Running a profitable business is hard. Running a profitable business that is carbon accountable is even harder.
But just because our current free-market economic system does not make it easy to run a sustainable operation doesn’t mean your business should surrender to climate crisis. Climate change will devastate populations, ravage economies and significantly raise the cost of doing business as resources become scarcer and more expensive. From both a humanitarian and business standpoint, it makes a lot of sense for us to take a stand against uncontrolled climate change by negating our company’s carbon footprint.
Beyond dwindling resources, there are other practical reasons to enact policies that reduce your business’s greenhouse gas emissions. For one, as the climate emergency escalates, international governments will likely begin to introduce more stringent environmental policies – meaning that if you can neutralize your carbon footprint now, your company will be ahead of the game. In addition, research has found customers prefer eco-friendly brands and has linked a positive impact on the planet with employee satisfaction and morale.
Major corporations like Microsoft, Google, Lyft and Salesforce are already committed to going carbon neutral, as are smaller companies like Burt's Bees and Diamond Foundry. If you want to join them as a pioneer towards sustainability, here are four powerful first steps business leaders can take to make their company more carbon accountable.
1. Move toward zero waste.
The current way we conduct business – that is, through production, transportation, consumption and disposal of materials – accounts for 42% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Implementing a zero-waste approach is a short-term, powerful action that can pay off immediately for the climate.
Moving toward zero waste begins with an assessment of your business's current waste generation, management and disposal. During the audit, you can identify where waste is being generated, how often, and where it goes. From there, you can set waste diversion, prevention, and reduction goals and institute policies to achieve them.
When developing waste-reduction strategies, focus your efforts on reducing, reusing and recycling – in that order.
Other types of zero waste could include going paperless whenever possible, donating old electronics and office furniture, and using packaging material that is reusable, compostable or recyclable. Refiling and recycling ink and toner cartridges should be a priority in an office zero-waste strategy – these vessels are incredibly resource-intensive to manufacture and take thousands of years to decompose.
2. Harness renewable energy sources.
Renewable fuels have become more prevalent over the last several years, largely due to climbing oil and gas prices and growing concerns about climate change. Given the finite nature of fossil fuels and the likelihood of international climate change regulations being enacted in the near future, companies should start measuring and reducing their energy consumption now. This will not only yield environmental benefits, but give your business a competitive edge when climate policies go into effect.
While taking action may require an initial investment, harnessing green energy sources like solar power will save your company money in the long term.
If you are seeking to buy or lease renewable energy equipment for onsite installation at your workplace, solar panels are the most obvious and likely the most practical option. In addition to providing your property with clean, sustainable power, installing solar panels may qualify your business for a federal tax credit.
If you don't own your property or have limited space, you can look into purchasing renewable energy from your power supplier. Some power companies offer the option to buy “green” service for a small premium in exchange for electricity generated from renewable sources. Depending on the part of the country you are in, you may also be able to choose your own electricity supplier. In states that allow competition among electricity generators, you can opt to work with a supplier who specializes in producing energy from renewable sources.
3. Cut business travel emissions.
Be it air, car or train, modern transportation modes are among the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., the transportation sector accounts for 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions each year. By reducing emissions and expenses related to business travel, you can minimize your company's impact on the environment while potentially increasing your bottom line.
If you don't think there is such a thing as business travel emissions, just ask the GHG Protocol, an organization tasked with measuring such emissions. Large corporations such as IBM have adopted standards from the organization to help meausure their carbon footprint. Travel companies themselves even help to cut down on emissions.
Encourage your employees to bike to work by providing a space for them to change and shower. Facilitate carpooling among colleagues with commuter-matching programs and incentives like preferred parking spots. When flying, book the more fuel-efficient economy seats on direct flights.
Of course, the best way to reduce business travel emissions is to not travel at all. Consider allowing employees to work from home to cut commuter emissions. Whenever possible, hold virtual meetings and training sessions rather than flying. This would also include paying to have a speaker come to your location for training as opposed to sending people offiste for training.
4. Educate and engage employees.
Finally, one of the most powerful ways to make your workforce more carbon accountable is to actively engage your employees in the cause. Disheartened by bleak forecasts and jaded by constant corporate greenwashing, it's easy for individuals to give into climate despair, the sense of powerlessness that keeps us from addressing problems with the environment in a meaningful way.
To combat environmental discouragement and help empower employees to see their own power to affect positive change, educate your team on carbon accountability by making it personal. When employees understand why they are being told to change long-time habits, they are less likely to resist new eco-conscious policies.
In order to inspire your team members to take ownership of their carbon impact, encourage input on workplace energy-saving ideas at staff meetings and by setting up suggestions boxes. Consider instituting a corporate matching program where you financially replicate employee donations to eco-friendly nonprofits. Enroll your team in an environmental subscription service like Forest Founders, which enables users to use a personal dashboard to track and negate their carbon footprint by planting trees through a network of nonprofits like the National Forest Foundation (NFF). Carbon tracking subscription services can help gamify the process of carbon accountability and witness the power of their own environmental impact firsthand.
Nature and capitalism don't have to be at odds. By minimizing the carbon footprint of your business, you can cut energy costs, improve employee morale, build your brand's reputation as a leader in sustainability and even increase your bottom line – all while protecting the resources and planet we need to operate and thrive.