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How to start your net-zero journey when you have no budget

“We’d really like our business to be more sustainable but it’s too expensive” … sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be as expensiveas you might think – in fact, if you’re a professional services business then it doesn’t have to be expensive at all. Cost shouldn’t be a reason you’re not taking action to make your business more sustainable. Here’s how to get started on your sustainability journey when you have no budget.


One of the best ways to reduce any negative impacts of your business is by using less stuff. To state the obvious… the less you use, the less you spend – so becoming more sustainable actually saves you money.

You can use your financial data to help identify the biggest opportunities for improvement by looking at where you spend the most money. For example, a firm of solicitors spent a lot on paper and printing and so a priority was going paper-free.

Two areas that are often worth focusing on are electricity and paper. Your team will have lots of ideas on how to make savings. Here are a few to get you started…

Three ways to reduce electricity use:

  1. Switch off lights when you leave a room. Further down the line, you could consider investing to install motion sensors.

  2. Switch off everything at the end of the day – switch it off at the wall rather than leaving it on standby.

  3. When you need to replace lightbulbs, replace them with LEDs – the pay back period is low.

Three ways to reduce paper use:

  1. Change your default printer settings to double sided, black-and-white.

  2. Collect data on how much paper different teams or areas of the office use and run a competition to see who can make the biggest reduction.

  3. Understand what software you already have that could help you to use less paper (e.g. if you have Office 365 – OneNote, doing document mark ups on a shared document).

Start to develop a habit of asking “do we need this or could we do without it?” or “how could we use less of this?” If everyone starts asking those questions then you could see quite an impact.


For professional services businesses, travel (commuting plus travelling to meetings and events) is usually one of the biggest contributors to carbon footprint.

Review your travel and work-from-home policies so they encourage more sustainable behaviours – these tend to be more cost-effective as well.

Some things to consider:

Client meetings:

  • When do you meet in person versus virtually?

  • When meeting in person, what are the rules around flying / driving / public transport / taxis?

  • Where driving is required, encourage car sharing.

  • Set a target for business travel reduction and measure progress – e.g. quite a few businesses are aiming for a 50% reduction in business travel by 2030.


  • How many day per week are people expected in the office?

  • What can you do to encourage people to make more sustainable commuting choices – e.g. cycling, walking, car sharing.

Events or away days:

  • Choose locations which minimise the total travel required and make it easy to use public transport.


Whenever you choose a supplier, ask what they’re doing to reduce any negative impacts on the planet and the people they work with. Switching to local suppliers can help reduce the carbon footprint of travel costs – and it supports the local community.

If budget is tight then cost may determine supplier choice … but at least start asking the questions so your decision to prioritise cost over other factors is a conscious one rather than an unconscious one.


One of the best ways to create change is by everyone being mindful of small changes they can make within their role. How can you start to make sustainability a part of the conversation within your business?

Here are three ideas that don’t cost money:

  1. Whenever a decision is made or a business case is presented, ask what the impact (positive or negative) might be on people (e.g. the communities where you work) and the planet. Take time to double-check whether there are any negative impacts you might have missed, especially knock-on effects outside your value chain.

  2. Encourage staff to share films / books / podcasts / articles which help raise general awareness of climate change and sustainability. You could consider doing screenings in the office (e.g. to watch Our Planet: Our Business, Our Planet: Too Big to Fail, Breaking Boundaries) or setting up a book club (e.g. to read and discuss Net Positive, Doughnut Economics, How Bad are Bananas).

  3. Encourage staff to share their own ideas for how the business can become more sustainable – they’ll probably have loads!


It’s a good idea for your sustainability activities to be data-driven so you:

  • Know where your biggest problem areas are; and

  • Can see what progress you’re making.

You’ll already have a lot of helpful data, so this doesn’t have to cost money. For example:

  • Electricity, gas and water usage – on your utilities bills or using your meters.

  • How much you spend on different things – from your finance system.

  • Your catering company and waste disposal company may already be weighing your waste.

It’s helpful to get an idea of your carbon footprint. There are various free calculators (e.g. from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol). However, unless your business is small then it might be worth investing a little in developing a slightly more detailed carbon footprint analysis. This could be through licensing some software (e.g. Compare Your Footprint) or paying for consultancy support.

That said, if you’re a professional services business then your biggest sources of emissions are likely to be travel and office electricity and heating. So tackling these without knowing the exact data isn’t a bad idea.

Top tip – how to create a budget

Lots of the ideas I’ve shared here will actually save you money. Keep track of these savings. These will be helpful in building broader support for your sustainability work. And they can also be helpful in unlocking the budget for things that do need investment.

The most important thing is getting started

The most important thing is getting started and creating momentum. There are lots you can do that don’t cost money. So don’t let that hold you back from getting started on your sustainability journey.


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