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  • Shelley Lawson

Getting clued-up on your carbon footprint

Updated: Apr 8



Many smaller businesses are now tracking their carbon footprint, and it’s actually pretty easy to get started.


Maybe you’re looking to reduce your energy usage, or you’re curious about your business’ impact, or perhaps you’ve been asked about your footprint by an investor, your bank or a key customer. 


What data do I need for a carbon footprint?

As an SME all the information you’ll need to provide is within the business already – and there are free tools that help you turn your data into an emissions footprint.


None of the free tools are perfect, but they’re certainly good enough to get started.  One designed for SMEs is the NatWest Carbon Planner** (free for everyone, not just NatWest customers); or there’s the free Normative tracker, recommended by the SME Climate Hub.


Once you’ve set up an account, you’ll be asked to input a few key areas of activity: 

  1. your electricity, gas and fuel usage; 

  2. business travel (flights taken, mileage driven); 

  3. your employees’ commuting – whether by bike, car, train etc, or if they work from home; 

  4. the amount of waste you send to landfill or recycling; 

  5. inbound and outbound logistics.

There are tips on how to find this data on this page.  


Are Scopes important for SMEs?

You may have heard about Scopes in this context. Scope 1 is the emissions from the fuel that is directly used by a business e.g. in powering a furnace. Scope 2 is the emissions from the energy you buy (typically gas and electricity). Scope 3 is everything else, from travel and logistics to waste, water refrigerant gases, and all the materials in your supply chain. 


For many businesses, scope 3 is the largest portion, but you don’t yet have to report on all of your scope 3 because in practice it’s very difficult to be accurate in some areas of supply chains. The free calculators rely on quite a lot of estimating for supply chain activity.  


You can choose to go further and report on the materials you purchase as a business, such as raw materials if you’re a manufacturer.  My advice is to focus on the 5 key areas outlined above for now.  If you have any customers in the public sector, these are the areas they will expect you to report on***.



Are there common pitfalls to measuring my business carbon footprint?

Many companies find the logistics area to be the most time-consuming to work out.  You’ll need to know the weight of goods shipped and the distance they travelled – and whether they went by road, sea or air freight. 


Can I extrapolate my carbon footprint data?

If you have a lot of shipments in or out, this can be lot of data – so it’s fine to take a sample of the top 20 customers/suppliers, or a representative sample by geography, be as accurate as you can be for those, and then extrapolate out from there. 


You should also ask your freight company and courier to provide a report on the emissions from your account: they may not have that yet, but the more customers who ask for it, the faster they’ll start providing good quality data. 


What should I do with my carbon calculator results?

Once your calculator has shown your emissions from all these activities, you may want to download the data into a spreadsheet – in practice I find excel easier to use, to put into graphical form, and to start to build up a multi-year picture, than the calculators. It’s just more flexible.  

Prioritising carbon reduction action

The data will clearly show you the “hot spots” of your emissions, and may surprise you.  You’ll see where you should be prioritising, and I’d recommend picking a couple of short-term improvements you can make quickly, as well as planning the longer term changes that will probably deliver bigger savings.


Think about what is within your control (can you switch to renewable energy, travel a bit less, encourage more cycling to work?), whereas moving to greener logistics will need the whole freight industry to change, and you don’t have much influence there.  You can find suggested actions by category here.


What help is available in Surrey to create a Carbon Management Plan?

If you need a little more guidance, or want to go further with this, deeper into your supply chain emissions for example, there are several experts available in our network who can provide advice and support.  Jolley Consultancy (focusing on micro businesses), also EcoShaper and 5D NetZero (for small to medium businesses).


When’s the best time to get started on my carbon footprint? 

There is no bad time to start, sometimes it takes a little while to get the data in the right format. You may wish to start officially recording the data just after your year end, so that you’ve got a complete picture of your sales and other activities, and it will tie in with your financial report.  By repeating the exercise annually, you’ll be able to demonstrate that the changes you’re putting into place are having an impact. And next time an investor, a customer or a member of staff asks what the company’s doing about sustainability, you’ll have the answer at your fingertips.


**PLEASE NOTE the Sustainable Business Network and Zero Carbon Guildford do not endorse organisations who finance fossil fuels and refer you to this ranking of British banks in this regard: https://www.zerosmart.co.uk/post/most-sustainable-banks-in-the-uk and  https://www.bankingonclimatechaos.org/bankingonclimatechaos2021/#downloads-panel 




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