It’s easy to look to leaders of countries and large corporations to tackle the climate crisis, but this is not a problem they can solve alone. The severity of the issue necessitates that every organization, no matter its size, take part in the solution.

When you consider the sheer number of small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) worldwide, this group collectively could have a massive impact on climate change, possibly even more so than their larger counterparts. According to the US Small Business Administration, there are approximately 32.5 million SMEs within the United States that employ nearly 47% of the private workforce. On a global level, the World Bank estimates that a whopping 90% of all businesses are SMEs.

Because of their smaller size and ability to react nimbly to changes in the business environment, SMEs also have the potential to make a significant difference in a relatively short period.

“As the world moves toward meeting the net-zero targets set by the Paris Agreement, the role of SMEs is gaining increasingly more attention,” wrote Joel Makower, chairman and co-founder of GreenBiz.

Still, an SME’s journey to net-zero is no easy feat.

Fortunately, there’s a slew of resources aimed at helping SMEs become sustainable. The SME Climate Hub is an especially useful one. It has available for download its 1.5°C Business Playbook, which guides SMEs on how to establish a climate strategy, define targets, set supplier requirements, and align value propositions with a “1.5-degree and net-zero ambition.”

And here, we’ve put together actions that can help get the sustainability ball rolling.

Track & report: Manage it by measuring it

To reach net-zero, you first need to identify and quantify the company’s sources of greenhouse gases through a process known as carbon accounting or greenhouse gas inventory.

When calculating your carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions are grouped into three categories:

  • Scope 1: Direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by the organization, such as fuel combustion from facilities or company vehicles.
  • Scope 2: Indirect emissions from owned or controlled sources, such as purchased electricity, steam, heat, and cooling.
  • Scope 3: All other indirect emissions in the value chain, such as purchased raw goods, distribution, and employee business travel.

There’s a plethora of software and services that can measure a company’s carbon footprint. Travel managers who want in-depth reporting of emissions based on their travel can use our reporting tools, Insights and Premier Insights™. In one glance, they’ll see emissions broken down by air, rail, hotel, and car. They can then set carbon targets and monitor their progress over time.

Procure green: Do business with sustainable businesses

You can make a difference by partnering with other businesses with strong sustainability standards and practices. When selecting which suppliers to work with, look for ones that are independently accredited and certified as sustainable and who share your values.

When vetting suppliers, interview them to make sure their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards align with your company’s objectives. You can ask things like if they have an environmental policy in place, if they track and report carbon emissions, what their reduction goals are, if they have published a sustainability report, etc.

American Express Global Business Travel makes it easier for our clients to partner with travel suppliers that meet their sustainability standards through our evaluation process that rates ESG performance. All of our suppliers are obligated to comply with applicable environmental laws and take measures to mitigate their impact.

Influence choice: Empower employees to be more sustainable

After onboarding partners with sustainable practices, encourage employees to use these suppliers’ services and products and select the green option whenever possible. This will require communication efforts with clear guidelines on how employees can participate. Having senior leadership endorse the program and explain the value of it can help secure employee buy-in. You can inspire employees to get involved in the conversation and help shape the sustainability program by setting up an employee resource group devoted to the environment and climate change.

Also consider asking suppliers how they can support your efforts.

If your employees travel for business, for instance, we can help drive them toward environmentally friendly choices at the point of sale. Our Neo™ booking tool makes it intuitive for travelers to choose greener options by highlighting more sustainable flights, hotels, and rental cars in their search results.

Offset carbon emissions

Carbon offsets represent a quick way for companies to mitigate emissions in the short term while pursuing reductions over the long term. While we recognize that carbon offsets alone are not the solution, we view them as a bridge to the future when more decarbonization solutions become available.

Through carbon offsetting, we have achieved carbon neutrality for employee business travel in 2019 and are now helping others do the same.

In January of 2021, we launched a carbon offset platform to help clients and suppliers reach their respective carbon neutrality commitments, facilitating the purchase of offsets from our trusted partners on preferred terms. Every carbon offset project offered follows a rigorous quality assurance protocol, including independent auditing, certification, and validation.

Drive towards net good: Play to your unique strengths

There is something your company does exceptionally well that makes it stand out from all others. It is your raison d’être. So when defining how you can create the most meaningful environmental change, lean into your strengths and allow your North Star to guide your ESG sustainability program. It’s about looking at what makes your business shine and does better than any other to make this world a better place.

In our case, we realized one of our strengths is our position in the industry. Since we’re at the center of the business travel ecosystem, we have relationships with major business travel suppliers, vendors, and travel buyer clients. So we asked: What if we could use our influence with these connections to build a path to more sustainable travel, particularly in the aviation arena?

Through an alliance with Shell Aviation, we are helping to scale the supply of and demand for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), a clean energy fuel made from renewable and waste sources that has emerged as a promising pathway for the decarbonization of aviation. We are working with our airline partners and clients on a joint program to scale up the commercialization of SAF that benefits all.

To learn more about the SAF program – or any of our sustainable solutions – contact us here or connect with your account representative.

For an in-depth look at our sustainability program, check out our Environmental, Social, and Governance Report