In your personal life, you're certainly trying to reduce your personal carbon footprint, whether it’s through flying less, eating local, consuming less meat, preventing food waste, shifting to vegan diet, buying sustainably sourced products, prefering public transportation, cycling to work, investing in an electric vehicle or bringing your own bag to the supermarket.
But often our professional activities can leave a much bigger carbon footprint than that of our personal lives. So, the question is : how to reduce carbon footprint? Better : how to reduce your overall carbon footprint and contribute to tackle climate change?
💡We’ve put together this handy guide to help you approach decreasing your business’s carbon footprint slowly and sustainably.
👣 What even is a carbon footprint?
In 1896, a chemist named Svante Arrhenius ran a few calculations and discovered something surprising. He realized that the carbon emissions coming from human activity were sizable enough to one day cause global temperatures to rise through the greenhouse effect.
But it wasn’t until about a hundred years later that we became conscious of carbon footprints, and started setting out trying to reduce them.
Even though it’s called a carbon footprint, a carbon footprint is actually a total measure of the greenhouse gas emissions (mainly carbon dioxide, but also gasses like methane and nitrous oxide) caused by a person’s or a business’s activity. It’s expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent, measured in weight (kilograms, tons, megatons, and so on).
We can also give carbon footprints to products, services, business activities, and individuals—pretty much everything that exists and every action is responsible for carbon dioxide emissions, including bananas (80g each), emails (4g each), and being cremated (80kg).
👉 Measuring carbon footprints gives us a clear universal metric for comparing and contrasting, and helps us work out where we can start to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
📈 What are the benefits of reducing my business’s carbon footprint?
The obvious reason to work on cutting down your business’s carbon emissions is to contribute to a healthier, more sustainable planet. More importantly : prevent climate change consequences, such as extreme weather events. And while most people are aware of the need to take action on climate change and global warming, it can be difficult for businesses to highlight lower emissions of carbon dioxide as an area of focus.
But there are many reasons to start looking at your business’s carbon footprint, and many of them have nothing to do with the environment.
Consumers are increasingly looking for socially and environmentally conscious brands. According to a 2020 IBM report, more than 7/10 consumers say it’s important that brands are sustainable and environmentally responsible, and nearly 6/10 would switch up their buying habits to reduce emissions and environmental impact.
Making a commitment to reducing your carbon footprint (or even going net zero) is a smart way to attract younger talent. 9/10 millennials would consider a pay cut to work for an employer whose values match their own. On top of this, purpose-driven companies are 40% more likely to retain their existing workforce. If you’re concerned about hiring and keeping good people, climate action and carbon footprint targets are great for your brand.
Investors are increasingly looking to fund environmentally friendly companies. Measuring, disclosing and reducing your carbon footprint is one way to demonstrate that you are actively committed to shaping a better planet for future generations, and inspires trust and transparency.
Working on your greenhouse gasses doesn’t immediately sound like an opportunity to cut operational costs and save money, but going green can have a positive effect on your bottom line. Switching to energy efficiency, evaluating your suppliers, and making changes to the way your company operates can bring financial benefits that might not have occurred had you not been focused on your carbon footprint. Contrary to popular opinion, green doesn’t have to mean expensive.
🚀Yes, working on your greenhouse gas emissions does take additional time and resources, but it’s an investment in your business’s future, and it’s not without returns.
🤝 Three steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
It can feel overwhelming to get started, but we’ve got a simple three-step process that will guide you through from beginning to end. This will help you to effectively reduce your carbon footprint.
First step to reduce your carbon footprint is figuring out, exactly, how big are your greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, footprint measurement does more than tell you how much carbon you're responsible for — it also tells you which activities account for what percentage of your carbon emissions. This granularity is crucial for the next step, because without knowing which activities are causing most of your greenhouse gases, it’s impossible to know the best place to start.
This is where the real action comes in. Once you’ve got clear data on which business activities are the biggest contributors to your average carbon footprint, you can start to set clear and measurable goals for reducing it, and make a plan for what you’ll tackle first.
Finding quick and simple ways to drastically reduce your carbon footprint like this is a great way to start your sustainability journey. It shows quantifiable results quickly, building momentum and boosting morale across the team. Once you’ve got some wins under your belt, you can look at setting longer-term goals for reducing (and maybe even neutralizing) your greenhouse gas emissions.
Of course, it’s impossible to emit zero carbon. Even you yourself emit carbon just by breathing (but don’t worry, your breath is technically net zero). But many businesses want to know the final step — once you’ve done all that you can (or even if you haven’t but are working towards it), what else can you do to mitigate your business’s impact on the climate change?
The answer is offsetting, which is a way to compensate for your company’s carbon emissions by investing in projects that help prevent more carbon from entering the atmosphere (more on this below). In others words, you should buy carbon offsets.
🧮 Step 1: Measuring your business’s carbon footprint
Calculating the carbon footprint of an entire business is no small feat. There are three ways to go about it: internally, externally, and digitally.
