Why purpose-led company culture is key to climate change progress in small businesses

16 November 2021

No person is an island, and if we want to save the world’s islands from a rising sea then we’ll need to work together. This is why a purpose-led, collaborative company culture is key to a successful climate change policy in the workplace. 

If you’re a small business, you may feel that the burden of sustainability doesn’t sit on your shoulders, because it’s arguably corporations who are the biggest polluters. In fact, only 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

And while it’s true that the weight of responsibility sits heavily with the large industrial players of the business world, smaller businesses also have a duty to do everything in their power to minimise environmental impact. As of January 2021, there were over 5.9 million SME’s in the UK,  making up an estimated 45% of business energy use, so we shouldn’t underestimate the environmental impact of small businesses.

With climate change, we’re rapidly heading towards a point of no return (some studies estimate that we’re already there) and it’s in all of our best interests to avoid this. There will be no business on a dead planet, after all! But all hope is not lost. Scientists and environmentalists want us to know that if we act together and we act now, there is still time to slow global warming significantly.

Setting sustainability goals and creating a climate change policy are important steps towards addressing these issues, but in order to achieve real impact, a collaborative company culture is vital.

How does company culture affect climate change policies?

In order for climate change and sustainability policies to be truly effective, they must be built into every aspect of the business from leadership decisions to supplier behaviour, to office habits. It requires the whole team to be invested and take the proposed changes seriously. And for those things to happen, you need a strong, purpose-led company culture.

Marisa Hall from the Thinking Head research group argues that ‘culture and purpose can be mutually reinforcing whereby the establishment of a strong people and teamwork ethos not only underpins an organisation’s purpose, but also promotes collective responsibility for it and belonging to it.’

An organisation with a culture of respect, tolerance, empathy, innovation, and giving will see far greater success in introducing sustainable changes than one which is a little more stuck in its ways.

Employee volunteering can be an unexpectedly effective way to improve your company culture while creating community or environmental impact at the same time

How do we build a more collaborative company culture?

As with climate change, when it comes to company culture, there are no quick fixes and the solutions must go deeper than gimmicky promises and positive PR. Company culture is more than just fancy perks and a snazzy office, it means flexibility and empathy and treating employees as individual human beings.

A positive company culture is one where employees feel supported to speak up about any issues and stresses they face, and one where they’re not expected to reply to emails outside office hours or consistently pick up work beyond their job description. It’s a culture where achievements are acknowledged, and successes are celebrated together.

Employee volunteering can be an unexpectedly effective way to improve your company culture while creating community or environmental impact at the same time, read more about how to do this here.

How to improve sustainability as a small company

There are a few obvious places to start when it comes to improving your company’s sustainability. Switching to a greener energy provider, changing to LED lights, reducing unnecessary printing, ensuring your heating or air conditioning systems are on a timer and making sure they’re switched off when the office is empty are all small actions that can reduce your office’s carbon footprint.

However, don’t assume that working from home, or hybrid workplaces are more sustainable. In fact, it’s estimated that for companies whose employees mostly walked, took public transport, or travelled less than four miles to work before the pandemic, a permanent move to remote working could actually increase their overall carbon footprint. In the short-term, this is due to increasing energy consumption in the home as people run their heating or air-conditioning for longer during the day, and in the longer term this might look like a more distributed workforce moving to higher energy consumption home in the suburbs, not to mention the shocking environmental impact of digital working.

But there are ways to cut down on your digital environmental impact, such as sharing links to documents instead of using email attachments, turning cameras off during video calls, providing energy efficient laptops to work from home staff and encouraging employees to dim their screens to around 70%.

Other actions include introducing cycle-to-work schemes, giving employees time to volunteer for environmental organisations, joining business pledges such as B-Corp, B1G1, or 1% for the Planet and building sustainability into the core of your business strategy at all levels.

The SME Climate Hub have clear and helpful information, tools, and resources to help small businesses play their part in the UN Race to Zero Emissions campaign. This is a great place to start when building a sustainability strategy.

What next?

There are many ways that small businesses can play their part in the battle against climate change and for these actions to be effective, a strong, purpose-led company culture is key.

To learn more about how to use employee volunteering to achieve this, and to help your employees connect to environmental organisations in your area, book a call with our Business Engagement Manager, Sarah, and find out how we can help.

Or join our community here, to stay up-to-date with monthly culture, social responsibility, and ethical business news.

Written by Betty Henderson

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