It’s time to get serious about reducing your company's carbon footprint. If you’ve read our recent articles, you understand why your footprint matters, and how you can measure it, so it’s time to talk about what you can do to reduce it.
In case you haven’t read our other articles, let’s address the elephant in the room.
What’s the big deal with a business carbon footprint? And why should you measure yours?
Besides climate change being a generation-defining issue destined to shape the lives of your children and grandchildren, managing your carbon footprint has a huge impact on your business. If you calculate and cut your carbon footprint, you’ll give your business a big boost.
You’ll stand out from your competition. You’ll attract new customers. You’ll improve your profit margins. You’ll boost your brand's perception. You’ll elevate employee satisfaction. You’ll attract new investors. You’ll get ahead of some policy changes and take advantage of others.
It’s a huge opportunity you don’t want to miss. If you’re ready to get started, your first step is to actually measure your footprint to see where you’re at. You can learn how in our previous article or reach out for a consultation.
If you’ve got your footprint done and you’re ready to reduce it and get all the benefits that come with that, we’ve got what you need right here.
How to use your carbon footprint for carbon reduction
The first step to reducing your emissions is understanding where they come from. With your footprint calculated, you’ll have all your emissions broken down by scope and category. This will give you a sense of your largest sources of emissions and how you can reduce them.
Keep in mind, your ability to reduce your footprint and cut carbon will depend on how detailed your emissions inventory is. If you only have a broad strokes overview of your emissions, you’ll have a hard time reducing them.
On the other hand, if you spend the time upfront to get into the nitty-gritty details, you’ll have an easier time getting rid of emissions.
With your carbon calculations handy, you’ll want to identify the largest and easiest to eliminate areas, so you can prioritize them. It’s always good to target the low-hanging fruit early on for quick, confidence-boosting wins ahead of the long haul for the more challenging emissions areas. On the flip side, understanding challenging, problem areas early will help you get a head start on a long-term plan to get these out of your operations.
The rest of this guide will help you come up with some ideas for what you can do for emissions areas across your footprint.
The Limits of Carbon Footprint Reduction
As an SME, your work is important because it will pave the way for bigger changes down the road. By eliminating emissions from your company, you’ll be helping other individuals and businesses to do the same. You’ll also pressure your partners and your competitors to follow suit. Your work might seem small, but by inspiring other people in your industry to follow your example, you’ll help change the world.
So, if you’re ready to go, here’s what you can do.
8 Essential Strategies for Reducing Your Business’s Carbon Footprint
1) Invest in renewable energy
Unless your utility already has a 100% clean energy grid – which the chances are, they don’t – one of the biggest things you can do is support the growth of carbon-free energy.
How you do this will depend on the size of your company, the electric utility in your area, and other considerations.
If your company owns your building, the best thing you can do is install solar panels on site. If you don’t own, you could talk to the owner about installing solar and the arrangements to make that happen.
Installing solar not an option? You could contact your energy provider to see what programs they have for investing in carbon-free energy to help them expand their renewable energy portfolio. And if you live in a state with a deregulated grid, you could even switch energy providers to one with more renewables.
2) Buy energy-efficient office equipment
Whether or not you get access to clean energy, it’s always a good idea to find ways to reduce energy consumption. Not only will this limit your carbon footprint, it’ll help you save money.
A lot of office equipment has come out in recent years with high levels of EnergyStar certifications. So if something needs to be replaced – maybe that old photocopier or breakroom refrigerator – make sure to look into what kind of high-efficiency options are out there.
3) Electrify Your Fleet
There’s never been a better time to switch to electric vehicles (EVs). New models with better batteries and lower prices are coming out constantly, and with the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law, there are new incentives for adopting EVs.
If you have a fleet, or even just a company car or two, switching to an EV is a great way to reduce your footprint from all your miles driven – especially if your power is coming from clean energy.
With an EV fleet, you’ll also save money in the long run because of reduced maintenance. EVs have fewer moving parts, which means they need repairs less often and even if they need maintenance, it’s typically cheaper.
4) Revisit the 5 R’s of Waste
Reducing office waste is another great strategy for lowering your footprint. Striving for zero-waste is a great long-term goal for your operations because it not only lowers your carbon footprint, it limits the other environmental impacts of your business. You can do this by going beyond the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Adopting the 5 Rs – Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Repurpose, and Recycle – will make a big difference. This will help you limit the amount of potential waste coming into your business, make use of what might normally get thrown out, and divert what little waste remains from the landfill. To learn more about this, check out our other article on the 5 Rs of Waste.
