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How Does a Business Go Green?

Previously on we considered why should a business go green and set out the benefits.

Here we address the question: how does a business go green? This is the next stage in the going green journey. Before we look at some specifics of how to go green, we consider the basic concept of sustainable development.

How to Go Green: The Importance of Sustainable Development.

Sustainable development was first defined in 1987 as:

‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ [1]

This definition essentially means that any resources needed for the future should not be irreversibly removed by present activities.

Minimising the resources used by a business to manufacture a product or offer a service, is an example of sustainable development.

Historically, a business is likely to have operated in a linear way. Resources would have been sourced, products manufactured and then sold. Any waste produced was sent to landfill or incinerated. This linear model compromises the ability of future generations to meet their needs by ‘locking away’ resources so they cannot be used again. Today, this is described as unsustainable development.

In contrast to this, a sustainable business is one that operates using a circular model. They ‘borrow’ raw materials, use them, and ‘return’ them to be used again.  For example, by recycling and repurposing, etc. This allows future generations to reuse this material to meet their own needs. The UK Government calls this the circular economy and is promoting this as the way to do business [2].

Operating sustainably does not just apply to raw materials. It also applies to how pollutants are generated in business processes. This ranges from greenhouse gases to waste products and contaminated water. All these need minimising or eliminating for a business to be completely sustainable.

The way the world looks at sustainability has evolved significantly since the 1987 definition. Today, sustainable development is wider than just the environmental impact. It also includes several social measures. In 2015, The United Nations launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [3]. These goals are designed to be delivered by governments, business and society working together. These 17 SDGs will be discussed in a separate article on

How to Go Green: Developing a Sustainable Strategy.

The first step on the going green journey must start with buy-in from the top leadership team. They must all decide the business will become sustainable. It is essential that everyone is a willing passenger on this green journey for it to be successful.

Once buy-in has been obtained, the baseline for the environmental impact of the business must be calculated.

There are many different tools and methods available for a business to calculate their baseline environmental impact. Because no two businesses are the same, each method will need adapting to reflect a business’s individual nature.

As the platform develops we will be adding additional resources and training packages to help you with this calculation.

Most businesses begin their baseline calculation by looking at fuel and energy usage. This includes calculating the amount of electricity, gas, oil, petrol, and diesel consumed, usually over a 12-month period. The amounts calculated can be converted into an equivalent amount of the greenhouse gas, CO2, emitted [4]. This shows how much a business is contributing to climate change in its daily operations.

Once this baseline impact figure is known, then a strategy to reduce this amount can be developed. This is the starting point for development of a sustainable strategy. It will involve setting targets to reduce the amount of CO2 produced over a defined time-period.

Greenhouse gas emissions produced by a business are classified into two types:

Scope 1 and Scope 2

Scope 1 Emissions are those emissions directly under control of a business and produced on its premises. Examples include gas/oil used in a boiler, fuel for transport and any air conditioning leaks.

Scope 2 Emissions are outside of direct business control but still need accounting for. A business may use electricity from non-renewable sources. Generating this electricity produces CO2 which means emissions are still produced but off site. These are referred to as indirect emissions.

A business may report on reduction in its Scope 1 and 2 emissions.  Doing this is one way to demonstrate how it is reducing its environmental impact and becoming greener.

How to Go Green: Performance Monitoring and Continuous Improvement.

Monitoring how well a business is doing to meet its carbon reduction targets is an essential part of any sustainability strategy. This is the hard bit. It starts once the environmental impact and improvement strategy for the business have been determined.

It is important to be totally honest here and report both the reductions and any increases in environmental impact. An increased impact may be because the business has grown faster than anticipated, for example.

Consumers will quickly determine if the business is making false claims about being green. They are likely to know when reported figures are inaccurate. Reputational damage to the brand will follow. Once a brand has a reputation for greenwash [5] it is difficult to recover.

Greenwashing is the use of marketing to portray an organisation as environmentally friendly, and green, when it is not.

A continuous improvement strategy needs to be part of any drive towards sustainability. Reduction targets will not always be met. However, a company can maintain its reputation by openly acknowledging this and publishing how it is going to get itself back on track.

How to Go Green: Concluding Thoughts

No business can become green overnight. It is a journey consisting of numerous stages. Looking at carbon emissions is one of the first. Developing a strategy is key as this demonstrates a determination to become green.

There are many other questions for a business to consider including, but not limited to:

  • Do you have a waste minimisation strategy?
  • Is your packaging recyclable?
  • Are you minimising water usage?
  • Do you consider eco-design in the development of products?

These questions are addressed on in the article what does a sustainable business look like?

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