What does environmental sustainability mean to you?

Is it thinking about future generations, and what natural resources we will leave for them? Maybe you are looking for ways to reduce your energy use? You may already be aware of initiatives such as the UK’s net zero strategy and are wondering what this means for your organisation? Whatever your reason for wanting to find out more, this lesson can help you.

Here, you’ll find steps you can take to reduce your organisation’s climate footprint and you’ll learn how to include sustainability in your operations.


  • Understand what 'environmental sustainability' means
  • Recognise the benefits for your organisation
  • Discover top tips to reduce carbon footprint and improve sustainability
  • Decide the steps you can take to improve your impact

Read time:

13 mins

Chapter 1

What is environmental sustainability and why is it so important?

Read time:

2 mins

What is environmental sustainability and what does it mean for your organisation?

Watch this video to learn about the benefits.

Customers want sustainable goods

The UK’s green economy is now worth over £200bn. A recent global study by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) found that Google searches about sustainable goods have risen 71% since 2016. In the UK, 1 in 3 of us regularly buy eco-friendly products. So it makes sense to offer products and services that meet this growing need.

Attracting stakeholders and investors

Sustainable organisations don’t just appeal to customers. They attract stakeholders and investors too. Recently interviewed investors say sustainability is now a priority. Companies will be held accountable by shareholders for their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.

Save money

You can make significant cost savings by making sustainable changes. Reducing energy use is a good place to start. You can also reduce costs through waste management, using digital and getting creative with recycling.


The average small and medium organisations could reduce energy bills by 18-25%. They can do this by installing energy-efficiency measures and changing behaviours.


Department of Energy & Climate (PDF, 1,472KB)

Recruitment advantages

Research shows that Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors are influencing employment decisions for almost half of UK office workers.

Increased innovation

Investing in sustainability drives innovation. When you redesign products or services to meet environmental standards, you have to think creatively about them.

Take Nike, for example. Between 2012 and 2016, they reduced their waste by over 3.5 million pounds. Nike took plastic from landfill to create recycled yarn for one of their trainer ranges. This had a positive impact on the environment and catered to growing demand for sustainable products.

Chapter 2

How environmentally sustainable is your organisation?

Read time:

1 min

Measuring environmental sustainability

To improve your sustainability, you need to take steps to reduce your carbon footprint and aim for 'net zero'.

Your carbon footprint (PDF, 1,489KB) refers to the total amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere because of your activities.

Greenhouse gases are gases in the Earth's atmosphere that trap heat. They let sunlight pass through the atmosphere but prevent the heat from leaving.

Net zero is when the amount of carbon dioxide you add to the atmosphere is no more than the amount you take away through sustainable actions.


Understanding your own carbon footprint

You can use carbon measurement tools to see where you could reduce your emissions. There are free-to-use tools online that can help. These include the Carbon Footprint Calculator and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Calculation Tool. You can track your advances and monitor your organisations progress.

Smart meters can help you check your energy use. Energy monitoring systems take this one step further, to give you more detailed information. They will show you different areas of energy use, such as power-hungry equipment.

Chapter 3

Practical steps you can take

Read time:

7 mins

Increasing environmental sustainability across your organisation

We’ve talked about how to measure environmental sustainability. So where do you start?

Let’s look at each of the four pillars in the video, to outline the actions you can take.

Reduce your own emissions

Reduce your value chain emissions

Integrate climate into your strategy

Influence climate action in society

Pillar 1 - Reduce your own emissions

  • Working from home can reduce traffic in cities and reduce pollution. It can also help cut costs and waste, as people use food they have at home rather than buying lunch. This reduces the use of single-use containers.

    Chat with your team about good working from home practices. These could include switching off devices when they're not in use or making the most of their local recycling options.

  • This could be as simple as hosting meetings and events online to reduce travel.

    Cloud-based data storage can reduce the storage used on your own device. This can also extend their life.

    Consider smart heating. These can make sure you're only heating your premises when people are in them. You can do this by using thermostats, timers and motion sensors.

    Other options include using digital controls on device. These sense when the device isn't in use and can shut it down to save power.

