Tips for Small Businesses Beginning Their Sustainability Journey

By Tom Dore
29 Mar 2023

Tom Dore, Global Head of Production & Sustainability for Across the Pond, a Certified B Corporation shares his must-dos and don’ts for agencies or SMEs taking their first steps to reduce their carbon impact.

Across the Pond is an independent global creative agency helping tech brands create a better world.  They believe in the empowering potential of tech to drive positive societal change. In March 2023, they were certified as a B Corporation. The B Corp certification transforms the single “bottom line” measure of success for a business (profit) into a triple one where people and planet are of equal importance. It changes the very purpose of a business from its core.

1. Start measuring
Calculating your company’s carbon footprint is an intimidating project. But you can’t improve until you have established a baseline footprint. 

The disruption of the last few years has made it harder to draw too many meaningful comparisons year on year, but with most businesses operating as usual from 2022 and an increasing number of helpful carbon calculators and resources available, there’s never been a better time to get to grips with your impact and take strides to reduce.  

For most small businesses, the highest impact areas or hot spots under your control will come from travel (business travel and fleet cars); office energy consumption, employees working from home and staff commuting – so these are great places to focus on initially. For the past few years, we have used Compare Your Footprint to create our greenhouse gas reports, but there are also a host of clever automated options that can plug directly into your financial software, e.g. Greenly or Ecologi Xero. These use increasingly sophisticated data sets combined with your company’s expenses to minimise the need for manual inputting. They also help to fill in any gaps in your measuring.

For those who need more of a roadmap and guidance to work out what to measure, there are sustainability consultants with industry-specific experience, no matter your size. 

Post-pandemic, hybrid working patterns or the reliance on co-working spaces have made accounting for staffing and office resources more complex, but again, there are models & data sets that can help with this. And always think progress, not perfection when it comes to data and accountability. Measuring impact is an evolving process. 

2. Set Targets & Communicate them
Once you have a grip on your carbon footprint, you can start setting targets for reduction and communicate them internally and externally. 

I strongly recommend setting science-based Net Zero targets for reduction (in line with keeping our planet’s maximum temperature increase to 1.5 degrees). It represents the meaningful change that our planet needs and is fast becoming expected from clients, industries and governments, so there’s a strong business case for building Net Zero goals into your operations and business strategy from the outset.

You may also be able to score some quick wins, like switching your offices to renewable energy. This is commonly the most impactful change a small business (or individual) can make. Addressing any standout hot spots is also rewarding and can build momentum. For example, we noticed that our London office was consuming around 70% more energy than our Singapore and San Francisco offices combined, due to our London-based server room. This focused our attention, and we achieved an 18% reduction in our London energy consumption by simply turning our server room temperature down by 2 degrees.

Don’t over-communicate on the smaller details but lead with your broader goals. I felt much more momentum, enthusiasm and engagement when communicating our goal to be net-zero by 2030 rather than focussing on specific reduction targets. Be clear on how every action contributes to your main goal, so the whole team can see the bigger picture and feel part of it.

For instance, travel is our most significant carbon contributor, but by having our global production teams engaged in our goal to reduce our travel emissions by 30% in 2023, our US team proactively builds alternative plans to flying into their production schedules when possible. They recently drove five hours from San Francisco to Santa Barbara to avoid flights, which contributed 80% less carbon and saved 1 tonne of C02e.

Externally, we want to use our reduction roadmap to instigate more meaningful conversations with clients and our suppliers. When working with bigger clients, I’ve often found a disconnect between their wider corporate environmental missions and the more short-term goals of the client briefing us. As a partner, there’s enormous value to add by helping to connect those ambitions. We want to assist clients in thinking innovatively and deliver campaigns in a planet-positive way, which is a real asset to helping our clients deliver on their climate goals. 

3. Don’t try and do it by yourself
As a sustainability leader, there’s a temptation to try and manage your reduction goals by yourself – especially when you are passionate and impatient for change.

Firstly, get buy-in from the top. Sustainable choices will be more cost-efficient in the long run, and all good leaders should be keen to make sustainability a crucial part of their business’ identity. Knowing that you have your company’s principals on board should also give you the freedom to get on with what you want to achieve. 

Engage your team at every level via a ‘Green Team’ to help divide and conquer the corporate and cultural changes needed to reduce your impact. Don’t underestimate the appetite of your colleagues to get involved. The greatest incentives and best ideas will often come from within your team. 

Staring at spreadsheets trying to work out your impact for your B Corp application or Carbon Disclosure Project report can be a lonely place. However, there are also plenty of external business networks that can support you on your journey. Try Small99, SME Climate Hub, B Corp Climate Collective or BIMA’s Net Zero programme. Ultimately, every business will have similar eco challenges, so it’s worth collaborating and sharing best practices or pain points to help keep you on track and inspired.

4. Find fun ways to engage your team

Let’s be honest, most people are not excited by data and target setting, even though they want to see their company improves and be part of the solution. For long-term commitment, you need action and integration of your goals embedded into your company culture.

Last year, we created a Net Zero-themed game show for our annual company gathering. It was gloriously cheesy, but it got everyone discussing our current footprint and how to reduce it. It got all our colleagues on the same page and feeling like they were an essential part of the Net Zero journey – which they are! Also, think about how your sustainability goals can be woven throughout your daily business operations rather than bolted on once a year, e.g. pledging only to serve non-dairy milk or vegan food in meetings, rewarding employees who use public transport, holding away days outside rather than in boardrooms etc. Our Green Team created an internal newsletter, The Greener Times to communicate to staff our environmental progress and future goals, as well as short, fun video tips for making more sustainable choices at home and work. 

5. Focus on reduction, not offsetting

Carbon offsetting is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. I’ve found that when offsetting is discussed, it is often a blocker to the vital behaviour change our world needs.

Offsetting schemes are also subject to considerable variations in efficiency and transparency, with their credibility sometimes unreliable. The Guardian’s recent report on offsetting has firmly thrown the efficacy of some of the more outdated rainforest protection initiatives into the spotlight. 

I still believe there is value in offsetting, as it would be a disaster for the parts of the world most affected by climate change to have all funding from the northern hemisphere pulled. Do support tree planting initiatives and invest in offset programmes, but don’t add this to your carbon budget. Instead, focus and talk solely about reduction. Ensure you offset through a reputable platform like Ecologi, which only funds initiatives with the most up-to-date methodologies and verifications. 

It’s essential to build Net Zero methodologies in your big-picture business strategy and services. We have recently shelved campaign executions (often global multi-location shoots) based on their high estimated carbon impact. Our typical productions range from 2-5tc02e, and travel typically makes up between 70%- 80% of a project’s footprint. Hence, we’re constantly assessing and looking to new technologies, like virtual production, to help provide exciting and innovative solutions.

Whatever your sustainability goals, there’s never been an easier time to measure, take action and drive your company towards Net Zero. We must communicate more, commit to reductions and collaborate with suppliers and clients to help their journey. 

If you have any questions or suggestions or want to start a conversation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – 


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