Blog: Thinking it through

The heart of a small company

Being a small company of just two people means there isn’t much time to be thinking about how to get to net zero. Trying to recover from the effects of the pandemic have taken priority and while business may have picked up, there are bigger outgoings too; loans, increasing rent, and spiralling utility bills.

Being a small company does have advantages though. The process of working out our carbon footprint is quick and simple, especially when we have all the information to hand which we would use for accounting purposes anyway. We chose to register with SME Climate Hub, the government’s support for smaller businesses to reach net zero.

It’s a growing resource with useful guidance to help companies reduce carbon emissions, a variety of carbon footprint calculators, and a pledge system to share the company’s commitment and progress to reaching net zero. We decided our company will aim for the same goal as Shropshire – reach net zero by 2030.

The first run-through with the carbon calculator* gave us a good indication of our carbon footprint even though there is some uncertainty to some of our information. Going back and adjusting inputs shows us the impact of making changes, for example, if we had less office space, or bought renewable electricity.

It was heartening to find that the carbon footprint of our company for 2020 was well below the typical footprint of one UK citizen. The company sells computing based services and consultancy rather than products so a large share of the carbon footprint is in office space and web hosting.

The next step to net zero is to offset by investing in projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere. We found that Gold Standard carbon credits not only offset carbon, for example by planting new forests, but also support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Paying to offset the company’s carbon footprint starts from around £8 per tonne and by buying more than equal to emissions, the company is ‘Climate Positive’ for 2020.

This is an affordable first step and, since climate action has been shown to strengthen brands and improve customer loyalty, it’s the right thing for us to do for the company, as well as for the climate. But while offsetting is a simple process, reducing emissions is a bit more involved.

Seeking net zero web hosting is one option, and sourcing renewable energy will also be an important step. Each small step our company takes, along with all the other small steps taken by other companies, will lead to a better future for everyone. People are at the heart of companies; let’s put our hearts into what our companies do for our world.

*We took part in a beta testing phase for a calculator being developed by Normative – it’s now up and running for everyone.

A shake-up for a fairer future

Written some years ago, I think this poem still really speaks to what we need to do in response to climate change: we need a shake-up of everything we’ve known in our society –in a good way! – to reach a better way of sharing our planet, fairly.

Here are the first lines of the poem, and you can read the full poem and hear the poet reading it here.

Shake My Future (2009)

Dorothea Smartt

shake my future push me past my complacency
my taken-for-granted my comfort zone
shake my future let me source the unimagined
be released from the sentence of the inevitable
take control, empower myself
past the dour predictions of the present
and change myself
shake my future challenge our ‘first world’s
capitalist consumerist criminal zone
of perpetual purchasing
shake my future past the edges of the known
world launch me out into the hinterlands
of the intuited imagined
beyond the droughts of apathy
and quench my thirst for something different

Being a Waste-arian

My Gran saved things. She was adept at seeing the ongoing possibilities of things after they no longer fulfilled their original purpose – making stretchy soft strings from old nylon tights for example. She had my Dad just after World War Two. He and my mum grew up during times when people had less of everything, and especially less ‘stuff’. There wasn’t as much stuff to be had as nowadays, and priorities were on living, and having enough to live. Not having stuff for its own sake.

Having grown up during lean times, times when the country was rebuilding life after the ravages of war, my parents have gone on to accumulate vast amounts of stuff. They find it hard to get rid of anything because they believe that one day things will come in handy. And the chances are that it will happen during the days or weeks after being thrown away! Don’t get me wrong, they are very generous in sharing their stuff: lending it, gifting it, repurposing it for the benefit of others. They just appreciate the value of things. And they don’t waste them.

It makes for a potentially vast amount of clutter, in my view. Because I don’t recognise the value of all those things. I’ve grown up with the benefit of enough stuff, so I’ve not felt compelled to save it for when it comes in handy. I’ve known that people can always just go out and buy what they need if they don’t already have it. And I know that nowadays many people often throw things away quickly because they want to get the next new thing that is available, just for the sake of it.

Not because they really need it. Compared to growing up in post-war years, there is a lot of stuff we don’t really need. And this is how I am being a ‘Waste-arian’; I’m wasting carefully. I’m being thoughtful about whether I really need to buy that new thing. Whether I really need to wear that new colour or style. Whether I really need to have more than my neighbours. Because I respect stuff and care about it so much.