  • Did you know, it takes 24 trees to make one tonne of paper? In 2020, paper and cardboard consumption in the UK amounted to 9.9 million metric tons. By going paper-free, you could save money. You can also improve efficiency, cut down clutter and reduce your impact.

    Review your paper-based resources and see where you could go digital. Recycle those that you don't need and adapt your future processes. For example, using social media can reduce the number of paper-based flyers, brochures and posters you create.

  • How do you package your products? Try exploring other options. There's plenty of ecological and recyclable ones to try.

    What cleaning products do you use in your building? There are ecological options for these too.

    Switching to ecological options means you'll be reducing the number of chemicals you're putting back into the environment. Most ecological products come in green packaging too. So you'll be reducing your waste too.

  • Regularly check and improve your waste and recycling.

    Check with your waste contractor regularly to see if they recycle what you use. The waste taken can vary between companies. Plus, this may change over time, as the technology to process waste improves.

    Always think about recycling or repurposing any equipment that you replace.

    Is composting an option? You may need to check with the owner of your premises or your local council about this. You can put coffee grounds, non-plastic tea bags and other food waste into a compost bin.

  • Get back to basics and look at what you are using.

    Thinking of buying something for your business? Ask yourself: do we really need this? What happens when we no longer want or need it? What happens to the packaging? Are there upcycled or second-hand versions? This may be cheaper than new products. Plus, they are often made from higher-quality materials.

    If you keep equipment powered out of hours, it's wasteful and expensive. Switching off will also help extend your equipment's lifespan, so it works better for longer. Why not create an easy 'switch on / switch off' checklist for those entering and leaving your building?


    Look at energy-saving options or other sources of energy. This might include:

    • Replacing lights with LED bulbs, and using motion sensors to avoid lighting empty rooms
    • Using electric or hybrid transport options
    • When replacing equipment, check your options by using the Energy Technology List
    • Considering geothermal or ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling
    • Installing solar panels

An engineering firm is now saving £596, and 3.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. They did this by putting in place a ‘Switch Off’ campaign to make sure their teams turn off computers after work.


Case study from SME Guide to Energy Efficiency (PDF, 1,636KB) – Department of Energy & Climate Change

Pillar 2 – Reduce your value chain emissions

Reduce your overall emissions

You can reduce your emissions by partnering with other organisations that have green initiatives. Take time to research potential suppliers to check their values match yours.

Green providers has a list of suppliers that have green credentials. This means they think it’s important to protect the environment.

When think of vendors or suppliers, seek out local options. When you work with an organisation that’s far away, you’ll be paying for transport costs. Finding nearby options will save you money and reduce your footprint. Your local Chamber of Commerce may be able to help.

Review your supply chain

A supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So, it’s important to look at the whole picture. Take Walmart’s ‘Project Gigaton’, for example. They aimed to reduce a gigaton of emissions from their supply chain by 2030. Between 2017 and 2021, they had already reduced over 500 million metric tons by working with suppliers. They focused on energy, waste, packaging, transport, and product design.

Work with your suppliers and vendors to reduce deliveries. Maybe you can group multiple orders together or arrange bulk deliveries? This will save everyone time and money and reduce your emissions.

Communicate your objectives

Make sure you are sending a clear message to your team. They should be seeking out environmentally sustainable partners.


Pillar 3 – Integrate sustainability into your strategy

Review your existing strategy

Before you move forward, you need to understand your current position. Reflect on your strategy and consider what you could improve. Sustainability should be at the forefront of your mind.

A sustainable strategy is important for growth and development. To see the financial return, improved reputation and positive impact, you need to plan any changes effectively.

Create sustainable products and services

The worldwide call to action on climate change might inspire you to create a new product or service that actively helps. Whether you’re starting from nothing or adapting your offer.

Embrace technology

Using technology can reduce an organisation’s emissions by up to 35%.

It can also help you to operate more efficiently. Technology like artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics, and Cloud services can help. You should also research things like process automation and tools to help you track and report your carbon use.

Make sure your business is compliant

Check your business compliance. You’ll find sector-specific guidance on the Government’s website.

