Has your business recently measured its carbon footprint? And if so, do you have a strategy in place to reduce it?
With so much recent focus on climate change, greenhouse gasses, and air quality – punctuated by events such as the Californian wildfires and COVID-19 – many companies have begun reassessing their environmental impacts. The natural starting point is energy consumption, but many are also rethinking their transportation networks, waste and recycling management, heating and cooling systems, paper use, and sustainability initiatives.
And thankfully, some of the biggest names are leading the way, with companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Nike all making recent commitments to achieving 100% carbon neutrality.
“We have until 2030 to chart a sustainable cause for our planet or face the worst consequences of climate change. We are already feeling those impacts today from historic wildfires in the US to devastating flooding in many parts of the world.” – Sundar Pichai, Google CEO
And if your company has the same goal in mind – meaning all emissions are either eliminated or offset – you need a clear plan of what you want to achieve, and a strategy to help make it happen. While it may seem daunting, there are many small changes any business can make that can significantly reduce its carbon footprint – not to mention saving money along the way.
And so, whether you’re a small family business or a large enterprise, here are ten effective strategies you can use to reduce your CO2 emissions down to zero.
1. Establish Clear Goals
“Businesses have a profound opportunity to help build a more sustainable future, one born of our common concern for the planet we share.” – Tim Cook, Apple CEO
When you set out to become carbon neutral, it’s essential to identify exactly what you want to achieve, what measures need to be taken, and a realistic timeline for your action plan.
For many businesses – particularly larger ones – it’s often most effective to focus on improving one area at a time, rather than trying to make several big changes all at once.
The starting points for many companies are energy use and transportation – two of the more prominent sources of carbon emissions. You can assess these two areas of your business, collect data about your corporate impact, decide on strategies to achieve carbon neutrality, and then set a clear timeline over which you can achieve the goal.
It’s important to remember that as much as every business wants to be carbon neutral overnight, it takes time, commitment, and a long-term vision. And once your company establishes clear goals – every step forward has a positive impact on the environment.
2. Make Sustainable Long-Term Changes
It’s also critical to make changes that your business can sustain over the long-term. Eliminating your carbon footprint shouldn’t feel like a “crash diet” with behavior that returns to normal after the goal is achieved.
Instead, it’s a chance to re-think and improve how you do business, which is ultimately much better for your company, your employees, your customers – and your bottom line.
And perhaps most importantly, reducing your carbon footprint shouldn’t feel like an obstacle or a chore, but rather, a means to make genuine changes that show a commitment to sustainability that your customers will value and others will follow.
3. Measure Your Progress
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” – Peter Drucker, Author
The most effective way to reach any goal is to carefully monitor and record your progress along the way. Tracking results is a great way not only to ensure you’re heading in the right direction – but also to create extra motivation end encourage greater levels of teamwork.
Once your business implements a carbon-reduction strategy, you can designate particular goals to team leaders or departments, and then encourage members of each team to measure and compare progress. If you have multiple employees or departments working on the same objective, you can even offer incentives to encourage friendly competition – and reward those who achieve the highest results.
If your carbon reduction strategy is made public, be sure to promote your results and new goals as well – and use the accountability to generate further action.
4. Buy Renewable Energy and RECs
One of the fastest and most definitive ways a company can reduce its carbon footprint is to power its business activities with renewable energy. And luckily, there are several different ways to make the switch.
With falling solar costs in the US, the price of installing a solar energy system is lower than ever before. With suitable roof space, you can install an on-site renewable energy system that offsets some or even all of your entire energy demand. Coupled with the emergence of battery storage technology, it’s now possible for businesses to run on clean solar energy 24 hours a day.
Another option is to purchase renewable energy directly from your electricity company, or enter into a corporate power purchase agreement to source clean energy from large-scale solar and wind farms.
And finally, your business can also purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) to offset your electricity use. Each REC represents one megawatt-hour of clean energy, meaning that after reviewing your annual consumption, you can use RECs to balance your emissions and help to accelerate America’s transition to sustainable energy.
5. Minimize Single-Use Plastics
Plastic pollution has become a very hot topic in recent years, with reports that so much plastic is entering our oceans it’s starting to form garbage islands.
In addition, most plastic is made directly from oil and gas, and also creates CO2 emissions during its production, transport, and disposal. If your corporate goal is to become carbon neutral, one of your key strategies should be to eliminate as much single-use plastic as possible, through smarter purchasing decisions and a focus on recycling and reusing existing materials.