I respect all the people involved in extracting, mining, processing; in designing, making, growing; and in packaging, transporting, and selling. I respect the effort and resources used – the fossil fuels, the polluted waterways, the razed forests, the scraped seabeds, and the damaged atmosphere. I respect my stuff because I see what it took to get it to me.

So, I will use my stuff for as long as it will work. Then I will try to get it fixed. If there really is no other way I can benefit from a thing, I do my best to prolong its life – I regift it, I donate it, or I dismantle it and recycle as much as possible, so it can become something new for someone else.

Being a Waste-arian does need a bit of space. But I think many of us end up with piles of stuff even when we’re not intentionally keeping it for when it’ll come in handy. We can repurpose these piles and make our lives less wasteful, make ourselves less in need of new stuff, and help our planet by making our stuff last for as long as possible.

Shop till you drop

Retail therapy. The pastime of browsing through things of beauty, things that might be easy to buy today – on a whim, harder to buy in the future – with a plan for set-aside money or credit, or pretty much unattainable at all – within the limits of the ordinary-person’s pocket. Shiny things, new things, the latest upgraded things to come along and demand attention. And demand your money. Your money, which is likely to have been hard-earned, for most of us anyway. Money which might be needed for the rising costs of eating, heating, lighting, cooking, and travel, for example.

So, how can you shop ‘til you drop? I have had the experience of going out to the shopping malls, high streets, and quaint alleyways of smart boutiques, shopping until I felt too tired to shop any longer. Or too weighed down with the results of exchanging my hard-earned money for the shiny things that make people happy. Or too fed up of not finding just the right thing for gifting.

But those days are behind me now. For one thing, I find it much less effort to do most of my shopping online. And a certain big-name in online shopping can satisfy my ‘must have it’ wants with endless choice and same-day delivery. The choice is truly spectacular and I am captivated by the no-fuss payment and pre-set preferences. My shopping habits are indulged with ease.

But I’ve heard that the UK offshores more carbon than any other country in the world. Offshoring carbon? What’s that all about? My understanding is that, instead of making a thing in our own country and counting its carbon footprint, it’s made somewhere else in the world, we import it but we don’t count the carbon in our country’s footprint. Even though our desire for the thing is what drives the demand to get it made. This worries me. A lot. And manufacturing laws may not be so good at taking care of the people, or the environment, in those other countries, either.

So now I want to shop until I drop in a different way. I want to shop until I drop my carbon footprint. I can have that new thing, but I can search a little longer, I can look a little harder, to find it made in this country. I can find out a bit more and choose carefully, to buy from a company that is caring towards its workforce and caring towards our environment. I can even make a choice to wait and do nothing right now.

This could be the very best outcome for lowering my carbon footprint. After all, the most sustainable thing is the one we already have. Or, we can indulge our wants by opting for a pre-loved thing. Indeed, the second-hand car and home markets are well-established. But as we don’t buy those very often, it’s the frequent decisions about smaller things we buy more often that we can choose to change today.

Yes, we can decide to keep on shopping, keep on buying the shiniest thing, keep on spending to have the newest thing, and take a little time to make sure that the thing we get has the lowest carbon footprint we can afford. That could be our very best purchase in the face of climate change – a reduction in our carbon footprint. Let’s keep shopping ‘til we drop our carbon footprint – for the sake of our climate, our future, and our pockets.

The selfish approach to climate change

I didn’t do it, it’s not my fault, why should I change? I don’t buy much, I don’t waste much, I don’t use much, so why should I do anything? It’s the oil companies’ fault. It’s the government’s fault. Even if I do anything, it won’t make any difference. I’m just one person.

Yes, I’m just one ordinary person. But when lots of ordinary people get together, they make change happen. I’ve seen lots of ordinary children and youth in marches bringing attention to the problem of climate change. I’ve seen lots of ordinary people get together to help others during the Covid pandemic. And I know lots and lots of ordinary people get together to help during humanitarian crises.

Climate change is bringing more crises to humanity. Weather is more extreme and less predictable. Whatever problem anyone had before, climate change can make it worse. My house isn’t well insulated; heating it more in the winter and cooling it in the summer are the options that need least effort. But the cost of heating is getting unpredictable. The cost of cooling will also be unpredictable. Unless I put in some effort.

