Key Takeaways 

  • Small businesses have a critical role in fighting climate change by using cleaner energy and reducing emissions
  • Short and long-term benefits to using renewable or clean energy include saving money, minimizing your carbon footprint, and elevating yourself as an environmentally-responsible company 
  • Your business can get involved in energy transitions and reducing emissions based on Scopes 1, 2, and 3, as categorized by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol

The Just Transition 

Small Businesses are saving money and fighting the climate crisis by making simple switches and taking advantage of existing incentives. New technologies, tax credits, affordable infrastructure and green programs are all a part of a new wave that is rewarding the businesses who are paying attention to their emissions and bottom line. An individual small business can have a relatively small carbon footprint, but the overall impact of those emissions can be huge. Unfortunately, It’s often the case that small businesses lack the same resources that larger corporations have when it comes to reducing emissions and implementing new technologies and operations. To find some potential solutions, we talked with experts in the field of energy and economics to illuminate easy pathways towards decarbonization that will save your business money. These recommendations are broken down into solutions based on your businesses scope one, two and three emissions. For more information on scope emissions and greenhouse gas inventory, check out our Essential 3-Step EPA GHG Reporting Guide.These scopes dissect where your businesses emissions come from, and what you can do to reduce them.   

Recommendations for Scope 1

Within scope 1, your company has a direct impact in curbing emissions. Any greenhouse gas emissions that originate from your organization would fall under the umbrella of scope 1. Examples include on-site combustion of gasoline, natural gas, diesel fuel, and biomass, as well as escaped gas from refrigerants in cooling systems. Heating and cooling, vehicles, stationary machinery, and mobile machinery are all sources for this emission type. For businesses that keep track of energy use and emissions, working to reduce your scope 1 emissions will result in noticeable changes to your emissions and energy data. There are a number of ways for your business to reduce your scope 1 emissions that vary in price and effort! 

1. Use renewable energy sources instead of traditional energy sources. Solar is emission-free and doesn’t pollute our water and air. It also increases your energy independence as you no longer need to rely on the grid where energy prices fluctuate throughout the day. Danae Hernandez-Cortes is an assistant professor for the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University where she teaches a class on Data Analytics for Sustainable Energy. In an interview with Sustainable Earth, Professor Hernandez-Cortes mentioned that “rooftop solar allows your business to save money in the long run depending on the amount of energy that you produce because gas prices can be very expensive.”  Businesses that install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are eligible to receive a tax credit called the Business Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC) that is 26% of the total cost of the system. There are specific state and federal credits available depending on where you live. If the solar PV system is new and owned by you, you’re likely to be able to get some money back. 

2. Retrofit for energy-efficiency!

  • Replace your fluorescent or incandescent bulbs with more energy-efficient light bulbs. Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are your best option, capable of lasting 25 times longer than a traditional bulb with increased safety with less heat emitted. They are also up to 90% more energy-efficient! Make these switches with your desk lamps, overhead lights, and anywhere else in your workplace. We spoke with Alex Routhier, a Senior Clean Energy Policy Analyst at Western Resources, about energy-efficiency and how just changing your lightbulbs can have an incredible impact. Routhier said, “…as an ancillary benefit [of switching to LED bulbs], it’s the less kilowatt hours that you’re using. This means that there’s less coal that they’re shoveling into a power plant to burn in order to generate electricity.” Focusing on small appliances can be the cheapest option for your business.
  • Invest in a geothermal heat pump that utilizes heat stored in the water and ground. This method doesn’t rely on fuel or electricity, making it the greenest option. If you are constructing your work building, installing a ground heating system can be added to your plans. Although this option is relatively expensive (30-40% more than traditional AC and furnaces), a geothermal heat pump can use between 25% to 50% less energy than a traditional system. Tax credits for energy are available depending on the efficiency of your heating and cooling system. Identify the areas to install a geothermal system with this map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  • Use energy during your locale’s low electricity usage times (or at the time the power is being generated). When many people are using electricity from the grid at the same time, utility services will ramp up their electricity acquisition by speeding up power plants or buying more fuel or power to help address peoples’ needs. Your utility company most likely has information on when peak hours of electricity usage are, so avoid using lots of electricity at those times. If you use solar panels, try to use  solar-generated electricity as it’s most available, such as peak sunny hours during the day
  • Check for leaks! Your heating and cooling systems can leak harmful chemicals like ammonia and gasses like propane. As your equipment ages, do quality checks to look for leaks and prevent fugitive emissions. Non-toxic sealant is another tool that can be used as part of preventative maintenance.

3. It’s time to electrify company vehicles. All-electric vehicles create zero emissions, compared to petrol or diesel vehicles that contribute to air pollution and GHGs. Making the switch is especially important if your company utilizes an entire fleet of vehicles. Infrastructure is growing to support the number of electric vehicles on the road, making this the perfect time to start the transition to driving clean. Check out this list of EVs with their make, model, and ranges to figure out sustainable options for your next car purchase!

Recommendations for Scope 2

Around 40% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from generating energy, and around half of that energy is intended for industrial or commercial use. Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions affecting your business with the purchase of electricity, heat, steam, or cooling appliances and infrastructure generated off-site. Businesses will usually obtain their energy from a public utility, but some businesses get energy from brown power sources (fossil fuels) and will unfortunately take on the burden of those emissions. Here are a few ways that your business can target renewable energy goals and reduce your scope 2 emissions in the process: 

1. Similarly to the suggestions made in scope 1, it is important to have a conversation with your utility program about green energy options and alternatives such as solar, where your business can drastically reduce its carbon footprint. If you use solar from your utility company rather than on your own rooftop, then you are reducing your scope 2 emissions. Making the switch to green energy through solar will significantly reduce energy costs over time as well. According to a report by EnergySage, average commercial business owners monthly energy bills were around $1950 before switching to solar and half the price after the switch! You can also look into community solar options, which allows you to use energy generated from panels on other buildings. Before wincing at paying your next utility bill, consider the tax credits and rebates available while making an environmentally impactful decision for your business. 

