Eight sustainable business ideas for small businesses

Global warming continues to dominate the political agenda with the recent summit of world leaders at COP 26 and the release of the UK government's Net Zero Strategy, which sets out how the UK will deliver on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

With smaller businesses estimated to account for around 50% of all UK business-driven emissions (PDF, 210 KB), this sector has an important role in driving towards net zero.

In this article, we'll look at eight sustainable business ideas that small businesses can implement to help the UK reach this goal.

Eight sustainable business ideas for small businesses

Smaller businesses often have fewer resources than larger organisations.

A report by the British Business Bank found that 35% of smaller businesses (PDF, 201 KB) cited cost as a barrier to reducing their carbon emissions.

While alternatives with significant upfront costs, such as installing solar panels, may not be feasible for some smaller businesses, there are plenty of cost-effective and straightforward switches smaller businesses can make to set them on the path to net-zero.

1. Ditch single-use plastic

According to research by the European Environment Agency, each kilogram of plastic that comes to market has created at least 2.9kg of GHG emissions.

Switching plastic packaging to biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable material, choosing eco-friendly office supplies, and switching to recycled paper products may help reduce carbon emissions.

Other sustainable swaps to investigate include plastic cups for glasses and mugs, disposable utensils for metal cutlery, and ink cartridges for refillable ones.

2. Find sustainable suppliers and service providers

Consider working with suppliers that are actively lowering their carbon emissions.

Your business may also choose to source products that take less energy to transport, such as those from local suppliers, as these can reduce transport times and distances.

3. Implement a greener commute scheme

Setting up a carpool scheme could mean fewer cars driven to work, helping reduce transport emissions.

Installing bike racks could also encourage staff to cycle to work and initiatives such as a 'bike to work for a week challenge' could motivate employees to ditch their cars.

If your budget allows, providing staff with company bicycles could also promote green commutes.

The government has a handy guide on how to implement the cycle to work scheme.

4. Switch to low energy lightbulbs

Lighting uses around 20% of all electricity generated in the UK, according to the Carbon Trust.

Making the switch to more effective lighting may help lower your bills and save 5kg of C02 emissions for every halogen bulb replaced with an LED.

Other ways to limit your lighting emissions may include utilising natural light during the summer months and installing motion-activated lights that only come on when someone is in the room.

5. Install smart power strips

In 2020 power stations accounted for 15.4% of all UK carbon emissions (PDF, 517 KB) and most workplaces house a range of electrical devices from computers and printers to coffee machines – all of which use energy.

Smart power strips, or smart plugs automatically turn off the energy supply to items that are switched off but still plugged in.

This prevents devices from consuming what is known as 'phantom power'and  may help prevent energy wastage when leaving items in standby mode.

6. Reduce water usage

The average office building uses 50 litres of water per person per day (PDF, 143 KB), according to research by South Staffs Water (PDF, 143 KB).

This may be reduced with simple measures such as fixing leaking faucets and installing self-closing taps.

Fitting a water displacement bag in your toilet cistern may save a litre of water per flush, which is considerable as 43% of company water consumption is flushed away, according to the same research.

7. Make your workspace more heat-efficient

An industrial building could be losing up to 75% of its heat through the building fabric according to data from the Carbon Trust, so investing in heat retentive measures such as sealing windows and insulating roofs may significantly reduce your energy usage.

8. Install built-in recycling units

In the UK, waste management accounts for 4% of all GHG emissions, according to data from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (PDF, 332 KB), so reducing waste may help in reaching net zero.

Making recycling more accessible could limit the amount of waste your company sends to landfill and incineration.

Further ways to reduce waste include installing food waste bins, replacing paper towels with cloth alternatives and limiting your amount of in-house printing.

Consider removing all under-desk bins, as these may end up filled with items that could otherwise be recycled.

Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

Green Decoder

Featuring a glossary of sustainable terms curated in partnership with the Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, our green decoder is helping smaller businesses decipher the terminology surrounding decarbonisation.

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