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Sustainable industries: Expert advice on how to make your small business more sustainable

Running a business in 2022 is difficult. Higher operational costs, reduced demand across most sectors and an economy still feeling the collective hangover of Brexit and Covid have led to many businesses struggling to survive, let alone deal with longer-term issues like sustainability and their environmental impact.

 The world is beginning to wake up to the reality of climate change. Nearly 47% of Brits1  believe that they can have an impact on environmental issues through their daily behaviour and 1-in-31 think that companies are responsible for global environmental problems. Businesses across all industries are under increasing pressure to become more sustainable and help reduce their environmental impact. Searches for “corporate sustainability” have almost doubled over the last year, with a 72% increase2 in September alone. But are businesses really taking the first steps to become more environmentally sustainable?

 To answer this question, Phoenix Health & Safety, has researched, analysed and amalgamated the data of over 1800 businesses across the three leading bodies within environmentalism and sustainability; BCorp, Climate Neutral, and Investors In The Environment to find out which industries are paving the way for more sustainable practices.

 Most Sustainable Industries

Overall categoryNo. Businesses% of Total
Professional Services33718.46%
Housing & Property1045.70%
Technology & Security1015.53%
Personal Care Services703.83%
Digital & Telecommunications693.78%
Energy & Renewables512.79%
Full list and data can be found here

The professional services industry has been revealed to be the highest-rated industry, with over 18% of all accredited businesses in this sector. This includes businesses within sectors such as law, insurance and training.

Nick Higginson, CEO of Phoenix Health and Safety says: “The professional services industry is a competitive one, and with 80% of British customers saying that the environment is more important than ever, environmental accreditation is a clear way for professional businesses to stand out amongst the competition and show consumers they are taking sustainability seriously.”

Retail and manufacturing came second and third, with nearly 8% each. Nick adds: “Moving towards sustainability can be a valuable way for these industries to reduce spend and make their processes more efficient for the twenty-first century. There are government incentives such as tax breaks for businesses that operate in a more environmentally friendly way, making these projects more financially viable and ultimately benefiting the environment.”

Nick also discussed some of the industries that aren’t performing as well: “Travel, Engineering and Transport & Logistics were industries that appeared at the bottom of the list, with each sector having less than 1% of the total accredited businesses. These industries have significant carbon emissions, and it can be harder for them to make the changes without a huge financial burden.”

Sarah Mukherjee, CEO of IEMA (Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment) added: “We are seeing a huge increase in the demand for skilled sustainability professionals as more organisations and businesses address and plan for the future.

“Demand for IEMA Environmental and Sustainability qualifications has soared 190% since 2020. Enhancing the sustainability skills of the workforce is crucial in preparing businesses for the transition to a sustainable and net-zero carbon future.“

5 ways companies can reduce their environmental impact

Nick Higginson provides his insights on how businesses can drive more environmentally conscious operations, and in turn, drive their costs down.

1.     Set goals and begin to work towards sustainable accreditation

“The ultimate way that smaller businesses can prove that they are taking the issue seriously and want to implement real change is to begin the process of securing sustainable accreditation.

 “Businesses can apply for a range of accreditations depending on the type of business and industry it operates in. These include BCorp, Climate Neutral, or Investors In The Environment certificates. The process of securing accreditation requires commitment, but it is a sign that your business wants to instil real change.

 “These accreditations test whether you meet a minimum score in both social and environmental standards and offer a clear path for businesses wanting to become more sustainable,” says Nick.

 2.     Measure and reduce your carbon footprint

“With the UK government aiming to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050, now is the time for businesses to begin taking the steps towards a greener business model. Firstly, your business can easily calculate its carbon footprint by using this form from Carbon Footprint. It will give you a greater insight into what might be required to achieve zero carbon emissions.

 “One method for this is carbon offsetting: this is the process of buying credits from official companies that perform tasks like tree planting or waste collection to equalise your carbon footprint. Using local and sustainable products can also help reduce your carbon footprint, alongside choosing recyclable materials,” says Nick.

3.     Invest in staff training 

“To be ready to deal with the complexities of the future of sustainability, ensure that your staff are qualified for the task.

“IEMA supports anyone with environmental and sustainability responsibilities to upskill so they can help their business achieve their organisational goals. These courses provide staff with a greater understanding of the strategic and operational implications environmental sustainability has on them, their department and the business at large,” says Nick.

4.     Ensure the supply chain is moving towards sustainability

“Investing in companies that align with your sustainable ethos is vital if you are to help reduce the impact your product or service has on the environment. Nearly 1-in-3 customers have stopped buying from certain brands due to ethical or environmental related concerns, so ensuring that your business aligns with your ethics will benefit you both financially and environmentally,” says Nick.

5.     Work towards zero waste

“Regardless of size or industry, every business produces waste. In fact, across the world, we produce over 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste (electronic waste) each year. By taking steps to make sure that your waste is properly disposed of, you can help your business reduce the impact its waste has on the environment.

 “Sending your electronic waste to be refurbished and reused will give your tech a new home, reduce e-waste and offer consumers an alternative to buying new,” says Nick.

To learn more about how your business can benefit from an IEMA qualification in sustainability, please visit Phoenix Health and Safety.

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