By Tim Saunders, part of the University of Nottingham’s energy innovation and collaboration teamThe issue of ‘why’ small businesses should be more environmentally-friendly is well-trodden ground – perhaps less so is ‘how’. There are, of course, a number of practical things that businesses can do to go greener. Here are my top tips for tackling the climate issue head on:
Maximise your energy efficiencyInvestigate support available in your local area. Free energy audits and generous grants are generally available towards the cost of energy efficiency measures including LED lighting, control systems, improved heating and hot-water systems, and wall and roof insulation.
These deliver both reduced energy costs and increased comfort for occupants. If you lease your business premises you may need the agreement of your landlord to install some of these measures. Some more enlightened property owners might be willing to contribute though.
Gear up for onsite renewable energy
Solar photovoltaics are the obvious choice for many businesses: simple to fit and a very scalable way to generate electricity. Systems can be sized to maximise the use of the energy on site and energy storage via batteries can be added to increase flexibility, enabling the capture of energy generation on non-working days and the usage of energy outside of daylight hours.
Giltbrook Workwear (https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/research-areas/energy-technologies/business-support/case-studies/giltbrook/giltbrook-workwear-embrace-renewable-energy.aspx) is one company which recently installed solar photovoltaics. Adopting electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles can further increase utilisation of solar energy and energy storage over weekends.
Adopt a low-carbon mentalityNow is the time to review your fleet vehicles and company cars. Support is available towards the costs of electric vehicles and charge points. Do you have a regular delivery route in a city that may be planning to introduce tighter vehicle emission standards in the future? Biomethane and hydrogen-powered vehicles are now available for specific applications.
WEGO Couriers (https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/research-areas/energy-technologies/business-support/case-studies/wego/wego-couriers-embrace-clean-air.aspx) is a great example of a company that has switched to an electric fleet.
Also think about how you might reduce your plastics usage and ask your suppliers what their plans are. Biodegradable films can cover magazines and protective packaging is now available in a range of biodegradable materials. Your customers want this. Your financial director needs to know the business case. And you need to get on with it.
Prioritise a healthier workplace
Help your employees to be more productive and work in a healthier environment by improving indoor air quality. A simple sensor or weather station can tell you about temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels in your workplace and warn you when you need to ventilate by opening the windows or boosting the ventilation rate on controlled systems.
Additionally, if you were roasting hot over the summer then consider how to shade areas of south and west-facing glazing in particular. External shading is the most effective, blocking the sun’s rays before they enter a building, often in the form of external blinds, louvres or deciduous planting. Internal blinds can also help to reduce direct sunlight. Gauze blinds allow you retain views while still reducing direct sunlight and glare.
Look at your corporate grounds too. Re-wild your premises with wildflower planting to increase biodiversity and add some colour. Create a simple outside seating area with some recycled wooden furniture. Give your employees some sunlight at lunchtimes, and they can soak up some vitamin D.
And don’t forget to innovateFinally, look at innovation. Perhaps you have been sitting on an idea for months, but not done anything with it? Support is available from universities to help people take the initial steps towards developing a new energy-saving product or idea, via support from expert academic staff, technical testing or student placement projects. Better to fail fast, than not to try at all.
There are many ways to make your business greener and some require more commitment than others. But remember the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit – is increasingly important for our customers and the supply chain.