Ask the Expert: Assisting SMEs on their Net Zero journey

Ask the Expert: Assisting SMEs on their Net Zero journey

Many businesses and organisations want to take positive climate action but often find the hardest part is knowing where to start. Positive Planet, which launched in March 2021, helps SMEs to understand and report back on their carbon emissions, create informed and science-based carbon reduction strategies, support the implementation of sustainability engagement programmes and provide offsetting solutions – ultimately with the goal of helping SMEs achieve their net-zero goals. Using internationally recognised Greenhouse Gases (GHG) Protocol Reporting Standards to calculate carbon footprints, and UN Certified carbon credits to mitigate carbon impact, Positive Planet’s reports and strategies are delivered with accuracy and confidence. Given its importance, and their expertise, NorthEdge are currently working with Positive Planet to validate our emissions calculations and build our own net zero plan.

As part of our partnership with Positive Planet, we spoke to co-founder Stephen Henry to discuss how they are supporting SME’s to take responsible action and reduce their carbon footprints. Conversing on everything from how carbon emissions are measured, to the steps taken to address findings, and how businesses must take a proactive stance on sustainability to become a net zero organisation.

Stephen, tell us why you decided to launch a business devoted to helping other companies tackle their carbon emissions. 

My business partner Adam and I wanted to create a presence within the marketplace where our services were aimed specifically at SME’s, to give them solutions in tackling their carbon emissions. Climate change is one of the most complex challenges that humans have ever faced, therefore the time for immediate action is now, so we decided to capitalise on this space in the market.

With our previous experience in sustainable energy, we felt we were in a position to take our knowledge and apply this to as many SME’s to create a real impact. Many businesses and organisations want to take positive climate action, but are unsure how or where to get started. We set up Positive Planet to help these companies on their journey because we know how imperative collective action is for safeguarding the future of our planet. By establishing Positive Planet, we are now in a unique position to help small businesses, social enterprises and charities, who are looking to take responsible action to reduce their carbon footprint but are unsure how to get started or might not have sustainable funds behind them.

So, how does the process work?

Our experienced carbon accountants and analysts simplify the process for businesses, measuring their emissions to offer a simple and affordable way of gaining clear and concise information. We then provide a range of strategies and solutions to support the business in taking the necessary next steps to achieve a net-zero programme.

Our team gathers data around emission Scopes 1, 2 and 3, the universal standard for categorising the carbon emissions a company creates within its operations and wider value chain. Scope 1 & 2 emissions are largely within an organisation’s control and are typically relatively easy for them to measure. Most organisations will have access to the source data needed to measure their GHG’s, this mainly involves company vehicles, gas usage, and the purchase of electricity, steam, heat and cooling.

For many organisations, Scope 3 emissions are the most complex to measure, as emissions are not owned or controlled by the reporting organisation. Scope 3 emissions indirectly impact the value chain, yet ultimately account for between 60-90% of an organisations carbon footprint. For most businesses this will include employee travel and commuting, purchased goods and services, waste disposal plus transportation and distribution. This is where working with an external partner can be really valuable, using our experience and in line with industry protocols we support businesses to calculate their Scope 3 emissions, even where the data isn’t fully formed or is hard to get to. This calculation is critical in order for businesses to build out their net zero plans.

From all the information gathered over this process, we then create concise and tailored carbon reduction plans, which include education workshops and carbon literacy training for employees. This provides the company with the information they need to take the necessary next steps towards becoming net zero, including the information they need to influence their supply chain or update procurement policies, whilst being carbon neutral along the journey through our UN Certified Carbon Credits programme.

Why is this so important for SMEs particularly?

Climate change is having such a detrimental and irreversible effect on the planet, and we believe in everyone taking positive action in some way shape or form to reduce the effects of carbon emissions. A lot of focus tends to be on larger corporations to reduce their carbon emissions, but SMEs are responsible for half of the UK’s business emissions, and if every SME business played their part, small changes would have a significant impact across the globe.

At Positive Planet we categorise businesses into three camps; the “want to do” camp, whereby a business wants to make a significant change for their own beliefs and because they see the value creation opportunity. Then there is the “need to do” camp, who are introducing changes mainly to keep up with competitors. And finally, there’s the “have to do” camp, which is those who are having to follow legislation – something which is continually increasing for all businesses.

The latter two are now starting to become more relevant for smaller companies, whereas to date it has mainly been focussed on the larger corporates. Sustainability is becoming increasingly important for SMEs for multiple reasons – employees are seeking to work for organisations with a clear purpose and who take their responsibilities to their people and the planet seriously, consumers are seeking to purchase more sustainable products, and are currently willing to pay more for it, and investors are seeking to deploy their capital into businesses that are sustainable in every sense of the word – recognising that it creates more shareholder value. This is before any impact that the UKs net zero targets have on current and future legislation.

It’s clear to us that we all have a part to play. Given the UK’s net zero targets, increased reporting is inevitable, so for businesses to get ahead, they need to start making these changes now.

Interestingly we have noticed a step-change in consumer and business behaviours since we started Positive Planet. Originally when we started, 60% of people thought sustainability was part of the buy-in for business, whereas now we’re looking at 96%. SMEs are quickly releasing that sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have, it is key in creating long-term value for the business.

Have you noticed any significant changes since COVID?

Absolutely, there has been such a significant change in travel and commuting since COVID. Carbon emissions dropped because of the change in travel during the full lockdown, which ultimately brought travel emissions more into the public consciousness. This has subsequently had a positive effect on how many businesses now operate, with many choosing to continue remote working or offering a hybrid option between home and office – dramatically reducing the emissions from commuting as a result.

Another positive impact from the pandemic is that it has shown companies that business travel is not always necessary to conduct meetings. The introduction of platforms such as Zoom, Teams and WebEx has made it easier to communicate both nationally and internationally without the need for any travel.

How can businesses make a start with their net zero journey? What would you say is a good starting point?

If the company is a reasonable size, we would initially advise businesses to set up a sustainability team, or for a smaller company, a sustainability champion to ensure engagement within the business is strong. The team, or champion, usually made up of representatives from across the business, can then be tasked with managing and progressing sustainable activities and initiatives. We see this as an essential first step, as it encourages both accountability and engagement.

The next step is to speak to experts, like Positive Planet, who can support companies to create a thorough and accurate measurement of where they currently stand. It’s important not to underestimate this initial assessment, as it paves the way for the entire project, forming part of the wider sustainability plan to significantly reduce carbon footprints over time.

Typically, we build long-term relationships with our clients, helping them to measure their footprint once a year – although some organisations might measure key carbon indicators more often, such as their energy usage and travel. This regular assessment helps us to support companies to develop and deliver their carbon reduction strategies – critically ensuring their targets and measurements are aligned with clear actions and changes. We also use this regular assessment process to keep our clients up to date on any legislation changes that may impact their business now or in the future.

As well as supporting businesses to calculate their emissions, we help companies to build out their net zero plans, with science-based targets (SBTi) if appropriate. This includes highlighting which emissions are within their control and where they need to change and influence the emissions across their wider supply chain. We’ve even helped clients build out carbon neutral propositions to go to market with, which has given them a commercial point of difference – resulting in better pricing and more sales. It’s important that businesses don’t forget the commercial advantage of sustainability, alongside its role in helping to build better businesses and a better planet.

To learn more about Positive Planet, visit: https://positiveplanet.uk/

If you would like to know more about how we work with our portfolio businesses on value creation, get in touch.

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