I can put some effort into working more hours to earn more money to pay for heating and cooling. Or I can put some effort into improving the insulation in my house. Or maybe I can put some effort into calculating how affordable solar panels are, given the rapid rise in fossil fuel electricity costs. What will be the best option for me? What will make my life more comfortable? What will make life more comfortable for my family? Directly, in how warm or cold our home is, and indirectly, in how much we can afford other things after the cost of electricity, gas, or oil.

I’m not thinking about other people, just me and my family. That’s where I must start because that’s where I will make the most difference. And if I choose to insulate my home, or if I choose to get solar panels, I will also actually be helping other people. That’s because the insulation or the solar panels will reduce how much carbon I am putting into the atmosphere. And if my choice is to work more to afford to carry on buying heating and cooling, I might choose to switch to renewable energy.

I’m just one ordinary person, and I’m taking a selfish approach to climate change, but I can make a difference after all. If I get together with all the other ordinary people who can also take a selfish approach, we can make a difference together. We can all do something for ourselves. We can all take a selfish approach. We can end up changing the climate together. We can give me, my family, you, your family, us, and all our human family, a better life.

The Inconvenience of Climate Change

Better forecasts can tell us when there will be storms, where hurricanes will track, and at what time river levels will peak, but they won’t remove the inconvenience of the damage, costs, food insecurity, disrupted lives, and dislocated communities. We humans have changed the climate as a result of our actions, and this is causing us all huge inconveniences.

The problems humanity already had, such as droughts, famines, tsunamis, and crop failures, are all made worse by climate change. This also applies to inequalities. The inequalities that already arise from colour, race, and gender differences for example, means people affected are also less likely to be well placed to cope with the impacts of climate change. Women are more affected than men, since women, globally speaking, typically do not earn as much as men, do not have the time away from the essential tasks of caregiving, home upkeep, and food-provision, and have not usually been in positions of influence.

This presents greater inconvenience for women than for men. But I believe women are best placed to deal with the inconveniences of climate change. Surely not, after what I’ve just described? Well, I believe women already have a deep understanding of inconvenience and an incredible ability to manage it. Women, approximately half of the population on the planet, will usually have periods for around half of their lifetime, up to about 40 years’ worth.

Imagine bleeding every few weeks. How inconvenient is that? Imagine not always knowing when that bleeding will start, how much there will be, how painful it might be, and whether you have the resources to deal with it. That is inconvenient at the very least. Maybe this seems easy to cope with in a country with fertility management pills, period products that are easy to buy, treated water is readily available, and flushing toilets are commonplace. Nearly half of the world does not have access to safely managed sanitation. Around 6 in every 100 people do not have access to any sanitation facilities at all. That is more than inconvenient.

And yet, women cope. Women deal with inconvenience on a regular basis. Women do their best to deal with inconvenience in ways which minimise any impact on other people. And, in growing a child, birthing a child, and breast-feeding a child, a woman undergoes even more inconvenience to her body and her life (and what joy this often brings). Women are used to inconvenience, women are used to coping with unpredictability, inadequate facilities, and the sharing of their resources for the benefit of another human. So, I believe women are in fact well placed to find ways to deal with climate change.

But we need to make the most of this, for all our sakes. Wherever, and whenever we can, we need to support women to have more opportunity to employ their honed ability to cope with inconvenience. Climate change affects us all, but its effects on women are amplified. Let’s truly enable women. I think it will make climate change less inconvenient for everyone.

Less than eight years

Some people are natural planners. They have their lives mapped out and know where they want to be over the next five or ten years. I think of myself as someone who likes to be organised, but I’ve never had plans which went more than around two years ahead. And then the pandemic curtailed my plans to within a horizon of about two weeks. Now I’m looking ahead years.

What do you expect to happen over the next few years in your life and family? In our family, sadly, the signs of ageing suggest that the oldest person may not be with us in ten years’ time. This will mean a big change for us all as we adjust and help resettle a sibling who is unable to live alone. We have children and a nephew who will be through their education and hopefully established in their chosen careers, and another niece and nephew who will be nearing the end of secondary education. Fingers crossed that all the other elders in the family will still be going strong.

