CSR for Smaller Business – The Environment

Welcome to part three in the series looking at CSR for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).  All things environmental and green are next up for two big reasons.

piggybank-main_full·        You can make substantial and tangible bottom line benefits.

·        Climate change is already happening and needs action now to minimise the impact by ALL of us.

As a small business the potential for reducing your costs offers an easy road to demonstrating the power of looking toward the edge of your daily operational business radar.

I did promise not to preach too much about the non-economic issues surrounding business but this particular area can’t be ignored. There is a huge gulf between the abstract concept of climate change (and not forgetting population growth and peak oil) and how a micro, small or medium sized business can make any difference. There are a million excuses out there for avoiding taking action ranging from it’s not my problem, technology will save us, to its all a conspiracy, its a natural cycle, what about China (also the name of a good read dispelling climate change myths – great train reading!) etc, but I’m imposing a carpet ban on all negativity on this from here on in. Don’t argue, just read on. 90% of scientists are now predicting potential catastrophic effects due to a lack of political  will and action. (Guardian article April 14th 2009)

Ok. Rant over. Back to business. Now a few suggestions to reduce your environmental impact and save some cash.

1. The basics – Read energy & water meters & check tariff

This may sound obvious but many companies just send the energy invoices to the finance dept. and they get paid. No checking, no measurement. Check your meters regularly as you may have a water leak or a malfunctioning piece of equipment constantly adding an accelerator to your costs. Even a single dripping tap can leak 2,000 litres a month or 24,000 litres a year – a bit pricey if you’re on a water meter!

One company I know decided to take a full energy audit and discovered that their meter had been read in the wrong units! A cheque for £30,000 was a nice reward for taking notice of the environment via savings.

When you’ve checked your meter against the bills, check which tariff you’re on and make sure you’re getting the best price. While you’re checking tariffs have a look at renewable energy suppliers tariffs as well. If you’re overall electrical bill isn’t huge then changing to a 100% or part green tariff could add extra serious credibility to your environmental credentials for little work.

2. Who is your environmental champion?

If you’ve got an eco-warrior on the staff use them! For those reading this blog regularly you’ll notice a pattern emerging here. Tap into your natural resources, i.e. your staff and their passions.  I will guarantee there is a enthusiastic green champion in your midst somewhere. You need to have somebody to take responsibility for this area, and dependant on the nature and size of your business can be either a 10 minute a day role or a full time position. Staff engagement really is essential to maximise the opportunities here and some training will probably be needed. You would get best results by sharing this responsibility with somebody with a financial control position with a more passionate green champion to cover all bases.

3. Don’t end up in jail or with a hefty fine

The environment is home to the largest rise in quantity of legislation wherever you look and it’s going to get tougher. As governments are feeling more pressure internationally about climate change this is rapidly being passed onto businesses and consumers. Unfortunately, we as human beings don’t react well to just being asked and only really take action when our wallets are hit. The fines for non-compliance are getting bigger and ignorance is being removed as an excuse. For one wrong mistake you could destroy your business. This is definitely an area worth talking to an expert about as soon as possible.

5. Use less, pay less.

It’s not rocket science, what are you wasting? We need to split this into two main areas; materials and energy.


Check your bins and ask your staff. What are you throwing away?  The true total cost of waste is scary. When you calculate the cost of the actual wasted materials themselves, the cost of employee time to purchase and manage, the cost of disposal (storage, certification, taxes etc) even a small amount of waste suddenly looks very different. Use the waste hierarchy (see image below) concept all the time. Talk to your suppliers. Do you need all the packaging that comes with the product? Could you agree to share any cost savings? Don’t forget to monitor your water!










You’ve heard a million times about turning lights off, replacing with low-energy bulbs, turn your thermostat down 1 degree and many others but do you actually consistently carry out these tasks? Google search ‘energy saving tips’ for a glut of great ideas to use around the office or site.

Travel is a huge user of fuel. Although I’m a staunch advocate of meeting actual people, there isn’t much that can’t be done via communications technology these days. Do you really need to sit in traffic or on a plane? When products such as Skype offer great quality (and free) video calls why not use all the tools that are out there? If you really do need to travel use public transport. It may take a little longer but it has drastically improved for the better over the last few years and it can be much cheaper if planned in advance!

6. Energy Security

You will see this term more and more over the coming years, especially connected to gas and then oil. What would happen to your business in an energy blackout or petrol shortage or huge price rise? Could you continue to operate without gas, oil or electricity? Do you rely on suppliers or customers that are potentially vulnerable to breaks in supply? By reducing your usage and reliance on external suppliers of energy you are increasing the stability of your business. Even if it is just a short plan to ensure you have access to a generator, a store of energy, bicycles & fuel efficient cars or alternative options for a few hours or so, take the time now!

6. Carbon Upsetting

I’m sorry to upset a few people but let’s be honest and forget about carbon neutrality or offsetting for smaller businesses. There aren’t huge tangible benefits for small companies to put resource into attempting to be carbon neutral (I’m seriously not convinced by the definitions and would strongly advise not using the term for now) and offsetting is also an immature area with limited benefit. Focus on saving as much energy as possible and investing any resource into reducing your consumption.

