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How 5 SME’s who committed early to net zero have cut costs, changed employee behaviour and edged out competitors


At face value a digital home loan specialist, creative assets community, global travel retailer, employment services provider and venture capital firm may not have much in common, but thanks to a drive to set and execute net zero targets, this group of SMEs is making a business case for decarbonisation.

According to Trace Co-Founder and CEO, Cat Long, those SME’s who prioritised setting genuine net zero targets, are already seeing tangible, positive results not only in a reduction of their carbon emissions, but in increased profitability, market share and employee engagement.

“The feedback we are getting is that 50% of those companies who have already embarked on their net zero pathway have seen an increase in profits,’’ Long says.

“Most promising is the culture of change that is being created within organisations. The feedback we are getting is that employee sentiment improves by up to 80% when they are engaged from the start of a net zero journey.’’

Impact of Mandatory reporting

In January 2025 the Australian Government will introduce mandatory reporting and large companies will have to publicly disclose their climate footprint, signalling a major shift towards how climate risk is managed in the business world.

Although this won’t impact SME’s immediately, ASIC has made a statement flagging that even if small businesses do not have any direct climate reporting obligations, they form part of the supply chain of larger businesses, which means they may need to engage with climate reporting considerations over time.

According to Long, the companies wanting to get ahead of the curve and do something before regulation takes hold will be the big winners.

“Why wait to report on climate when we know the regulation is coming. It makes sense that those companies who are organised and start climate reporting now will reap the benefits in all facets of their business,’’ Long says.

“Right now our biggest challenge is inertia, what we need is more organisations, of all sizes, committing to change and then actually following through on their journey to net zero.’’

Take a look at the results 5 early net zero adopters have reported:

1. AIRTREE:

For venture capital firm Airtree, the grassroots effect has played out spectacularly. They mapped and managed carbon emissions and focused on employee commuting methods. Their shift to renewable energy slashed their footprint by 17% and was cost-effective, proving that data-driven climate action pays off in both finance and environmental impact.

“It started a conversation of what am I actually doing, what does carbon reduction look like for me personally? If I'm doing this at work, how can I do this at home?” says AirTree’s Head of Impact, Harriet Dwyer.

“That’s the power of these strategies - people are now talking about how they can make change at home, employees have asked what was the process, who’s the provider, do you think I could do this at home, what does that look like? We’re really thrilled with that transition.”

Data backed climate action can reap financial reward, a reminder that small investments can lead to long term savings - and environmental benefits.

AirTree pledged to power their operations through 100% renewable energy by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2040. Dwyer says they’ve been actively measuring, managing and offsetting its supply chain for the last few years, but the most exciting result was in 2023 when they shifted the entire office operations to 100% renewable energy - seven years ahead of schedule.

“It was definitely a big marker for us in our climate pledge, and by changing our energy mix we reduced our carbon footprint by 17%, and saved over $1,000,” says Dwyer. “We couldn't have done that without first mapping our footprint and going, oh gosh, that's a 17% category, we need to shift on that.”

Dwyer adds that platforms like Trace make life so much simpler, they are easy to use and are worth spending the money to get the environmental benefits, “we know that stakeholders, customers, employees, our investors are passionate about this issue, and that it makes good business sense,” she says.

2. MTC Australia

Empowering employees from the ground up drives net zero success; just ask social enterprise MTC Australia where team member engagement sparked sustainability innovation.

Reaching net zero is much more likely with employees engaged from the start and by sourcing ideas from the bottom up, plus companies have the added benefit of positive employee sentiment.

In the case of MTC Australia it was a whole company approach that kick started its sustainability journey.

“The idea came from a team member's sustainability case study presented to the executive team. They (our executive team) were on the same page, but we didn’t know how to take the first steps with measuring our emissions and the strategies to reduce our emissions,“ says CEO, Rob Marshall.

General Manager of Governance, Risk & Compliance, Joseph Yap recalls wanting the whole organisation involved in the process and was surprised at how engaged MTC Australia employees are with the subject.

“There is so much interest, our carbon measurement survey found 77% of employees indicated climate action is an important step for our business,” says Yap.

“We now have champions embedded into every business unit, we are developing our sustainability strategy and there is so much excitement and many wonderful ideas being shared.”

3. Lagardere AWPL

Jacqui Sandford, Head of Communications, Engagement and CSR at Lagardere AWPL is leading the travel retailer’s carbon reduction journey and is pragmatic about the industry’s environmental footprint.

“We know travel has an impact on the planet, but our goal is to improve our processes by tweaking everything we possibly can in all areas that we have control over,” says Sandford.

Subtle changes at airports are less brightly coloured duty-free bags (no longer offered by default), energy efficient lighting systems, fridges with closed doors to reduce electricity usage and 100% recycled PET company ID lanyards (essential for airport workers).

The small tweaks are a direct result of collaboration and thoughtful campaigns informed by data.

“We have been able to survey employees and find out what they’re doing and build awareness that we all have a role to play in the journey. It’s all about having fun, sharing ways that we can all improve, the little touch points and consistently telling the story is how we bring the team along,” says Sandford.

4. Athena Home Loans

Athena Homes, a company determined to bring profit and purpose together, also partnering with a carbon management platform to quantify their impact on the world. Athena Chief of People & Community, Liana Mawston explains that in starting their journey they haven’t let perfection be a barrier and have taken proactive steps to make tangible change.

“Understanding our emissions within the supply chain is where it’s at. We have started conversations with our suppliers about where they are up to on their net zero journey, and what are they doing about it,’’ Mawston says.

The company has signed up to an employee benefits program that offers financing options to switch to electric vehicles, which is encouraging staff to think about what they can do in their own lives to make a difference.

They are looking at a new office location and need to closely consider energy ratings, suppliers and other components of the buildings. The team is also getting creative in the way they understand company pain points like paper use. They offer larger screens for people who need to look at a lot of documents, removing the need to print, and have estimated the switch to a fully digital office has saved Athena an impressive 150,000 sheets of paper, per year.

As for future goals, Mawston says Athena is becoming more intentional in their supply chain over the next 12 months, which links neatly to tackling the scope 3 emissions challenge.

5. Envato

For online creative assets community Envato, climate action has always been part of their DNA and since 2022 has been measuring and offsetting its scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and tracking the impact of their decarbonisation initiatives.

“We have calculated the impact of a remote workforce, our geographic spread globally, the office footprint and how this impacts the environment,” CEO, Hichame Assi says.

Assi says Envato’s commitment to reducing the company’s carbon footprint is opening doors as they are aligning with partners who share their values.

“The long-term goal is decarbonisation, but in the short term there are little things we can do to reduce our footprint. We’re conscious of our space and this year will move to The Hub (a fellow B Corp) and have also expanded our sustainability investment to partner with projects that benefit the environment such as Backyard Honey Project, Reground, Sprout and OzHarvest.”


By Cat Long, Trace Co-Founder and CEO

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