Brightest's Guide to Reducing Your Company's Carbon Footprint and Climate Impact
A Strategy for Reducing Your Business' Carbon Footprint
In a recent study from Lloyds Bank and YouGov, 80% of businesses surveyed said they recognize the importance of being more sustainable. Worsening climate change, increasing environmental regulations, and strong customer demand for sustainable products and services are all big reasons why companies need to understand and take action and reduce their carbon footprint.
But, at the same time, climate action and carbon footprint reduction may feel time-consuming, complicated, or expensive. So what's an accessible strategy your organization can use to understand its climate impact and carbon footprint, and implement a plan to reduce it?
What is a 'Carbon Footprint'?
In the last 100 years, the amount of atmospheric pollution produced by the global economcy has grown dramatically. These greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are most commonly referred to as carbon, specifically carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon isn't the only type of GHG emission, but we often convert other emissions like methane and nitrous oxide into carbon equivalents (CO2e) so we're measuring everything with the same common unit.
Business, agricultural, and transportation-driven carbon footprint growth is the leading cause of climate change and global warming.
Global Atmospheric Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide Since the Industrial Revolution (1760-2022)
Last Updated: 2022
Source: EPA Climate Change Indicators, last certified in 2022.
When organizations and businesses operate, they generate carbon and other GHG emissions. This includes:
- Emissions from burning fossil fuels to produce electricity and heat used by offices, buildings, and equipment
- Emissions from transporting, treating, and heating water
- Using cars, trucks, planes, and other transportation methods for shipping, deliveries, business travel, employee commuting, etc.
- Carbon "embodied" in product inputs and materials
- Emissions from used products that end up in landfills or get incinerated
And other carbon footprint sources. Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the international standards organization for carbon footprint measurement, identifies 18 types of corporate emissions, divided into three categories - Scope 1, 2 & 3:
So when we talk about a business or company's carbon footprint, that means the sum of all the activity that produces carbon emissions, converted into carbon. The same way a business might inventory its products, you can also count up and 'inventory' your carbon.
A Strategy to Reduce Your Organization's Carbon Footprint
Carbon footprint reduction targets are one the best ways to focus and communicate your organization's attention on climate change and ESG performance - both internally to your employees and externally to customers, investors, and other stakeholders. Carbon targets are clear, quantifiable goals and market signals that align your brand, business model, and sustainability strategy.
Typically, you want to start by measuring a baseline year carbon footprint. This will usually be your most recently completed financial accounting year. If you don't feel comfortable counting carbon yourself and need an efficient or automated way to do this, our award-winning sustainability software can import your excel sheets, utility bills, and other data and instantly convert it into a carbon footprint.
Next, we'll design a plan to reduce our carbon footprint.
How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Like any other strategic initiative, focus on carbon footprint reduction steps that are (1) high impact and (2) low cost and effort. And always remember the classic sustainability advice: "Reduce, re-use, and recycle."
The "highest impact" steps will depend some on your industry and business model, but always be thinking about how your organization can use less resources, as well as re-use existing resources. Here, there are many best practices to follow:
- Energy efficiency - If your business has offices, manufacturing sites, and other facilities, energy efficiency is a great place to start (the same principle also applies to equipment). For example, if you own the site or facility, replace your lightbulbs with more efficient LED bulbs. Look into smart meter and HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and cooling) improvements that reduce energy usage. Many of these projects have relatively fast, 1-2 year financial payback periods, and ultimately save your company money while also lowering your carbon footprint. However, if you don't own any of your sites, and rent or lease them instead, see if you can engage your landlord on these topics. Explain why it's good for their business and long-term financials.
- Renewable energy - For energy usage you can't reduce, can you make it lower carbon? Research and explore options for solar (PV) panels, solar heating, wind turbines, hydroelectric power, and other more sustainable energy sources to power your business and vehicles
- Electric or no-emissions vehicles - Are there opportunities to replace existing car or diesel vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs), scooters, bicycles, or some other form of lower-emissions transportation?
- Get smarter and more sustainable when it comes to employee business travel and commuting - Are employees traveling by carbon-intensive methods when they don't need to be? See if there are more carbon efficient policies and tactics your business can use to reduce unnecessary or high-pollution travel. Can airplane flights be replaced by train travel? Are there incentives for employees in more urban areas to bike, car pool, or use public transportation to get to work? Are there electric vehicle (EV) chargers near your office? Look for sustainability opportunities across your company's policies, incentives, and infrastructure.
- Operational and logistics efficiency - Often, business efficiency and sustainability go hand-in-hand. Look for opportunities to make your operations and logistics more efficient. Can you reduce transportation or shipping distances? Can goods travel via more eco-friendly methods? Can you introduce circular steps in your manufacturing process or supply chain to re-use raw materials, waste, water, and other outputs? Can you source more raw materials closer to where they're used or processed?
- Sustainable, high-quality materials - Sourcing a greater percentage of recycled, upcycled, and re-used raw materials for products and packaging is another impactful way to reduce your brand's carbon footprint. Similarly, producing high-quality products that have a longer lifespan also ultimately reduces their environmental impact by creating less waste and repeat consumption.
- Recycling, composting, re-use, and take-back programs - Waste disposal, landfills, and incineration are another significant source of carbon emissions. What are steps and programs your organization can implement to reduce waste, help customers make more sustainable product usage decisions, and improve the circularity of your products?
- Carbon offsets and credits - As a last resort, for carbon emissions you simply can't reduce, you can look at purchasing high-quality carbon offsets and credits. We strongly encourage companies consider offsets as one tool in your overall decarbonization strategy, since operational carbon footprint reduction is much more impactful, substantive, and needed.
Above all, focus on what matters the most for your company's environmental and carbon footprint. If you only focus on small, easy wins, your risk of being criticized for greenwashing or fined for ESG non-compliance (depending on your local environmental laws and regulations) are much higher.
Your Next Steps Reducing Your Company's Carbon Emissions
At a time in history where we need both governments and businesses to contribute to fighting climate change, reducing your organization's carbon footprint is an essential step to help secure a more sustainable, livable future for everyone. And, as always, if your organization is working towards decarbonizing and needs help with strategy, carbon accounting, sustainability measurement, forecasting, or anything else, please get in touch and we'll see if there are ways we can support you.