April 22nd, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, motivating businesses around the world to change their behaviors to minimize their environmental impact. One way companies can do this is by reducing their carbon footprints. Developing a strategy for reducing your business' impact can help educate your employees about this year's Earth Day theme, climate change, and the importance of incorporating environmentally-friendly workplace behaviors. To help your business get started, this post covers everything you need to know about carbon footprints, how to calculate them, and actionable reduction tips for your workplace. Continue reading to learn more!
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint measures the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere by a person, organization, product, or activity. When calculating the entire carbon footprint of something, all greenhouse gases involved are considered, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. The EPA provides the following information on emissions:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide releases into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), solid waste, trees, and other biological materials, and also as a result of certain chemical reactions.
- Methane (CH4): Methane enters the atmosphere during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in landfills.
- Nitrous oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, combustion of fossil fuels, and solid waste, as well as during the treatment of wastewater.
- Fluorinated gases: These gases are synthetic greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes.
So why is measuring a carbon footprint important? According to the EPA, human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years, which have been the most significant driver of climate change. The largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. Measuring your business' carbon emissions provides insight into the amount of carbon your company creates and how it can be reduced.
How is a carbon footprint calculated?
Many factors must be taken into consideration when calculating a carbon footprint. Calculating your business's total requires understanding electricity usage, annual office heating fuel, vehicle fleet, air travel, shipping, business events, and more. Gathering all of this information can be time-consuming, but many online calculators exist to provide an estimate. Given that electricity, heat, and transportation mainly contribute to the release of greenhouse gas emissions, most calculators use these three areas to calculate the final sum. The estimates act as a good starting point for understanding how your business' activities add up and how to reduce your footprint. For help calculating yours, check out Berkeley's carbon footprint estimator for a summary of the carbon emissions associated with your company and an action plan for offsetting them. Once you get started, your business can begin quantifying the impacts these changes are making. For example, recycling 5,000 pounds of mixed paper per year saves the emissions equivalent of 127 gallons of gasoline, 4,003 gallons of water, 1,336 hours of electricity, and 13 trees.
How To Reduce The Carbon Footprint Of Your Business
Businesses worldwide are working hard to lessen their carbon footprint to tackle climate change, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce waste. Fortunately, methods of lowering your carbon footprint do not have to be complicated. Here are small changes your workplace can make that creates a massive impact:
Reduce business travel emissions
In 2017, transportation accounted for the largest portion (29%) of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Your business can help offset the emissions caused by transportation by driving and renting more efficient vehicles and encouraging employees to use cleaner modes of transportation to work, including biking, walking, public transit, or carpooling. As video conferencing becomes more available, many companies are choosing to travel less by using Zoom and Skype applications. When traveling by air is necessary, make sure to book fuel-efficient economy seats.
Focus on Energy efficiency
Taking some time to focus on the energy efficiency of your equipment and services can really pay off (literally). Consider switching to LED lighting, optimizing heating and cooling systems, and purchasing ENERGY STAR certified products. According to the EPA, over 1.5 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions would be saved if every office product purchased in the U.S. was ENERGY STAR certified. With that said, it's estimated that 25% of all electricity in the U.S. is used for lighting. Businesses can save money and power by simply turning off the lights and unplugging appliances and equipment during lunch and after operating hours.
minimize emissions by reducing food waste
Food requires a significant amount of energy to grow, transport, and sell, and throwing it away into landfill produces greenhouse gases, including methane. The most effective way to minimize food waste is to focus on creating less waste in the first place. But composting is widely acknowledged as the most earth-friendly way to recycle food waste.
Learn the 5 R's: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle
Of course, the 5 R's play a huge part in reducing a business' footprint. Recycling saves resources, reduces waste sent to landfills, and helps conserve energy. Incorporating recycling as well as refusing, reducing, reusing, and repurposing into your business' waste reduction and recycling efforts will minimize waste and help reduce the emissions associated with transporting and sending waste to landfills.
Discuss reducing your carbon footprint with your team
Start the conversation! See what your coworkers know about the impact our actions have on the planet with our daily activities and annual habits. Take some time out to learn more about emissions and waste and what we can do to reduce them. When you join together to make a difference, the impact is amplified.
Implementing these tips for how to reduce the carbon footprint of your business can help positively impact your company's bottom line and help curb climate change. That way, you can ensure your business is helping to keep the planet healthy. In the comments below, share some of your favorite tips for reducing your carbon footprint!