A community approach to cutting environmental impact

01/02/2020

Businesses of all sizes are increasingly focused on reducing their environmental impact. There is growing recognition that taking a responsible approach to factors such as carbon footprint and wasted resources is not only the right thing to do for the planet, but also a means of appealing to potential customers, employees and partners. Decisions about which products to buy, which companies to work for and which businesses to work with are increasingly influenced by those organisations’ approaches to sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Yet whilst the motivations may be similar for an international conglomerate and a small start-up, their capabilities when it comes to investing in environmentally-friendly initiatives are very different. Yes, international businesses have a far greater environmental impact to consider in the first place – but they can also choose to direct substantial resource into the issue. Consider, for example, Sky’s recent announcement that it plans to go net carbon zero by 2030, through a broad range of initiatives including creating a zero emissions fleet of vehicles, planting trees, and making its technology products more energy efficient. As an international giant, Sky is able to dedicate a great deal of money, attention and expertise to myriad different strategies for reducing its carbon footprint.

By contrast, start-ups and small businesses are likely to have fewer resources to actively invest in green initiatives, as well as potentially less flexibility in terms of making choices which foreground sustainability and environmental impact.

However, this is not to say that such businesses cannot work innovatively and creatively to reduce their carbon footprints. In fact, one option is available to them that is out of reach to larger organisations – working together as a community with other small businesses.

Start-up and small business communities

Co-working spaces and small business incubators have grown enormously in recent years, particularly in technology-focused industries. There is a growing recognition that sharing office space and resources, and encouraging businesses to work together in the same spaces, can foster not only greater efficiencies but also innovation and creativity. The Enterprise City district, currently under construction in Manchester, aims to do just that by fusing all the amenities that a business and its workers need within close proximity. Collectively, this can have a substantial impact on environmental efficiency and carbon footprint.

How?

First, consider the office buildings themselves. Business community spaces, whether brand-new or refurbished, are typically highly energy-efficient. This is both because they optimise space, with small businesses moving seamlessly through different sizes of offices as they grow, rather than having to ‘grow into’ a space which is initially too large, and because they are purpose-designed with energy efficiency in mind, through elements such as building materials, heating and lighting systems, and insulation. Many start-up and small business communities have an impressively proactive approach to sustainable premises, with innovations from green roofs to water recycling being increasingly commonplace.

Second, community business spaces can offer a shared approach to technologies such as videoconferencing and collaboration platforms, which might otherwise be too costly or complex for a start-up to invest alone. In turn, these technologies make it far easier to run virtual meetings and to work on projects in a truly engaging, productive way from partners from all over the world. And in turn from there, start-ups and small businesses can cut down on one of the factors which can have the biggest impact of all on their carbon footprints – business travel.

The shared resources approach can also enable business communities to make more sustainable procurement choices than individual start-ups can alone, whether bulk-buying business suppliers from greener vendors and manufactures, or negotiating with building managers to implement things like better insulation or smart lighting.

Third, the collaboration, creativity, idea-sharing, training and development fostered by such community spaces cannot be underestimated. Business communities encourage entrepreneurs to spend time with each other, both casually at the water cooler and in more structured settings such as workshops and training sessions. And this is how big business ideas are formed – including new ideas for reducing environmental impact and working towards carbon neutrality. Many business communities offer value added services through guest speaker sessions, training courses and qualifications, helping to up-skill small businesses’ workforces and create new lines of business partnership both within and beyond the community. The potential for tackling the world’s biggest environmental challenges through this kind of relationship-building is genuinely huge.

A community response to the climate crisis

Ultimately, climate change can only be tackled by consumers and businesses alike working together to reduce their carbon footprints, to make more sustainable choices, and to help each other to operate in greener ways. Start-up and small business communities are, in some ways, like a microcosm of these collaborative, interconnected approaches.

By encouraging a proactive approach to environmental efficiency and carbon neutrality from the very earliest days of businesses’ lives, business communities can truly help to foster the next generation of environmental trailblazers.

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