Brighter business / How can businesses be more sustainable after the coronavirus pandemic?

How can businesses be more sustainable after the coronavirus pandemic?

5th June 2020

When faced with change and challenges, we can lose sight of any opportunities that may also arise. Despite the recent widespread disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been one glimmer of hope throughout: the future of our planet.

Carbon emissions have dropped dramatically across the globe, with some reports showing that CO2 levels are 36% lower since lockdown started. But now, as restrictions start to lift and normality slowly returns, experts have warned that this won’t last unless we start investing in clean energy and continue to spur behavioural change across every sector.

Below are some ideas on how all of us can take the lessons we’ve learnt from the pandemic and implement them over the long term to reduce the carbon footprint of our businesses.

Limit the travel of your employees where you can

After seeing the inspirational images from across the globe of reduced CO2 levels and wildlife remerging in places we thought they were lost, it’s disheartening to think that this could all be lost as soon as businesses reopen and we begin to mobilise again. Small and medium sized enterprises are the employers of 60% of the UK’s population so, as a business owner there are things you can do to help, starting with limiting the travel of your employees.

Consider working from home options

Perhaps your employees’ journey into the office can be as simple as walking from their bedroom to their desk. If as a business, you’re able continue to work from home, consider offering days where your team can do so. Since lockdown began in March, we’ve seen that businesses can continue to thrive with teams virtually working. Here at Opus Energy, we’ve facilitated over 600 staff to work from home since March, and thanks to its success so far, have decided to extended this working from home period even further.

There’s no getting away from the fact that transportation contributes a huge percentage of the UK’s total carbon emissions. Research shows that work-related travel accounts for over a third (37%) of total emissions from passenger transport – 24% from commuting and 13% from travel in the course of business. So, if letting your employees work from home is a viable option, this is something to consider.

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Be an advocate for cleaner transport

For some businesses, it’s not possible for employees to work from home. As we begin to filter back into the workplace, it’s important to continue the gains we’ve made on reducing our environmental impact and consider other options:

Opt in for cycle to work schemes

As we continue to combat COVID-19, social distancing measures will likely impact the go-to forms of greener travel like public transport and carpooling. With this in mind, options such as cycle to work schemes can work for employees that have a shorter commute, are a great employee benefit to consider – and carbon neutral, too. The cycle to work scheme also has tax benefits for your business, as employers can save 13.8% on National Insurance Contributions.

Consider the benefits of electric

Or, if you have a fleet of vehicles, it may be worthwhile considering making the switch to electric. While this might not be available to you immediately due to budget restraints, in the near future, it’s a positive option to explore, particularly as the sale of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars will be banned from 2035 under new Government regulation.

Perhaps you offer company cars and could incentivise the electric options, for example, installing charging points. Range and charging anxiety are still key factors holding drivers back from moving to an electric vehicle, so having the infrastructure in place to allow your employees to charge their vehicles during the day will go a long way to settling that feeling. Electric vehicles reduce exhaust-related emissions and reduce the use of fossil-derived fuels – helping to keep air pollution down to a safe level too.

The reduction of traffic during lockdown in the UK had a profound impact on air pollution across our towns and cities. This showed us that that not only is it possible to reverse the damage, but that we need work together to keep these new-found levels down. Aa a business, advocating the use of cleaner, greener transport is a huge step in achieving and maintaining this.

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Flexibility is key

One of the key learnings from COVID-19 has been that flexible working means more than just letting your employees work from home: it’s about fostering working relationships built on mutual trust and autonomy, and not being afraid of making bold changes to your business. As business owners, it’s important to acknowledge this and to continue to allow employees flexible working where possible. Not only will this be appreciated by your current employees, but potential applicants will now, more than ever, be looking for flexibility from employers. And it goes without saying, with more employees working from home, you could see a reduction in energy consumption too.

Be open to new ways of working

When reintroducing your employees back into work, talk to your staff. Consider their needs, as many people’s circumstances will have changed. You should also look at how you’ll allow for social distancing measures, as the safety of your team needs to be at the forefront of all decisions.

For example, staggering shifts may be a viable option, or even simply adjusting your opening hours. These changes will go a long way in supporting your team in their return to work. As well as this, adequate space between employees is vital. You’ll need to be smart about your layout, as relocating people to opposite ends of the property or across several floors will only increase your overall electricity consumption.

Consider energy saving tech

If you haven’t done so already, investigate installing motion-sensor technology to your office appliances. This can be an effective way to cut your electricity consumption, and can be especially worthwhile if there are going to be times where there isn’t anyone in the building premises or large parts of it.

Installing a smart meter will help you monitor your electricity consumption during this time too. The near real-time data they provide on your business energy usage means that you can spot key trends and identify areas for improvement, as well as address any issues quickly. Ultimately, evaluating your habits and identifying opportunities for intelligent change can make a huge difference to your bottom line.

The power of collective action

Although the sharp reduction in emissions we’ve seen during the lockdown may be temporary, it’s shown us what is possible and what can be achieved through collective action. Together, we should continue to reduce our emissions and not slip into old harmful habits.

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