Working toward carbon neutrality is a moral imperative for nations, corporations and individuals. The fact that sustainability is also a good business practice should convince business owners that it is well worth the effort.
This year will see many more organizations make strides to clean their workflows and processes of waste. As of June 2021, 59 countries—representing more than half of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions—have ratified carbon-neutrality goals. Change is necessary and quickly unfolding at every level of society and government. Here’s how companies can begin going carbon-neutral and creating lasting value that’s independent of their balance sheets.
1. Define and Target
In the rush to adopt new technologies, it’s easy for organizations to sometimes forget to define what they intend to do. Even modestly sized companies benefit from taking stock of their workflows, divisions and footprints before setting out to adopt zero-carbon or carbon-reducing measures.
The CarbonNeutral Protocol is a certification standard for companies that want the following things for their carbon reduction goals:
- A clearly defined roadmap
- An understanding of the business benefits
- Internationally recognized credentials for steps taken
Like many “go green” efforts, decarbonization can also be a boon for business if company representatives are thoughtful about the roadmap. The CarbonNeutral Protocol isn’t the only certification process of its kind, but what they all have in common is a set of practical steps for companies just beginning this process.
Above all, these steps emphasize defining, measuring and targeting the easiest wins and the areas with the greatest opportunities for waste-cutting and growth. A company can’t become carbon-neutral without laying the groundwork with a full inventory of its existing environmental footprint.
2. Install Clean Energy On-Site
Solar energy usually becomes a major part of the conversation when companies pledge to take their supply chains and physical infrastructure in a sustainable direction.
For example, retailer Lidl GB has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2022 and intends to do so by installing solar energy systems onsite at all of its new stores. By 2030, these and other changes should yield an 80-percent savings in the company’s total operational emissions.
Solar energy is the cheapest source of electricity ever, making it a vital part of a company’s energy portfolio—if that company truly intends to take sustainability seriously.
3. Electrify the Fleet
By 2025, electric vehicles will be cheaper to own than light-duty vehicles with internal combustion engines. One case study involved replacing the United States Postal Service (USPS) fleet with electric cars. The financial savings could save taxpayers $4.3 billion by 2030.
This large-scale case study reveals just how cost-effective electric vehicles can be, whether the buy-in is one delivery van or a fleet of repair trucks. Over time, EVs are a vital part of trimming waste and making organizations carbon-neutral. They have the added benefit of being cheaper to maintain over time compared to gas-fueled equivalents, too. An automobile running on electricity is almost $1,000 less expensive per year to own and operate than one powered by gasoline.
4. Think Globally
Thinking locally is one of the major mistakes businesses make when it comes to environmental stewardship and corporate citizenship. Customer privacy is a parallel example that proves this point. For example, due to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California and European Union residents now expect higher transparency regarding their online data.
What happens when those rules and expectations expand nationally and globally? This is not the only area where forward-thinking territories are helping to set new examples and precedents; they are also setting them for carbon neutrality.
International corporations and those thinking of expanding need to know what awaits them regarding local environmental practices and rules. The EU has a carbon trading system that outlines emissions caps in several sectors. Another prime example of an international standard serving as a sustainability tastemaker is PAS 2060. This standard and others like it represent a growing set of expectations and business citizenship standards against which expanding companies can judge themselves. Companies lacking a global focus could soon be left behind.
5. Purchase Carbon Offsets
Not every company has the capability to immediately transition its physical infrastructure and footprint to more efficient or carbon-neutral equivalents or models. The carbon market offers an alternative for cases like this: carbon offsets.
If a company cannot remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as it contributes, it can purchase carbon offsets to close the gap. In the simplest terms, this means businesses contribute funds to outside efforts working to mitigate climate change, such as the South Pole Group. The goal of creating a carbon market is to make this exchange rate—money for tons of carbon—easy to understand and navigate.
6. Reconsider Materials and Assets
The physical assets and materials a company leverages to complete its work and contracts are a wide and varied subject of conversation. It’s also an essential one. For example, up to 60 percent of a building’s greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, can be traced to the construction phase. The materials themselves account for up to 40 percent.
There are lower-carbon alternatives for almost every material a given company relies on during their standard operations:
- Paper vs. digital spreadsheets
- Timber vs. concrete
- Aluminum roofs vs. asphalt shingles
- New fabrication vs. recycled materials
- Cellulose insulation vs. fiberglass insulation
- Reclaimed paper and cardboard vs. newly printed materials
More customers prefer to see transparent efforts by companies to reuse materials when they can and use low-carbon materials when they cannot. A post-COVID-19 survey revealed that supply chain uncertainties have not dulled interest in sustainable products. Two-thirds of polled consumers expect companies to be fully transparent about their products’ ecological benefits and impacts. Another survey showed that 64 percent of consumers would pay a premium if it meant buying from an ecologically minded company.
Meeting these demands is good optics as well as a net positive for the planet. Becoming carbon-neutral requires a full accounting of the material goods businesses rely on and an understanding of how low-waste, low-carbon alternatives fit into the picture.
Becoming Carbon-Neutral Is Good Business
Whether due to day-one savings, a more balanced budget over time or improved PR and customer sentiment, eliminating sources of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions at the corporate level is simply good business. Organizations can take several practical steps, such as the ones listed above, to ensure their place in a greener future.