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What should businesses do to fight climate change?

David Douglas, the VP of Eco Responsibility at Sun Microsystems, suggests that green-minded businesses should look outside their own operations to the carbon footprint of their supply chains and customers:

Carbon neutrality is a step in the right direction, but for many companies, its only a very small part of the overall impact they could have. It is in the best interest of those companies, as well as our collective best interest, that they take a broad view and prioritize appropriately across all of their potential environmental opportunities.

For the purpose of illustration, Douglas uses the Toyota Prius. Toyota can do more good for the world, he suggests, by designing energy-efficient products than by minimizing emissions from its own operations. Ideally every company should be doing both, but if Toyota has to choose a place to focus its efforts, fuel-sipping cars are the higher priority.

This is a worthy sentiment. One problem, though, is that the Prius is a cherry-picked example. For most businesses, the relative environmental impact of suppliers, operations and customers can be tricky to gauge. CIO Magazine points out that it’s hard enough to know the carbon content of a bunch of bananas sitting on a store shelf, much less a piece of electronics made of parts sourced from thousands of different suppliers.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Carbon neutrality is a great place for most businesses to start, both because measuring your carbon footprint is the first step toward reducing it, and also because your own impact is most directly under your control. (For a quick estimate of your organization’s emissions, check out our online calculator.)

But for many or most organizations, it also makes sense to look beyond your own walls at your suppliers and customers, who may be your greatest source of leverage in fighting climate change.

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