Calculating your carbon footprint internally
Calculating your business’s carbon footprint internally can be complicated and time-consuming. Most of the time, you’d need to hire a dedicated carbon accountant or even a team of carbon accountants, which can get expensive quickly. If you’re just looking for a rough idea of your greenhouse gas emissions as a starting point, try Greenly’s free carbon footprint calculator.
Calculating your carbon footprint externally
Some companies opt to hire environmental consulting firms to help them calculate and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. While this can be a more flexible option than hiring your own team, it doesn’t give your company as much ownership over your metrics and your roadmaps.
Calculating your carbon footprint digitally
Or, there’s a third way: go digital. With a digital carbon accounting platform like Greenly, you can calculate your carbon footprint to a high degree of accuracy, get clear and real-time insights on areas of opportunity for reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, personalized action plans, and climate experts to help you along your journey to net zero.
📉 Step 2: Reducing your business’s carbon footprint
Once you’ve measured and analyzed your business’s carbon footprint, you’ll know the best place to start to make the most impactful changes with the least disruption. If you haven’t calculated your business’s actual carbon footprint yet, or you just want to get a headstart on your environmental impact, here are five ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
One example of a carbon footprint contributor is transport. If each of your employees commutes to and from work every day, this adds up over time — but even that is small in comparison to the huge chunk of flight's carbon emissions.
There are a few easy ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions : avoid flying, promote public transport around your head office... By the way, allowing employees to work from home cuts your transport emissions significantly. The second is cutting down on business travel in general. Can that meeting, conference or event be held online? Chances are, it can — and the planet will be better for it.
If your office has a physical presence (an office, a warehouse, and so on), then one key contributor to your carbon footprint will be the energy used to generate electricity and power your heat, air conditioning, lights, and so on. Switching to a green provider is a relatively easy way to lower your energy use and personal impact, as well as swapping out incandescent light bulbs and other appliances for more energy-efficient alternatives. And if you have days where everyone’s working from home, your energy emissions could go down significantly.
For many companies, especially tech and knowledge companies, the electronic devices your employees work from can make up a sizable chunk of your greenhouse gas emissions. Cell phones, computers, etc. This is because electronic devices have a carbon footprint of their own, because of what it takes to mine the raw materials, manufacture the devices, and ship them to their point of sale. (It’s worth noting that it’s not just carbon emissions that hang over your electronics purchases, but also critical mineral depletion, environmental damage, and, often, human rights and labor issues.)
You can reduce your total electronics emissions by buying second-hand devices where you can, buying from companies committed to carbon neutrality or net zero (take Apple and Microsoft as examples), getting your devices serviced regularly to extend their lifetime, and using less stuff. Do not buy devices you don’t need yet : this single action could make a big difference and have a significant impact on your greenhouse gases annual emissions.
Recycling and buying recycled items
Even just recycling paper can save a significant number of trees, water, oil, energy and landfill space. Cutting down on your company’s waste is a key factor for environmental impact. Buying second-hand items and supplies, or items made from recycled materials, is another easy way to produce fewer emissions and tackle climate change.
Supply chain emissions
Your supply chain can account for a staggering amount of your carbon emissions. McKinsey estimates that more than 80% of the emissions from the consumer packaged goods sector comes from company supply chains. Now, calculating and addressing supply chain greenhouse gas emissions isn’t for the faint of heart, so we recommend focusing on some of the low-hanging fruit (like business travel and switching energy providers) before turning your focus to your supply chain as a whole.
🌳 Step 3: Offsetting your business’s carbon footprint
When you’ve done all you can to reduce your carbon footprint internally, it’s time to think about offsetting. These days, there are plenty of offsetting options to choose from, ranging from renewable sources projects, all the way to conservation, waste transformation, clean energy and community projects.
But choosing carbon offsets is tricky, because it’s a space that is largely unregulated and lacking in approved standards. There are many carbon offsetting opportunities that seem inexpensive (and sound positive), but are actually fairly useless — or worse, harmful.
So how do you know what to look for when evaluating offset projects to invest in? We recommend keeping these four things in mind while you shop:
Some offset projects are activities that would have happened regardless of whether you invested in them or not. For example, you can’t fund a forest that isn’t at risk. Make sure you’re investing in active reduction projects that wouldn’t occur otherwise.
Some carbon offset projects could actually be causing unintended negative consequences in other areas.
The emissions saved by the project must be guaranteed not to be released into the atmosphere at some time in the future.
Some carbon offset investments are sold multiple times over (without multiple times the carbon being reduced).
🎬 A final word on footprints
Thinking about cutting down your business’s carbon footprint is a big step (pardon the pun), and you should be proud for even getting this far. It’s a complex process that takes time, effort and resources from within your company, which is why we recommend working with a partner to guide you through your carbon footprint journey, and set your company up for a sustainable future.
Need help getting started? Talk to the team at Greenly. We’ve helped companies of all shapes and sizes measure, reduce and offset their greenhouse gases for a greener future.
🚀 if you enjoyed reading this article, here are a few more :
- How can you make the change to green finance?
- Why carbon tracking is essential to stay accountable?
- 4 pitfalls to avoid for an effective CSR policy
- Carbon disclosure project: criteria and challenges
- What does it mean to be carbon positive?