Small Business Climate Impact Guide

SU staff and community interacting at outdoor event

Climate Impact Guide (CIG)

Guide to Lowering GHG Emissions

Becoming more sustainable and lowering your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could have a major positive impact on your business! As you implement the following strategies you may see increased customer satisfaction as well as energy resilience and cost savings.

Lowering GHG emissions can be overwhelming. We created a guide to help you navigate the river of resources. Starting with step one and work through the process. While earlier steps may not have the highest impact for each individual business, they may be the easiest to implement. Remember, every step toward reducing GHG emissions is a step in the right direction! 

A commitment to sustainability is long-term. After you create your baseline, we suggest choosing the easiest steps first. Once you have more time and resources, move on to the next step.

The Stepping Stones

Lowering your negative impact on the climate is a process. We broke it down into smaller stepping stones to help you cross the river of information. Some steps have a larger impact than others. The earlier steps may be easier to implement than those that follow. Please contact for assistance in assessing your specific pathway. 

Carbon Footprint: The amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc.

CO2: Carbon dioxide, which occurs naturally in Earth's atmosphere as a trace gas.

Greenhouse Gas: A  gas that absorbs and emits radiant energy within the thermal infrared range, causing the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.

Greenwashing : Providing misleading information about how a company's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.

Emissions: The release of greenhouse gases and/or their precursors into the atmosphere over a specified area and period of time. 

Scope Emissions : Direct and indirect emissions are divided into 4 categories.

Scope 1 Emissions : Direct emissions resulting from the use of natural gas, heating oil, gasoline or diesel fuel.

Scope 2 Emissions: Indirect emissions from the use of electricity that is produced by coal. These are zero for any business using Seattle City Light, a carbon-neutral utility.

Scope 3 Emissions : Emissions related to activities upstream and downstream of an organization’s activities. 

Scope 4 Emissions: Informally, this includes indirect emissions related to goods that are purchased by or sold by the business. They are more industry-specific and include emissions resulting from suppliers’ manufacturing processes and distribution.

  1. Step 1


    Making measurable improvements to your small business should boost your profitability and ultimately increase your bottom line.  Seattle consumers are drawn to businesses that take actions to reduce their emissions impact. While many businesses are greenwashing their practices with clever marketing, or the use of eye-catching single-use plastic replacements, consumers are becoming aware of what is really making an impact.  Establishing a baseline for your business and setting goals for future emissions reductions is the single most impactful way to demonstrate real improvement. 

    How climate impacts:

    Your Business
    Sustainability may seem too time-consuming and expensive at first glance, but this is where the city of Seattle is headed. More and more customers expect a company to be working toward sustainable practices. They are not afraid to spend their money at businesses that support their values. In Seattle, that means truly sustainable businesses. The triple bottom line is a full cost accounting framework with three dimensions including economic, environmental and social. Focusing on these three dimensions equally can help improve your business.

    Personal Health
    The changing climate has negatively impacted many citizens' personal health.

    Social Justice
    The climate crisis disproportionately impacts minority groups. The Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainably has more resources on the impact of climate on our communities.  

    The City
    Seattle is fortunate to be the City on the Sound. Your customers live in and visit Seattle, often to explore the Pacific Northwest. It is up to all of us to keep it thriving! 

  2. Step 2

    Establish Your Baseline

    Scope 1, 2 & 3 Emissions

    The Environmental Protection Agency has a comprehensive tool to help you create your baseline. It is highly detailed but not entirely intuitive to use. We took the power of this tool and made it accessible to busy small business owners in Seattle. This tool will help you create a general baseline that can be compared in future years and is a crucial step in truly understanding your impact on the climate. It focuses on Scopes 1-3 and may not capture every source of emissions for your business.

    Access our Seattle Small Business-specific carbon emissions tracking tool here. Be sure to download and save the file to your computer in order to edit the document each year. 

    What you need: 

    • Fuel Type (e.g. natural gas or fuel oil) and units from your gas or oil  bill (usually in therms)
    • Employee transportation (mode and distance)
    • Product transportation (Weight and distance)
    • Raw material to producer
    • Producer to location
    • Location to customer

    Establishing Your Baseline Scope 4 Emissions

    Each business will need different tools to assess its product’s impacts. How many greenhouse gasses are associated with the shirt you are selling or the steak on your menu? What went into producing and shipping these products?

    Food & Beverage: Use this  to see the impact of your ingredient choices. Stepping stone 6 will help you improve your supply chain and lower Scope 4 emissions. 

    Learn how to set up your own Small Business Baseline Emissions Tool

  3. Step 3

    Transportation Expectations

    This is an easy step to implement no matter what kind of small business you own. The way you and your customers travel to and from the physical location can have an impact on your overall emissions. These are calculated on the Business Travel and Commuting tabs in the Baseline Tool. You can play around with changing how employees commute and attend conferences to see how it will impact your business. 

    How can we improve?


    • Provide safe bicycle storage
    • Encourage or subsidize an Orca Pass Encourage carpooling to work (saves money for parking too!)
    • Set up an excel sheet or rideshare network 
    • For conferences, consider finding regional events or webinars
    • Encourage carpooling or rail to conferences over flying
    • Promote a Work From Home or Hybrid schedule if possible


    • Provide safe bicycle storage
    • Offer special promotions for customers to walk, bike or rideshare to your location
    • For example 10% off on April 22 for those who bike, bus or walk to the store

    Remember to track these changes on your baseline tool to see how you are improving!  

