Our net zero journey as an SME

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8 minute read
Jo Reid

Jo Reid

Managing Director

News

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B Corp Certification holds a renowned global status that many businesses can only dream of achieving. Now, with climate change and sustainability dominating the headlines, the B Corp stamp of approval is increasingly gaining public awareness and influencing the choices consumers make.

The certification is a designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency on a range of factors. These include employee benefits, charitable giving, supply chain practices and input materials.

 

'No Business on a dead planet' - sign at a protest.

Almost 5,000 companies operating across 154 industries worldwide currently hold this status and the queue to join them is growing year by year. Since the start of 2020, there have been more than 6,000 applications for certification – a 38% increase compared to the previous period.

As a young company working to put sustainability at the centre of everything we do, we were very keen to find out what it would take for us to achieve that shiny B Corp badge. Yet when we started looking into it, it felt like many of the activities were more appropriate for larger corporations. Achieving B Corp status seemed like a near-impossible task for a small business with multiple spinning plates.

Group of people working together in an office

This is when we found the SME Climate Hub, which is part of the UK government’s initiative to get small businesses to cut their emissions to net zero by 2050 or sooner. We have since become one of the 3,000 SMEs that have signed up to the B Corp-endorsed initiative, which we understand will play an instrumental role if we want to go for B Corp certification further down the line.

Having taken the plunge and started our journey to net zero, we’d like to share our experience and learnings so far in the hope of offering practical steps other SMEs can take to reduce their own environmental impact on the planet.

Creating a baseline

Whatever the size of your business, the scale of this task cannot be underestimated. But for smaller businesses that lack the same kind of resources of larger organisations, starting the net zero journey can feel especially daunting.

First of all, it is important to create a baseline so you can measure your progress along the way. This proved to be somewhat of a challenge for us. Given most of the Calvium team took a bus, cycled or walked to work prior to the pandemic and has been working remotely for the past two years, we knew our baseline would be very low. 

We needed to decide how to create a realistic baseline and work out how we could reduce it going forward. One comparison, we learned, is to include an amount for home-working in our baseline using an accepted average. This handy article from energy company Bulb explains how to measure the carbon impact of working from home, including calculations for electricity, heating and home-cooling.

Photo of a home office desk and window behind

For our baseline, we started with quick wins such as office lighting and heating, and business meetings that weren’t taking place at the office. We also looked back through people’s expense claims for trips and worked out the mileage, which we then put into a calculator that converts miles into a carbon number, and we are now in the process of working out the average for home working.

Given commuting isn’t in our baseline for the reason explained above, we will need to look for a way to incorporate it once people start going back to the office and in a way that doesn’t skew the numbers. We will also start looking at things like office supplies and marketing materials, purchasing decisions and which energy suppliers we use.

Technology

There is a huge amount to digest and consider when you begin this journey and we quickly realised you need to find resources that fit your particular sector. 

The SME Climate Hub has great practical steps that are sector-specific. For Calvium, the use of technology was going to be a key part of our journey and hopefully one surefire way we would be able to significantly reduce our environmental impact. We discussed five key pillars:

  1. Calculate the energy and carbon footprint of our own products and services.
    – We are doing this for each of the systems we use and these are all cloud-based.
  2. Work smart.
    – We already support flexible and home working and will continue to look for other ways we can increase productivity while reducing energy consumption.
  3. Revise data storage.
    – Moving from on-premises servers to the cloud.
    We already use the cloud for all of our development and we are mindful of how to reduce network costs. We host in the UK and Europe to reduce transatlantic network hops.
    – Delete data that is no longer needed – redundant, absolute or trivial – to minimise storage costs once migrated to the cloud. We regularly review as part of our ISO processes and delete or archive data that is no longer needed.
    – Scalable infrastructure enabled through the cloud. We design all of our platforms and digital applications with this in mind.
    – Load balancing virtual machines (VMs) or containerised servers use less energy and pay less while using less energy. We use serverless solutions where possible and pay-as-you-go services while developing so that we are ever mindful of usage which results in a lower environmental cost.
  4. Programme with efficiency in mind.
    – The advice includes a recommendation that you use blockchain to limit validation, perhaps to just a trusted set of authorities. We avoid the use of blockchain entirely because it has such a huge carbon footprint. We have yet to find a compelling application where the trust required could not be implemented in a safe and secure way without requiring blockchain.
  5. Think about what you buy.
    – We have spotted an opportunity to look at alternatives to some of our older ISP equipment. Luckily, all of our latest laptops have super efficient chips.

Travel and teabags

While most of the Calvium team in Bristol get around by foot, bike or local transport, we have recently opened an office in Berlin and our Seville team is growing. So it is very likely we will need to travel internationally more once Covid restrictions are fully lifted.

As a business, it is important that we find the balance between bringing people together and building a good company culture while also minimising the cost on the environment.

We are currently looking into carbon offset schemes and greener aviation fuels that will allow us to travel in a more environmentally-friendly way.

easyJet, for example, has just launched a carbon certificate to help corporate customers measure carbon offsetting for business travel and the resulting cost savings for business travel programmes. 

The airline is also aiming to begin flying customers on planes powered by hydrogen combustion, hydrogen electric or a combination of both by the mid to late-2030s, which is a trend we hope to see accelerate over the coming years.

For on-the-ground commuting, the Energy Saving Trust has produced a fleet management toolkit which provides resources to reduce emissions from vehicles and employee travel. The organisation claims its fleet support could save company fleets up to £300,000 and 250 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

In addition to all the big changes that can be made around technology and travel, we will also look at things like the degradability of the teabags we use, the energy efficiency of our office kettles, and we will continue to monitor recycling and food waste scrupulously. Photo of Calvium office with shelves, logo and plant pot

Are you ready?

With the overwhelming amount of information out there – some of it conflicting and much of it confusing – the SME Climate Hub is a great place to start.

That’s the hardest part of it all; jumping in and getting started. Give yourself time to digest it and understand it and things will soon become clearer and make practical sense. Remember, it’s a journey, not a race. It is part of helping you to grow and establish good processes.

We will publish the results of our own journey to ensure we are transparent and held accountable. We also hope doing this will be useful and have a positive effect on others embarking on this journey too.

As always, we are open to sharing tips and opportunities for learning with other SMEs that are also on this journey.

Please get in touch with us to share best practice, collaborate or discuss product innovation needs. We would love to hear how you’re getting on with your own journey towards net zero.

If you need help delivering digital solutions that can support your sustainability strategies, contact us today:

e-mail: hello@calvium.com

call: +44 (0) 117 226 2000

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