Planning Your Carbon Journey

Module one

Whether you’re currently thinking about racing to zero, what it would take to get to carbon neutral, or how to be carbon positive it’s important to remember this is a journey along the carbon highway.

As SMEs with limited resources it might feel like an epic endeavour, so don’t forget that even big businesses with sustainability teams are taking the journey one milestone at a time and have been working on the first couple of stops for the last few years.

The Berkeley Partnership joined our climate course pilot at the very beginning of their net zero journey and have used our course and toolkit to plan their carbon journey.

Stop one: carbon reduction

As climate action has been a hot topic for some time now, you may already be at stop one of your journey and have consciously started making changes to work and live more sustainably. You might have consolidated deliveries to your office, switched to a green energy supplier or sourced more efficient office equipment. These are all positive steps but it’s tricky to evidence any impact or measure your work.

Stop two: understand your carbon footprint

The second milestone on your carbon journey is understanding where you’re producing carbon emissions in your business. You can do this by measuring your carbon footprint and considering Scopes 1, 2 and 3. The first time you measure your carbon footprint is known as your baseline. You’ll then be able to see your emissions by category and know where to concentrate your efforts.

Stop three: net zero action plan

Once you’ve understood your carbon footprint, you’ll be able to see where to set reduction goals.

To start reducing your carbon emissions, you’ll need to take positive steps to work more sustainably, looking at all the contributors you identified when you measured your carbon footprint. You might find that as a result of measuring your carbon emissions, you start to reduce some areas naturally.

This is a great step to start bringing other people on the journey with you. Why not share information with your teams on measuring their personal footprint and support them in understanding the part they’re playing?

When you’re writing your net zero action plan, include any accreditations you’re aiming for, applying for or aligning your targets to, such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

Stop four: carbon neutral

While you’re working on your reduction plan, a good way to demonstrate progress and support your work is by achieving carbon neutral status. To do this you’ll need to offset all emissions in your baseline. Think of a set of scales: your carbon weighs down one side and you can balance it, or neutralise it, through offsetting. There are different ways to offset such as planting trees and buying carbon credits. This will help you to demonstrate some immediate actions to stakeholders while you work on your reductions. You should be aware that offsetting costs money, but the costs will reduce as your emissions reduce.

Stop five: net zero

Now you’ve identified how you can reduce your emissions you’ll also be aware of unavoidable emissions which you don’t have control over to reduce. To achieve net zero you’ll need to have reduced emissions as much as physically possible, and any offsetting you do to address the unavoidable emissions must actively remove carbon from the atmosphere. There are a few ways to achieve this: carbon sinks, sequestration or capture and storage. Most larger companies who have worked on their carbon journey for some time are still working to achieve net zero as a longer-term goal.

Stop six: carbon negative/positive

When you get to the fifth stop on your journey, you’ve reached carbon utopia – your positive actions have culminated in you now removing more carbon from the atmosphere than you’re producing – keep going with the great work to make a positive impact on the planet!

This was last updated in March 2022 by Heart of the City. We’ve created these resources for individual SMEs to use. None of our content is to be adapted, reused or repurposed for commercial use.

Climate for SMEs: 4 Steps to Action is funded by the City of London Corporation in support of its Climate Action Strategy targets for a net zero and resilient Square Mile.