James is a manager in a shop in Bristol specialising in organic beauty products that are made from natural ingredients, some sourced from exotic locations such as sustainable developments near to tropical rainforests. “We have always tried to have an ethical business and formed partnerships with people and enterprises in developing countries to make some of the components they have used traditionally for centuries available to people in the west through our beauty and health products,” says James.
With a high level of concern for the environment and on the need to reduce energy expenditure, the company, although small, were keen to be one of those declared carbon neutral and contacted a company specialising in measuring the carbon footprint of small business, who could help. “They explained that what we were doing was going to be good for our business, as well as an excellent move for the environment,” says James.
Why Being Carbon Neutral is Good for Small BusinessesMost small business are involved in supply chains with larger companies and many of these, to please their shareholders and to conform with ever tighter regulations are looking much more favourable on suppliers who are already carbon neutral. “We do supply a couple of UK supermarkets with some of our beauty ranges and it has become increasingly important to them that we are an ethical company and we were committed to the process of becoming carbon neutral,” says James.
What Becoming Carbon Neutral Involved
A first stage in the process was a thorough investigation of what the current carbon footprint of the business was during the first part of 2007. “Part of our work does include travelling to South America, so there was a component of air travel to be considered,” says James. The heating and lighting needed by the shop and office, the methods of travel used by all the employees, the distance travelled by all the items for sale and many more details were considered.
“In a way, it was quite an intrusive process but we initially had a meeting, a one-day conference at a local hotel, for everyone who worked for us to explain the process in detail. I think that once everyone realised what we were doing, they were all behind it, so we had no issues,” says James.
Cutting Back on Travel
One major change that the business needed to make was to cut down its 6 trips each year to South America, and for only one employee, James, to make two trips, once every six months. “It was quite a nice perk to be able to travel on the company, but I was convinced that being carbon neutral was the right way forward for us – in the end, changing the trip frequency was only a matter of being better organised, if I am honest,” he says.
The other employees, who worked on a day-to-day basis at the main retail outlet also had to look at how they travelled to work each day. “Two made the change to come in by walking and taking a bus, rather than the car, and one bought a cycle, so she cut down her travel carbon emissions completely,” says James.
Fortunately, the business was able to apply for a special grant to help with the installation of solar panels and they cut the amount of energy obtained from fossil fuel sources by around 30% per year. “There was no way we could cut down further – Bristol is too cold in the winter – we still have a sizeable carbon footprint,” adds James.
Carbon offsets were recommended but the company were particularly keen to make sure that the carbon offset projects they signed up for were in the region where some of their raw materials were sourced from. “We were really happy when the consulting company found us something suitable and we now commit around £6000 per year of our profits to supporting projects in Brazil,” says James. “All in all, becoming carbon neutral, which finally happened in 2008, was a positive experience, and one that I would recommend highly,” he says.