Maybe you can anticipate some similar stages over the next five to ten years in your life? Maybe you hope to get settled with someone and start a family? Maybe your dream is to move somewhere else? Are you looking ahead to what the climate crisis will mean to you over the next few years? Are you thinking about what small changes you can make that will help you achieve your plans?

Scientists advising the United Nations and our government have looked ahead. They have shown that we must cut carbon emissions to keep the rise in global temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees to avoid even worse climate change. If we don’t, we face worse flooding of our buildings and farmland, more often; longer spells of life-threatening hotter weather; storms that are more intense and more frequent, dislocating people from their homes; and the impacts of unpredictable weather on our food supplies all over the world.

To try and help avert this, Shropshire Council has declared a Climate Emergency and set our county a target to be net zero in energy use by 2030. We have less than eight years. In less than eight years we need to adjust our energy supplies and usage to meet this net zero target. We need to be capturing as much carbon as is emitted by the fossil fuels we use to heat, cool, light, power and drive us. It’s not much time, is it?

But we can do it. Every small change we make adds up. We can achieve net zero by reducing how much carbon our lifestyle emits, changing to non-carbon emitting energy sources, and offsetting our emissions with carbon capture. There are things each of us can do, no matter what age, or what our means (although I recognise that people in cared-for settings likely have fewer options).

Eight years ago I could not have foreseen all the major changes, personal upheavals, and sacrifices that have happened in my life, but I know I am better for them. I believe the same will be true of all the changes we have to start making now. We will all be better for them, and so will our planet.

Thank you, Me

You know that feeling of relief when you manage to get out of the house on time because you put your clothes out ready the night before? Or that feeling of happiness when you can sit back and relax for the rest of the day when you’ve done your chores? Or maybe for you it’s a feeling of satisfaction because what you have to do today is made easier by what you already did a few days ago?

Well, I think that in any of these situations we can look back and thank ourselves for having planned ahead. We can appreciate our earlier efforts which have made our present moment better. And we can be glad that we have that skill of knowing that what we do today has a knock-on effect on our life tomorrow, and beyond. We can thank ourselves.

Well, I think that in any of these situations we can look back and thank ourselves for having planned ahead. We can appreciate our earlier efforts which have made our present moment better. And we can be glad that we have that skill of knowing that what we do today has a knock-on effect on our life tomorrow, and beyond. We can thank ourselves.

Having got the hang of planning ahead and being able to thank myself for it, I wonder if I can look further ahead, maybe years ahead, and do things today which I can look back on with appreciation and be able to say ‘Thank you, Me!’. I want to see if I can plan and make changes which will help the climate emergency, so that I can look back and be glad that, at the very least, I tried to make a difference.

It might not work, but I think it’s worth a try. If lots of us can make small changes, maybe by eating a bit less meat, or buying a bit less stuff, or by driving a bit more gently, then I think we will be able to reach a point when we can look back and be really grateful for what we did.

Or do. Because I find the best thing to do is to make a small change today. Keep going with it. When it’s a habit and I no longer have to think about it, I can try another small change. All the small changes add up. All the small changes that previous generations made – to have refrigeration, fitted lighting, central heating, smoke-free cooking, to have any powered machinery or gadgets in the home, or to drive motor vehicles, for example – all added up to the lives we live today, and to the climate emergency we face.

And now our changes happen faster – we upgrade technology, we buy new clothes, new shoes, new things, we get the latest version, we want the shiniest, the most expensive – we are being encouraged to strive for whatever is in the adverts promising us we’ll feel happier by having them. We’ve all fallen victim to them but there’s no use in blaming ourselves, or anyone.

Some people’s decisions have had much bigger impacts than mine, but my decisions have had much bigger impacts than people who live in other parts of the world. We’re all in it together; we’re all facing the consequences, even if they aren’t visible right on our own doorstep. So, because I care about myself, my family, my community and my global humanity, I want to do what I can now so that I can look back and be thankful.

I may not be able to do as much as my neighbours, but I might be able to do more than someone who lives in a cared-for setting. Every small action makes a difference and I know that every day I do something, for every week that I try, and for every year I look back and see that I did my best, I can be glad. Because, that’s all I can do, and for that I say, Thank you, Me.