2. When looking to reduce your scope 2 emissions as a business, look no further than Utility green tariff programs. The EPA issues green tariffs that will allow a business in a regulated market to buy renewable energy in conjunction with a clean energy project through a tariff rate. These tariffs are approved by state public utility commissions (PUCs) and allow commercial customers to purchase bundled renewables from a reduced tariff rate. The tariff is beneficial to businesses because it will provide 100% renewable power from projects owned by the utility company. As a business purchasing electricity, these incentives will provide a unique opportunity to meet your sustainability goals with potential cost savings. 

3. Utility green power programs are a voluntary program that businesses can enroll in to take advantage of green power and reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact. These programs are provided by the EPA and encourage green technologies that will benefit small businesses and also reduce emissions. By prioritizing energy efficiency projects such as switching to LEDs or renewable energy sources, you can reach your reduction goals. 

4. Green power supply options allow electricity customers to create a new green power approach that meets their individual sustainability needs. The following are retail supply options that allow customers to think ahead and plan out their energy needs, then purchase a predetermined volume related to their energy consumption. 

  • (REC) Retail Renewable Energy Certificates: These certificates provide companies with an opportunity to offset their carbon footprint and prioritize clean energy. As a company, if you purchase an REC, you are being transparent with customers that your energy comes from renewable sources. 
  • Competitive Green Power Products: These Green Power Products allow companies to purchase bundled electricity and REC’s from competitive energy suppliers. If your business resides in a deregulated electricity market, other suppliers other than your utility can offer green power at a different rate. 
  • Utility Green Power Products: This process is also commonly referred to as “green pricing” and can be initiated by speaking to your utility company and inquiring about opting for green power. 

Recommendations for Scope 3 

Scope 3 emissions include the results from all assets and activities not owned or controlled by your organization, but that are present within your supply chain. This means that all scope three emissions are sources that do not fall within scope one or two. More specifically, your businesses scope three emissions are the scope one and two emissions of another business. Scope three emissions can also be referred to as value chain emissions, and they represent the majority of your business’s carbon footprint. An example of scope three emissions would be disposal of waste, different investments, and services from an outside provider. Indirect scope three emissions would include travel and commuting for employees.  So what actions can you take to ensure that you are reducing your carbon footprint within your supply chain? 

1. Be smarter with travel. 

  • Focus on your company’s business travel. If you have employees that fly often for your company, remember to check the emissions of your flight purchases on Google Flights. This will provide you with the information needed to make informed decisions about your company’s carbon footprint when it comes to air travel. For more information on sustainable travel, check out our guide! Reducing your travel whenever possible is a great way to reduce your emissions. The meetings that your employees travel 50 or 500 miles for could most likely be done over Zoom, so make sure that travel is necessary before buying the plane ticket or fueling your car.
  • Encourage your employees to make sustainable commuting decisions. This means that if they are in close proximity to work, they could walk or bike. If they are further away, they may want to carpool or use public transportation. Hernandez-Cortes recommends motivating employees to use these options by “making contests, or trying to do some fun activity that would incentivize them to do this”. Having work-from-home or remote days will also reduce emissions created by commuting.

2. Understand the life cycle of your products. This will allow you to see where emissions are being created in your supply chain. In doing so, you can begin to make informed decisions about where your products are sourced from, and whether or not the company that provided them is doing so in a sustainable way. It is also important to think about the end-of-life of your products and give your customers options for proper disposal.

3. Consider installing electric vehicle charging stations. By installing EV stations at your business, you are able to provide your customers, employees and suppliers with a space to charge an electric vehicle. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program (NEVI) sets aside $5 billion dollars in federal funding to deploy electric vehicle charging infrastructure to allow for greater access to these stations for EV owners. Additionally, the Discretionary Grant Program for Charging and Fueling Infrastructure is a 2 billion dollar initiative to provide funding for EV charging stations along alternative fuel corridors. 50 percent of this funding must be used for a community grant program where EV charging stations are strategically located in low-income communities. 

4. Purchase carbon offsets. When you purchase a carbon offset, you are buying a commitment from a company or organization that it will work to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon offsets can also fund new projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By purchasing carbon offsets before emission reductions occur, you are able to reduce carbon emissions in advance. This option does not excuse your business for emitting carbon, but it does allow you to get closer to being a carbon neutral company even if you are responsible for producing some emissions.

5. Make savvy and sustainable investments. Whether you are investing in a plot of land or a building, consider the ways your activities will affect the environment. Can the building be made LEED certified? Does the land have enough space to host some carbon-absorbing vegetation? If you are an investment firm, consider ESG when selecting companies to put money into.

Reducing Your Emissions is an Achievable Goal

Whether you are trying to make your business more environmentally-friendly, or you’re trying to save money in the long-term, focusing on your Scope emissions can create scalable positive change. You can start at any scope that seems feasible to you and works within your budget. Once you begin implementing clean energy solutions in your business, you can publicize the efforts! Consumers appreciate a company that is transparent in addressing environmental concerns, making lowering your emissions an attractive and profitable plan. At a global scale, the United Nations has focused its efforts on working towards more affordable and clean energy options. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 calls for affordable and clean energy to broaden access to energy services and resources for rural and low-income communities, but accessibility is growing everywhere. Reducing your carbon footprint is increasing in achievability.  As renewable or clean energy options continue to expand, your small business can bolster its sustainability portfolio and make a positive impact on the planet.