  4. Step 4


    Often when we think of becoming sustainable, we think of fancy new electronics to help us out. Unfortunately, sometimes replacing an item can be worse for the environment than sticking with functioning equipment. 

    Take a look at the  on the environment. While “going green” is important, trading out your newer, working equipment for something more energy-efficient may not be the best idea.  
    Our suggestion is to create a list. Rank each item in terms of importance to replace first. Factor in age and energy consumption. For example, how old is your oven? Does your refrigerator have a leak? What products do you already use?

    Older items are generally less efficient and may break down first. When choosing new items, be sure to look for Energy Star products. While sustainable products may be more expensive on the front end, they will likely save you money in the long run. Lower energy and water bills will make up for any extra upfront costs.

    What goes on the list?

    • Lights (switch to LEDs as soon as the old ones go out)
    • Air conditioning 
    • Replace your gas furnace with an air source heat pump or a hydronic furnace
    • Kitchen appliances like freezers, refrigerators, ovens, stoves, dishwashers, etc.
    • Other equipment such as clothes dryers or replace your hot water heaters with a tankless, electric on-demand hot water 

    The Routine

    Along with upgrading equipment comes upgrading your daily routine. 

    • When you come on-site, do you flip everything on so it is ready to go?
    • For a restaurant, can the hood be switched on later in the afternoon?
    • Do you need your ovens on all day? 
    • Do all the lights need to be on first thing in the morning? How about after you close?
    • Taking a look at your schedule can help see where you can be more efficient with the equipment you already own. 

    Need help? °ä´Ç²Ô³Ù²¹³¦³Ù u²õ for assistance from a student team. 

  5. Step 5

    Waste Management

    Where are your products going once the customer has them in hand? It is important to think of a product's whole life cycle. This Includes the product, packaging, and materials in your store. 
    There are three main ways to discard items: compost, recycle or landfill. Seattle has some great resources on what to compost, recycle or throw away. This website will help you figure out where each item should go. 

    Bonus note: You may also qualify for no-fee hazardous waste material disposal and if you have metal or electronics to recycle, you can take them to Friendly Earth for free! 

    How can we improve?

    All Industries: 

    • Take advantage of the experts in the Green Your Business Program to help you conserve resources and prevent pollution.
    • Start composting! Recycling and composting can be confusing, help your employees and customers by posting signs. Offer all three bins throughout your store and break areas. 
    • Replace items using Stepping Stone 7 

    Food and Beverage:

    •  Offer composting bins around your store
    • Offer reusable or compostable flatware 


    • Offer a recycling or buy-back program
    • Partner with local second-hand boutiques to ensure your customers donate rather than discard unwanted items
    • Partner with a tailor who can mend or repair clothing 
  6. Step 6

    Supply Chain

    The products you decide to use and sell are included in your emissions. This addresses Scope 4 Emissions.

    How can we improve?

    Food & Beverage:

    • Let suppliers know your customers care about sustainability
    • Find a local substitute for some of your highest emitters
    • Pressure suppliers to lower their emissions by using less plastic packaging
    • Use more sustainable shipping methods
    • Pressure suppliers to use low emitting production methods 


    • According to this article in the BBC, “the fashion industry accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater” 
    • Let suppliers know your customers care about sustainability
    • Sell items from local artists who use quality, sustainable materials
    • Pressure suppliers to lower their emissions by using less plastic packaging
    • Use more sustainable shipping methods
    • Pressure suppliers to use low emitting production methods 
  7. Step 7


    Once you understand your waste management and product sourcing options, you can make the switch. Buy and offer products that can be composted or recycled and come from local, sustainable production.

    How can we improve?

    Food and Beverage: 

    • Offer smaller portion size options for smaller appetites
    • Sell or offer reusable to-go boxes
    • Encourage customers to bring their own tupperware for left-overs
    • Add more vegetarian options
    • If a supplier is not up to your standards, switch to someone who is
    • Buy from local farmers and fishermen

    Boutique: &²Ô²ú²õ±è;

    • Ask your suppliers about their sustainability practices
    • If a supplier is not up to your standards, switch to someone who is
    • Sell items from local artists 
  8. Step 8

    Buy Carbon Offsets

    Unfortunately, carbon offsets are often the only feasible way to truly become carbon neutral. This does not reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere but is a tool to help balance what we cannot eliminate right now.  do make a difference, even for small businesses. 

    This should be the last step you take toward eliminating your greenhouse gas emissions. Be sure you use reputable organizations to avoid greenwashing your conscience. As this  reminds us, you can end up with a situation where “the polluters got a guilt-free pass to keep emitting COâ‚‚, but the forest preservation that was supposed to balance the ledger either never came or didn’t last.” 

     is a great resource with frequently asked questions and several ways to purchase carbon offsets. 

    Project examples to consider:

  9. Step 9

    Recognize and Repeat

    Recognize all the hard work you and your staff have put into reducing your emissions. 

    Every step should be recognized and celebrated! It does not need to be expensive. Small gestures can go a long way!

    • Take employees to lunch
    • Bring in coffee
    • Hang a poster with the accomplishments 

    Repeat each step on a yearly basis. Where can you continue to improve? Keep track of your baseline year after year to see tangible improvements. 

    ±Ê±ô±ð²¹²õ±ð contact us for assistance.