The carbon emissions associated with plastic may not be obvious – but they are significant. By taking steps to reduce your dependence on plastics, and working closely with your suppliers to develop better alternatives, you’ll quickly wonder why your business didn’t make the changes much sooner.
6. Reduce and Offset Your Travel Emissions
One of the silver linings of COVID-19 has been the emergence of video conferencing apps, which have allowed real-time collaboration between employees and teams, regardless of location. If it’s not essential to physically travel to another site, try to use video calling instead – and encourage others to do the same.
With the rise of electric vehicles in recent years, it’s also now possible for businesses to lease or purchase fully-electric cars and vans to replace traditional gas and diesel models. This dramatic shift was punctuated by Amazon’s recent announcement that the company will buy 100,000 electric vans over the next few years, as part of its pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.
For business trips that require air travel, you can reduce emissions by booking direct flights, or investigating whether you can use high-speed rail instead. And in cases where it’s not possible to avoid flying, you can balance out the greenhouse gasses using carbon offsets and ensure that the emissions are neutralized elsewhere.
7. Make Recycling the New Normal
While many businesses have recycling programs in place, there are still many items that are sent to landfills and release large volumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than CO2.
If you want to increase your recycling rates and reduce your carbon footprint, consider these tips:
- Conduct employee training to educate staff about new initiatives and facilities.
- Install visible, clearly-labeled recycling bins in convenient locations.
- Start with paper and cardboard recycling, and gradually expand to other items – including plastics, glass, batteries, light bulbs, and metals.
- Refill toner and ink cartridges instead of throwing them away.
- Collecting organic waste in kitchens and eating areas.
- Install refillable soap and toiletry containers in restrooms to avoid single-use waste.
- Work with e-waste companies in your local area to recycle computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices.
- Reduce the number of individual waste bins, reminding employees to recycle instead.
It’s estimated that around 90% of office waste can be recycled, provided there are the right systems in place. Most people want to see more recycling in their workplace, and once a business develops a culture of sustainability – it often quickly spreads to many other areas of the company.
8. Optimize Your Heating and Cooling
HVAC systems are the largest consumers of energy in many commercial buildings, and so it’s worth paying close attention to your thermostat settings if you want to reduce carbon emissions – as well as your energy bills.
According to the Department of Energy, turning down the thermostat by 7-10 degrees over an eight-hour period can reduce your energy consumption – and associated greenhouse gasses – by 10%.
Similarly, the cooling systems in server rooms and data centers – which are often hidden away and forgotten about – also significantly impact your energy consumption. Many thermostats are set to a constant 66 degrees but can comfortably run at 71-73 instead, which won’t negatively affect your equipment – but will lower your energy consumption. And of course, it’s always best to consult your IT professional or equipment manufacturers for specific advice.
9. Create a Paper-Free Environment
With the advent of the internet and the popularity of portable devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops, most offices use far less paper than they used to. But there are still many that chew through multiple reams of paper every week – many of which are entirely unnecessary. This unused paper is not just a drain on the environment; it also wastes a lot of money.
“While recycling is great in a lot of ways, the ultimate goal is to get people to prevent waste in the first place.” – McKenzie Jones, Author
It takes one tree to produce 16 reams of paper, which could have otherwise absorbed valuable CO2 from the atmosphere. If you want to reduce your paper consumption, there are a number of steps you can take:
- Reduce the number of printers in the office
- Use emails instead of writing paper memos and notes
- Have convenient and clearly-marked paper recycling bins around the workplace
- Digitize your existing paper filing system, and use cloud storage for new files
- In meetings, use laptops, phones, and tablets instead of pens and paper
- Change paper bills and statements over to email
- Set small, incremental goals – and measure the results
And in cases when you do purchase office paper, ensure that it’s 100% recycled – and have systems in place to recycle it again at the end of its use.
10. Offset Your Remaining Emissions
By following the steps above, making smarter choices, and developing a culture of sustainability, you can significantly reduce your environmental impact.
But in cases where there are unavoidable emissions, you can also invest in carbon offsets to eliminate your remaining CO2 footprint. At terrapass, we partner with a number of carbon reduction projects throughout the US, enabling companies of all sizes to balance their emissions and set new standards in corporate responsibility.
It’s also important to remember that reducing greenhouse gasses is not an overnight fix; it’s an ongoing process. But once you set achievable goals, identify the actions you can take, and develop ways to measure your progress, you’ll quickly see tangible results that benefit not just your company, employees, and customers – but the entire climate.