and resources online to help you convert them to carbon emissions, thus making it fairly straightforward to report your output.


The only way to reduce the severity of the climate crisis is to either significantly reduce the carbon emissions we produce or to offset our emissions by implementing measures that take more carbon out of the atmosphere than we produce. This involves increasing the amount of natural resources on our planet that take carbon out of the atmosphere and normally involves vegetation like trees. Because some businesses are currently unable to eliminate or significantly reduce their emissions, offsetting provides a way for them to ‘zero off’ their carbon footprint. For example, a great way to reduce your emissions is by switching to an electricity supplier that uses wind or solar to produce your electricity. But for many businesses that is not possible, so those businesses should look at other ways to offset those emissions by funding projects that plant more trees or take similar measures to eliminate the carbon their business emits from the atmosphere. This is called carbon offsetting.

There are many companies offering this service but it is important to do your homework to ensure you are paying someone reputable to do this. We recommend that you speak with your industry body or a local expert to give you the best recommendations.

Even if reporting and offsetting seems too complicated for your business right now, there are several things you can do to get started on reducing your carbon footprint. 

Here are our top tips that are low-cost and low-fuss in terms of implementation.

Train your staff about the importance of reducing your energy use by sharing simple solutions such as turning off lights when they aren’t needed, closing the fridge door even when you step away for a few seconds, shutting down their computer each night and finding ways to be more conscious about heating and cooling.

Review manufacturer instructions to make sure you are operating equipment efficiently. This includes things like regular equipment maintenance, optimal temperatures for fridges and water heaters, and cleaning filters on appliances like vacuum cleaners and clothes dryers. All of these are small checks that can make a really big difference.

Find out if you can switch to an energy supplier that uses renewable sources and look for opportunities to use suppliers who are certified for being sustainable.  For example, look for labels such as Rainforest Alliance, MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) for fish products or FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) on paper products.  That means you are supporting suppliers who are actively trying to improve their sustainability impacts.

See if there are any options to reduce the number of trips taken by personal vehicles, such as car pooling, public transport or offering incentives to cycle or walk to work. The latter could be as simple as more flexible hours or providing a safe place to store a bike during work hours.

Whilst not strictly a carbon issue, reducing and/or composting your food waste is an important way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along with switching to more plant-based foods.

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