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Understanding the scale of their carbon footprint -- and how to reduce it -- is key for businesses looking to reduce their environmental impact.
Though it's not clear where exactly the term carbon footprint emerged, its popularity rose during the early 2000s after a successful environmental marketing campaign launched by the British Petroleum Company (BP). In 2004, BP unveiled its carbon footprint calculator, which was a tool for individuals to calculate their direct and indirect carbon emissions. This marketing campaign is often referred to as an early example of greenwashing, in which BP used this campaign to push blame to the general public and away from its own actions.
Businesses play a key role in carbon emissions. Measuring the carbon footprint is a useful tool for businesses that strive to become greener and more sustainable and to reduce waste. Reducing a carbon footprint is possible, and a few simple steps can go a long way.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the mark a person or organization leaves on the planet based on emissions. Individually, a person's carbon footprint is increased by food consumption, transportation, travel and household energy. For businesses, their carbon footprint is increased with actions such as excessive electricity usage, generated waste and burning of fossil fuels.
Why should companies reduce their carbon footprint?
Climate change is a pressing issue facing society today, with government bodies and corporations around the world striving to achieve a state referred to as net zero before damage to the planet becomes irreparable. Net zero happens when greenhouse gas emissions are balanced, and humans no longer add additional carbon to the atmosphere.
Besides the obvious beneficial environmental impact, reducing carbon footprint can improve brand reputation and profitability. According to a survey from McKinsey & Company, more than 60% of respondents said they would pay more for a product with sustainable packaging. Climate change is viewed as one of the greatest risks to the well-being of the world, and consumers are taking notice.
Ways to reduce carbon footprint
Attempting to categorize and quantify a carbon footprint is a daunting task, but it is the first step toward climate action for businesses. Insufficient knowledge and lack of an appropriate workforce can make it a challenge for both large enterprises functioning globally and small businesses with limited resources. With some insight and action, businesses can start to reduce their carbon footprint.
Here are five ways for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.
1. Hire a sustainability manager
A sustainability manager, or a chief sustainability officer, will help businesses develop and adhere to a sustainability strategy. A carbon footprint is fluid and will change constantly. For example, choosing to reuse and recycle within an organization is a great start, but it's vital to ensure that the providers also adhere to sustainable processes.
Hiring an employee -- or a team -- dedicated to reducing the company's carbon footprint provides accountability and achievable targets.
Every company is different, and sustainability goals will also be different. Employing someone to review internal processes and develop a custom strategy puts sustainability in the forefront when making decisions.
2. Invest in carbon offsetting
Businesses will most likely have a carbon footprint no matter how hard they try. However, carbon offsetting can help reduce the footprint.
Carbon offsetting is a credit an organization can buy or use to decrease its carbon footprint. This means finding a way to compensate for the emissions produced by the organization to reduce the overall carbon footprint. Examples of carbon offsetting include reforestation, agriculture and investing in conservation.
Carbon offsetting gives businesses the opportunity to give back to the community, while also reducing their carbon footprint.
3. Re-budget the company's travel policy
The impact of transport on the environment is detrimental. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that commercial flights and business jets contribute 10% of U.S. transportation emissions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of people traveling internationally was minimal, and the key result was a steep 8.8% decrease in global carbon emissions in the first half of 2020.
Businesses should reconsider employee travel and determine when it is a necessity. Rail travel has lower carbon emissions than air travel, according to a study in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, which makes it an effective alternative to commercial flights or driving.
Encourage traveling employees to eat locally, stay in green hotels and avoid printing travel documents.
4. Reduce waste
Landfill waste is a large contributor to greenhouse gases. Businesses are responsible for a lot of waste that enters landfills, including electronic devices, paper, plastic and other office waste. Businesses spend more than necessary on products that end up in landfills, so circular business models could save money in the long run and reduce landfill waste.
Recycling programs are a great start, but reducing waste involves more than a recycling program. There are other ways to promote sustainability within an organization. Avoid purchasing new office furniture, when possible, and encourage employees to recycle and to embrace digital communication versus paper. These are all achievable ways to cut down on company waste.
5. Shift to renewable energy
Renewable energy is derived from natural resources and replenishes itself faster than it is used, such as solar and wind power.
Awareness of climate change is affecting industries worldwide, creating more options for green, renewable energy sources. The best place to begin is to check with the business's current energy provider to review the various renewable energy plans available. Be sure to have the correct plan and consider possible green sources for energy.
Rosa Heaton is content manager for custom content at TechTarget, where she works with enterprise businesses in the technology sector to ideate and produce data-driven thought leadership webinar content.