When faced with great change, we often tend to focus on the negative implications, and in doing so, lose sight of the positive opportunities for our lives and our businesses. These not only help us to protect our businesses and our employees, but allow you to make a positive and lasting improvement to the environment.
Amongst the tragedy and widespread disruption caused by Covid-19, there’s been one glimmer of hope – namely the future of our planet. Carbon emissions have dropped dramatically across the globe, with some reports showing that CO2 levels are 36% lower since lockdown started. But now, as restrictions start to lift, experts have warned that this won’t last unless we start investing in clean energy and continue to galvanise behavioural change across every sector.
But where do we go from here? And what role could SME owners play in ensuring that any environmental gains made during the last few months haven’t been in vain?
Here, Opus Energy, the renewable energy provider to small and medium sized businesses, shares some ideas on how we can take the lessons we’ve learnt from the pandemic and implement them over the long term to reduce our carbon footprint.
Limit the travel of your employees where possible
We have all seen the inspirational images from across the globe of reduced CO2 levels and even wildlife remerging in places we thought they were lost, and it’s disheartening to think that it could all be lost as soon as we begin to mobilise again. As a business owner, it may feel as though this is out of your hands, but as small and medium sized enterprises are the employers of 60% of the UK’s population, supporting your employees to make greener transport choices will make a real impact on the country’s pollution levels.
Even better, if your employees can continue to work from home, consider offering days where your team can do so. Since March, we have seen that businesses can continue to thrive with teams virtually working, and that has been reflected in the reduction in traffic.
There’s no getting away from the fact that transportation constitutes a huge percentage of the UK’s total carbon emissions, with research showing that work-related travel accounts for over a third (37%) of total emissions from passenger transport – 24% from commuting and 13% from travel in the course of business. So, if letting your employees work from home is a viable option, this is definitely something to consider.
Be an advocate for cleaner transport
For some businesses, it’s not possible for employees to work from home, and as they begin to filter back into the workplace, it’s important to continue the gains we’ve made on reducing the environmental impact.
Public transport or carpooling are usually the go-to option for greener travel, but as we continue to combat Covid-19, social distancing measures will likely impact these forms of travel. With this in mind, options such as cycle to work schemes can work for employees that have a shorter commute, and are a great employee benefit to consider – and carbon neutral. The cycle to work scheme also has tax benefits for your business, as employers can save 13.8% on National Insurance Contributions.
If you have a fleet of vehicles though, consider making the switch to electric. While this might not be available to you immediately due to budget restraints, in the near future, it’s a positive option to explore, particularly as the sale of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars will be banned from 2035 under new Government regulation.
If you offer company cars, incentivise the electric options, for example, installing charging points. We know that range and charging anxiety are still key factors holding drivers back from selecting an electric vehicle, so having the infrastructure in place to allow your employees to charge their vehicles during the day will go a long way to settling that feeling. Electric vehicles solve two problems at once: reducing exhaust-related emissions and reducing the use of fossil-derived fuels – meaning we can keep air pollution down to a safe level.
We saw during the lockdown period the impact that the reduction of traffic had on air pollution across our towns and cities. This showed us that that not only is it possible to reverse the damage, but that we need work together to keep these new-found levels down, and advocating the use of cleaner, more green transport is a huge step in achieving and maintaining this.
Flexibility is key
Covid-19 has shown us that flexible working means more than just letting your employees work from home: it’s about fostering working relationships built on mutual trust and autonomy, and not being afraid of making bold changes to your business. It’s important for business owners to acknowledge this and to continue to allow their employees flexible working where possible. Not only will this be appreciated by your current employees, but would-be applicants will now, more than ever, be looking for flexibility from employers. It could also help you reduce your energy consumption.
When the time comes to reintroduce your employees back into your working environment, you should talk to your staff about their needs as many people’s circumstances will have changed. You should also look at how you will allow for social distancing measures, as the safety of your team needs to be at the forefront of all your decisions.
Staggering shifts may be a viable option here. Having half the team work from your premises one week and the other team the next, or even adjusting your opening hours, will go a long way in supporting your team as they return to work. As well as this, adequate space between employees is vital. You’ll need to be smart about your layout, as relocating people to opposite ends of the property or across several floors will only increase your overall electricity consumption.
If you haven’t done so already, you might want to look into installing motion-sensor technology to your office appliances. This can be an effective way to cut your electricity consumption, especially if there are going to be times where there isn’t anyone in the premises or large parts of the building.
Utilising smart meters will help you monitor your electricity consumption during this time. The near real-time data they provide on business energy usage means that you can spot key trends and identify areas for improvement, as well as address any issues swiftly and appropriately. Ultimately, evaluating your habits and identifying opportunities for intelligent change can make a huge difference to your bottom line.
The power of collective action
Although the sharp reduction in emissions we have seen during the lockdown may be temporary, it’s shown us what is possible and what can be achieved through collective action. Together, we should try and continue to reduce our emissions and not slip into old harmful habits.