The net-zero puzzle didn’t get any easier for small and medium sized companies in 2023, yet there is a growing expectation that they should all be doing something.
The question is – what? Time and money is short, so let’s take a look at what can be done for the best effect without breaking the bank or the company.
Large companies face definite requirements for reporting, and much of their work to date has been around scope 1 and 2 emissions. In many cases scope 3 is the greater part, so they are looking at things like business travel, and of course, their supply chains, populated heavily by SMEs.
So what can you do in response? In 2023 I developed a simple framework to help put some structure into this challenge. It was used in multiple workshops and so I thought I would share it more widely to contribute to the debate.
As a long-term project manager I welcome anything that helps to add discipline and control in a changing environment, so here are the ten steps that I have worked with. It is not a detailed instruction manual, it is an introductory guide, the specifics come later to fill in the blanks. Only then can we pick a few strategic initiatives and turn them into actionable plans.
The ten steps
Let’s begin with the evaluation and planning phase, laid out as four preliminary actions.
1 Calculate your carbon footprint
Good decisions are rooted in understanding where you are and what you are hoping to achieve. There are many web tools available to help you do this, with slightly different approaches and outputs in each case. Choose one that seems to work for you and stick with it to compare like with like over the duration.
2 Set carbon objectives and policies
This is the strategy part where you lay out the big objectives that sit alongside your wider business strategy. They may include the extent of reductions you can work towards, the time frame over which that may be possible and the strategic positions you wish to adopt. This may evolve through the following stages, but it is important to start somewhere with the overall goals.
3 Prepare the carbon reduction plan
Your footprint will reveal where the biggest emissions are taking place and help you to prioritise and evaluate the art of the possible. We are not planning in detail yet, this is still big-picture stuff, but it gives a platform from which to engage with stakeholders like staff, customers, suppliers, investors and other partners.
4 Engage staff
The final part of the preparation phase is to get the company culture aligned with the goals and be confident that this is a shared initiative across the whole team. So much of what follows is driven by detail behaviours of everyone involved.
The initiatives that arise from this phase will typically fall across five threads. I am not offering them in a particular sequence or priority order as each case will be different. They are simply here as a checklist of the things you may need to act on.
5 Make buildings more efficient
Your facilities will drive much of your energy consumption and emissions, so looking at features such as light, heat, ventilation, and process equipment will be a valuable exercise. The goal is to maximise the performance of the available facilities, ensure fitness for purpose, and if not, look at changes to optimise.
6 Energy supply options
This covers matters of where and how you buy energy, how much you use and when. If you really understand your energy usage, its types, timing, drivers, peaks and troughs, then you can look at ways to reduce it. You can also talk to you energy providers to dovetail with their low-carbon offerings and look at other opportunities like self-generation or power purchase agreements.
7 Transport options
As with energy, if you research your transportation and the things that stimulate it, then there are opportunities to reduce and optimise. You can also look at the types of travel you use, and make choices that feed back into the policies mentioned in item 2.
8 Minimise waste and recycle
Waste is often a surprisingly large factor. Avoidable waste responds to behaviours, procurement and storage choices. Clever production engineering may reduce offcuts or process waste. Naturally, where waste cannot be avoided, finding ways for it to be re-used or recycled extends its usefulness.
9 Optimise supply chain
Just as many SMEs are challenged by their larger customers, you can also set standards and make good choices in your own supply chain. It is a delicate balance if ‘good’ means more expensive, but we have a chance to argue a more holistic value proposition both up and down the supply chain. There are tools to help with the ‘softer’ business cases that this implies.
If you can reach a state of minimum operational emissions, then if you are truly driven by the ‘zero’ part of net zero you can invest in external initiatives know as offsetting. This is an evolving concept and not all schemes are equal, so tread carefully. There are costs involved, and this all ties back into your business case and strategic goals that were developed in step 2 above.
Managing the process
The ten steps set out a very broad canvas of possible changes and actions you may take. Now we turn these into conventional project language to help you implement the few you choose effectively and with confidence.
The most important thing in my view is the classic sequence of understand – choose – commit – do. There are many more tools available to help in each stage, and I will explore these in other posts.
These ten steps are not a magic-bullet answer to your net zero challenge. Instead they are a framework that you can use to guide thinking, strategies, planning and investment.
No SME can solve the global problem on their own, but each leader or owner has an opportunity to contribute, to choose how far they can go and over what time period. It won’t happen overnight, but as progress and positive behaviour becomes normalised, it may just get a bit easier. The important thing is to find a few things that will make a big difference and commit to doing them well. That begins in steps 1 through 4.
The First Thirty toolkit
What I have set out above is an introduction to some of the tools and frameworks I use to help companies and their leaders to make progress and perform.
In practical terms, I am happy to share them with you, perhaps teach you how to use them, and coach you with them through real-world situations. Of course, you could always hand off the task and I’ll pick it up as a temporary part of your team. There are many options, but the common focus is on the outcomes, and getting you where you want to be as quickly, reliably and economically as possible. If you like my thinking, need some help, or know someone else that does, then please get in touch.