Climate change is the biggest challenge facing us today, but 91% of small businesses struggle to know where to start,* and decide what strategies to adopt.

At TalkTalk, we’re beginning to make significant progress, whether it’s reducing our operational carbon footprint by 85% over the last five years, using renewable power or replacing air conditioning units in our data centres with natural coolants.

Buoyed by these actions, TalkTalk Business were eager to spread the green, clean word to other businesses, especially in the SME space. And what better way to do that than to host our own sustainability webinar, ‘Making Sense of Sustainability: Helping Your Business go Green’.

At the event, we were joined by specialists, academics, and TalkTalk Business SME customers, including Craig Ryan from Manchester gaming bar Pixel Bar, to discuss and dissect how small and medium-sized businesses can get started, and what changes they can put in place to make a difference.

One of the key areas we discussed was TalkTalk’s exclusive framework designed to help businesses get started on their journey to net zero: MEAD.

MEAD consists of four steps that any business can take to embrace net zero and turn a threat into a positive opportunity, and they’re outlined below.

Measure

Measuring your carbon footprint in the first instance can seem daunting, but the key is to start small, and to do things in bitesize chunks. There are a range of free, accredited tools online to help you do this; carbon calculators allow you to measure your business’s emissions easily (more on these resources below).

Once you’ve measured your carbon footprint, you can then start to set specific goals, and establish your science-based reduction targets. ‘Emissions need to be cut in line with what the science says – so they need to be 1.5 degree compatible,’ says Prof Mike Berners-Lee, a leading expert in carbon footprinting at Lancaster University.

Engage

Next, it’s time to sound out the right groups in your business who’re going to help you make sustainable changes.

As Will Ennett, Head of Sustainability at TalkTalk, puts it: ‘When we say ‘engaged’, we just mean figuring out who are the key people that are going to make it happen and starting the conversation with them. Typically for most businesses, your employees, your customers, your suppliers and maybe your investors – people backing you to make sure that they’re behind you on your mission.’

It’s easy to overlook asking the simple questions. If your business is renting premises, find out if it’s brown or green energy that’s being used in the building.

You can also set up forums for staff members to join for discussion and to share ideas on specific actions to take. At TalkTalk, we have an internal group on our intranet site called #netzeroheroes, so employees can look at how we can address the measures that we’ve identified.

Act

It’s time to act on all the groundwork, and there are three areas that are usually common to every small business: energy efficiency, what type of power you use and your transportation and fuels.

‘The big wins for us have been the efficiencies in the data centres, so the natural coolant. Figuring out the fans and noticing where they don’t need to be blasting out so much cold air,’ says Will.

‘In 2020, we switched from brown energy to green energy, so now we’re powering our data sources on renewable. And in 2021, we switched to what’s called green gas, which is a mix of biofuels and gas to heat and cook in some of our offices.

‘The third area is transportation and fuels. We have a fleet of vehicles, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve just started taking and delivering our first EV orders.’

Design

It’s important to avoid lapsing into your old ways when it comes to releasing new products, new services or opening new branches, for example.

And this is where design comes in. Making sure that your services are sustainable from the foundations up.

Laura Clacey, founder of Sxollie cider, spoke about the design principles that had been applied to her business, to ensure that it remains sustainable.

‘We have looked from the very beginning at our supply chain, and how to make improvements. Our apples are grown in the sunshine [in South Africa], and sunshine creates much higher levels of sugar in the product than an apple grown in the United Kingdom. For that reason, we don’t need to add any sugar to Sxollie.

‘We ship Sxollie in bulk liquid format and bottle it in the UK. You’d think that shipping would create huge emissions, but in fact, the full shipping component is only the equivalent of driving 200 miles in a truck. We’ve offset that by using a bottling plant where our bottles are actually made on site, so we’ve reduced those emissions completely.’

Key takeaways

When it comes to devising and executing a plan of action to make your business more sustainable, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. As a starting point, take the time that you need to learn about and use the free tools available online on how to measure your carbon footprint, and tackle your emissions. Once you know what your emissions are, you’ve got a tangible and quantifiable basis to work from.

It’s easy to overcomplicate the process too, but taking straightforward action like speaking to your suppliers about what sort of energy and gas you’re using, and switching to green, is a big step in the right direction.

As James Cannings, Chief Sustainability Officer at MSQ – Global Digital Marketing, points out, there’s a lot more support now available to SMEs on sustainability even compared to just a few years ago.

So why not start your journey today? Here are some great resources to help you get going:

 To find out more about TalkTalk’s commitment to the environment, click here or follow TalkTalk Business on LinkedIn here or Twitter at @TalkTalkBiz.

 *Business Leader. Earth Day 2022: 56% of UK SMEs feel it’s too late to reverse climate change. April  2022. Earth Day 2022: 56% of UK SMEs feel it’s too late to reverse climate change - Business Leader News