5) Reduce or Eliminate Business Travel
For some of our clients, business travel for retreats, meetings, and day-to-day commutes are a major emissions source. Reducing these trips or finding ways to adjust them to be less carbon-intensive makes a big difference.
To reduce commute emissions, you could look for ways to encourage or incentivize employee carpools. You could even offer remote-work options for employees that don't need to be in-person. Not only would that reduce your business travel footprint, it would help you stay in touch with new workforce demands.
For your meetings and trainings that have been on-site in the past, look for ways to make them virtual and happen at a distance. We understand that sometimes you need to meet in-person, but we encourage you to consider saving travel for the most important and essential meetings.
6) Support Sustainable Partnerships
If your business is in manufacturing or production, you could search for sustainable partners and talk to your current partners about how they can be more sustainable. It’ll have a big impact on your Scope 3 emissions.
If you have to find new partners, it’s a good idea to look for ones with a reputable sustainability certification. That way you can have confidence that you’ll be working with people who care about carbon reduction as much as you.
It also helps to find partners in your area. Working with nearby suppliers helps to reduce emissions from shipping, and it tightens the belt on your carbon footprint just a little bit more.
7) Educate, Engage, and Empower Your Employees
Don’t think you need to do this all yourself from the top down! Today’s workforce cares deeply about climate change and want to get involved. Regardless of whether they’re an entry-level employee or a 20-year veteran of your company, we recommend looking for ways to get all of your employees engaged.
Your employees could bring in new ideas that you never would have thought of, so try to encourage them to contribute. One great approach is to start a “Green Team” in the office.
8) Support Systemic Solutions
Outside of all of the things you can do inside your business, supporting green policies and climate-friendly politicians is a great way to have a positive impact. This will reduce not only your company’s carbon footprint, but the footprint of your city, state, and country.
The fossil fuel industry has been funding and lobbying candidates for decades. It’s time for clean industries to do the same.
This is another great opportunity for empowering your employees. You can encourage your employees to make their voice heard too. Give them extra paid time off to vote and to get involved in advocacy.
Beyond systems change at the policy level, your company could support the circular economy movement. This movement is all about how we create an economy that keeps goods, resources, and materials in circulation. Instead of a product ending up in the landfill, it’s repurposed into something new.
To support this, you could revisit your business model and see what you can do to circularize your operations. This might take some clever thinking, but the long-term impact is enormous.
A simple, starting step is to consider becoming a Benefit Corporation. B Corps make social and environmental impact central to how they operate. By pursuing B Corp status, you could make a big difference in your industry. Even if you don’t go all the way, just learning from best practices would make a difference.
Carbon Offsets as a Last Resort
Most people would include carbon offsets as a way to reduce your footprint. But we don’t, and here’s why.
Carbon Offsets don’t reduce your footprint. Anyone that says they do is lying.
Your footprint is the same before and after you purchase an offset. All the offset does is help cover up what you’ve already emitted. But your emissions inventory is the same.
That being said, if you do your best to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible and you still have emissions that you can’t get rid of, then purchasing offsets is a great way to “clean up” those pesky remaining emissions that can’t be easily reduced.
If you want to learn more about carbon offsets, check back in a couple weeks for a detailed breakdown of the pros and cons of different offsets and how you can invest in them.
Sustainability Manager vs Carbon Footprint Consultant in Footprint Reduction
We know that calculating your footprint, creating and following a reduction plan, and purchasing any necessary offsets is a lot of work that you might struggle to do on your own.
If you need help, there are two options you can consider: recruiting a Sustainability Manager or contracting with a Carbon Footprint Consultant. Each has pros and cons.
Recruiting and hiring a sustainability manager costs a lot more in the long-run and, depending on their level of experience, you may even pay for them to get up to speed and develop new systems. On the plus side, the sustainability manager will be with you every step of the way. They can develop systems for monitoring your carbon footprints, and they’ll manage the day-to-day efforts to reduce your footprint. They’ll handle pretty much everything and keep you on track to meet your goals.
Of course, not everyone has the budget to hire a team member who doesn’t directly contribute to revenue. If that’s your case, a carbon footprint consultant like W2R could be a great alternative.
A carbon footprint consultant brings extensive experience and expertise to your organization and can help you calculate your footprint, develop a footprint-reduction roadmap, and measure progress along the way. But they won’t be there every day, and you’ll be responsible for executing the plan they create.
That being said, if you need someone to help you execute, but you don’t have the budget for a whole new staff member, you can typically hire a consultant on retainer basis to serve as a fractional employee of sorts and they’ll be there to help you meet your goals.
Now that you have all this information at your fingertips, it’s time to come up with a reduction plan. So, grab your footprint calculation and start looking at what you can do to get that down to zero.
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