7. 10 Minute Carbon Footprint

Measuring your carbon footprint is worth considering and will be racing along the legislative rails over the next few years, and your first attempt can take about 10 mins. Just get your energy bills out and calculate how many units of gas, electricity or fuel you have used and paid for over a year. Even if you don’t convert them to tonnes of CO2 equivalents you need to know how much energy you are using not just how much you are paying. As you progress you’ll need to start thinking about your supply chain but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

 8. Flexible workingwork-at-home

I want to look particularly at remote / at home working rather than manipulating hours in the office. We have the technology, what we don’t have is the culture, yet. The single biggest obstacle to employees working from home is poor management techniques. Managers like to look over people’s shoulders and see them working. They might not actually doing anything, but as long as they look like they are managers are happy. If you need a series of tasks achieving and they are easily measurable why do you need them in front of you? By working from home you can avoid wasting time commuting and vastly improve your quality of life and balance.

8. Recruitment

If you want the best employees how do you attract them? Graduates are almost interviewing the interviewers about CSR, work-life balance and environmental issues as these topics are climbing the curriculum and the  internet.

10. Green money

Even before the recent economic stimulus packages to help us recover governments were pushing hard on using their spending power to drive down carbon emissions. If you want a public sector contract these days you need to be able to demonstrate evidence such as certification to ISO 14001 before you get to the starting line. Yes, price will always be important but the value or carbon (or your lack of) will become a serious competitive advantage in winning government money. This also applies to being a sub-contractor to those winning the big tenders. The procurement code for the London Olympics in 2012 is requiring ALL sub-contractors to meet the same environmental criteria as the main contractor – this isn’t just about working directly for government. This also applies to getting work from more and more corporations setting stricter criteria to suppliers to reduce their own carbon footprint.

11. Adapt and survive

Can you adapt or compliment your product or service to create a new more environmentally friendly alternative?  A very small traditional (6 staff) electrical contractor in Liverpool recently decided to add the installation of wind turbines, solar pv panels, insulation and has found a new lease of life by using the same skills.

If you can’t change or add to your offering why not consider a cause related marketing campaign. By aligning your brand or offering with an environmental charity or green good cause you can raise each others profile whilst hopefully selling more. It is a tried and tested approach and if done properly adds real value to your reputation. Can you plant a tree, donate a water well, install solar panels in developing countries every time you sell a product?

Why not support Earth Day on April 22nd? This is a great chance to piggyback global media coverage and engage with your staff, suppliers, customers and community – check out this news article and  www.earthday.net for more details.

12. Do it at home

Don’t just be green at work. Save yourself some cash and take any tips home with you.

Being green is not a bandwagon its the future. The next couple of years will see drastic changes for all of us and those who have the foresight to see this will profit most. It makes business sense to know what is on and beyond the horizon. 


Leave your suggestions below for getting the most out of being green as comments for others to share.


5 thoughts on “CSR for Smaller Business – The Environment

  1. bilingualmontessori

    We do need to take our environmental issues and we need to significantly act now. Sadly it is the consumer and our pocket that suffers the most, and we pay for the mistakes of organizations and decisions of politicians in which we have no control. I have begun reading more on the issue of our environment and I have been looking into good resources that give a non-biased view. We need to open our eyes and not live in denial, and feel empowered to actually do something about our precious environment of which without we cannot live. Getting into good habits such as shopping at Bio shops, buying fresh fruit and vegetables, peeling them and washing them properly, recycling and reusing, and not buying food that has a lot of packaging, switching the light off, using natural light from our windows, being adequately and properly informed and interested in environmental issues- informing ourselves and one another. I do want to continue hear the birds sing and I do turn off the radio in preference to listening to the wild life outside my window. We need to start learning to appreciate our innate being and our nature surrounding us. I do believe that with such a busy world we have lost our appreciation for these small things.


  2. Anna

    Great article! Thanks for sharing! I’m indecisive about #8 though. If there’s a lot of individual tasks/work then working from home is ideal. My friend is an IBM programmer and has been working from home for years. He saves money telecommuting and IBM saves money because they don’t have to provide him office space. However, if your job requires a lot of teamwork and group effort, sometimes it’s a lot more productive to have everyone at the same place and telecommuting is not an option.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Anna – It is all about good management and understanding the needs of both the business and the employee. There does have to be a substantial element of individual tailoring to ensure the initiative works for both parties. Good communication is essential and does take effort but if done properly should be far outweighed by the benefits gained. In nearly all cases there is a combination of home work and group interaction and possibly traditional travel and 9 – 5 times. The key is flexibility, which many managers find it difficult to embrace.


  3. April

    I’m curious if utilities in the UK offer auditing services. Here in California, you can have your water, power, and trash services audit your small business for FREE! They even have a program where youth are recruited to shadow auditors and then perform home audits for consumers, like job training.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi April – The offering is very disparate depending on the locality. Small business support isn’t great and is undergoing a radical rationalisation currently aiming to reduce the ridiculous amount (they stopped counting at 3000) of different support organisations all delivering many similar functions, and most tapping into funding for fundings sake! Business Link is the govt business support mechanism and should be the single first port of call for small business, who then broker appropriate support from a streamlined number of external organisations
      The Carbon Trust and other similar environmental agencies are offering free or affordable energy and waste audits but in the main the area is populated by businesses offering audits that are usually at a cost. Water auditing hasn’t really hit the mainstream with the smaller end of the market, yet.



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