When reviewing legislation, focus on identifying your key obligations. Typical concerns include the use of water, raw materials and energy. They also include pollution, carbon emissions and waste management. You can carry out your own risk assessment to identify areas of concern. Make sure you work with your regulator to make sure you work within their rules.


Your commitments are just the beginning of your path to sustainability. Creating a plan to achieve your goals can be hard. At the same time, it becomes worth it if and when it helps achieve the benefits of being sustainable.

Pillar 4 – Influence climate action in society

Compel action

  • You can encourage industry and government to act by:
  • Collaborating with climate change projects
  • Supporting these projects financially
  • Contributing to events that champion green solutions
  • Encouraging regulatory bodies to promote industry-wide action

Engage others

Reducing most of the impact of waste will be in the power of your team.

Pick the right time to share your climate action strategy with your team. Encourage ideas and initiatives. Explain the benefits, from the improved bottom line to the freedom to work from home. Take time to discuss any questions or concerns they have. Make sure they feel responsible for driving change.

Why not appoint someone in your team to be a sustainability champion? They can coordinate green initiatives, keep everyone updated and increase their own knowledge.

Lead by example

By taking decisive action, you can:

  • Set an example to others
  • Encourage your customers to make sustainable choices
  • Drive change within and outside your organisation


Think about what you’d like to achieve. Take 5 minutes to reflect on each of the four pillars and note the top 3 actions you think you could start to adopt.

Chapter 4

Help and support available

Read time:

2 mins

Where to go for help

This can all seem scary at first. But there are many organisations and initiatives that can help you.

In this chapter, we’ll share links to government sites and other organisations that can offer practical help. There’s are also funding options and further information.


Financial help

Local authorities often manage grants and funding for environmental projects, improving energy efficiency and sustainable innovation.


We've listed a few here:

Check your area

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, contact your local authority to see what’s available.

Other support

You can get support with free audits, advice and other resources.


UK-wide support

The Federation of Small Businesses

Their website includes the small business sustainability hub. This lists resources and events to help you achieve your goals.

Fit for the Future

This environmental sustainability network offers resources and support for charities and other organisations.

Charity Commission

This government organisation created a factsheet (PDF, 163KB) for charities with links to more resources.

The Energy Saving Trust

The business page of this website includes a range of tools, fact sheets and other resources. You can search by location or sector.

Department of Energy and Climate Change

This government department created the SME Guide to Energy Efficiency (PDF, 1,636KB). This is full of practical ideas and real case studies.

The Chartered Institute for Fundraising (CIOF)

They represent fundraisers in the UK. It has published an toolkit for fundraisers outlining their duties in tackling climate change.


Regional support and resources

Carbon Charter

This organisation supports sustainable business in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Their Suffolk-based Net Zero Business Advisor Service offers lots of support. From free energy audits, help with policies, and help to access funding.

West of England Growth Hub

This support hub offers free carbon surveys to SMEs. The aim is helping them to understand their energy use and emissions.

Something to read

You can read or download the 1.5°C Business Playbook that we mentioned earlier in this lesson. It includes the four-pillar strategy.

Chapter 5

Summary and next steps

Read time:

1 min

What has been covered

In this lesson, we’ve given you the information you need to make a start.


This includes:

  • Definitions of environmental sustainability - What it is and why we need to act now
  • Information on the financial benefits - Which can be achieved through planning, engagement and investment in your plans
  • Reducing your carbon footprint - Using the four-pillar model to address your impact and act
  • Looking at your operations - Reviewing supply chains, energy and waste, and creating a more sustainable model
  • Getting specific practical and financial support - Working to reduce your carbon footprint and become more energy-efficient


Remember that this is the start

The path to a sustainable organisation is not easy, but the rewards for your people, and for the planet are essential.

Further learning

But the learning doesn’t stop here! We have a wide range of content on other topics to help your organisation thrive.

Related learning links


Bank of Scotland Academy is committed to providing information in a way that is accessible and useful for our users. This information, however, is not in any way intended to amount to authority or advice on which reliance should be placed. You should seek professional advice as appropriate and required. Any sites, products or services named in this module are just examples of what's available. Bank of Scotland does not endorse the services they provide. The information in this module was last updated on 13th March 2023.