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As companies look for ways to achieve ESG goals and become more competitive in modern markets, reducing their carbon footprint becomes essential. In simple terms, a carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases—in particular, carbon dioxide and methane—that are generated by direct and indirect actions. Some of these actions include burning fossil fuels, manufacturing environmentally irresponsible products and dumping waste in landfills, among others.
Because of the many sources that generate these emissions, and how long those sources have been around, the impact of greenhouse gases is far-reaching. Climate experts agree that it’s contributing to climate change by trapping heat within our atmosphere, thereby increasing worldwide temperatures, the prevalence of plant and animal health issues, the frequency and severity of natural disasters, and the socioeconomic disruptions that come with all of that.
Although the task of reducing your business’s carbon footprint can seem overwhelming, it’s well worth it, and breaking it down into a simple, step-by-step process can help move you in the right direction. So, how can your business put its best foot forward and start making bigger strides toward sustainability?
Before you can begin to make any impactful changes, you’ll need to determine what materials and resources your company uses that emit greenhouse gas byproducts and what kind of emissions your company’s own operations and activities produce. You should also perform a waste audit to determine what materials are being sent to landfills that increase emissions beyond your company’s walls.
Once you know what you’re facing, you can develop an effective action plan that can be driven by leadership. Start with simple steps such as these:
Educate all employees on the established carbon reduction goals and the reasons for them. They’re the ones who’ll be working under new guidelines or who’ll need to adhere to policies surrounding better recycling and less trash production. Creating incentives for meeting or exceeding such goals will accelerate their buy-in, which will ultimately help accelerate your efforts as you move from simpler fixes to more complex ones.
Include corporate partners and customers in your education and reward efforts, as they’re an extension of the company and can help you reduce your carbon footprint. Engage with them and motivate them to be proactive.
Once you’ve begun implementing simple steps, establish more ambitious strategies for using greener materials, products, equipment and processes throughout your company.
Implement the “reduce, reuse, recycle” plan on a grander scale and across all operations from top to bottom. Whether it involves office supplies, packaging, operational functions, manufacturing or supply chains, choose to reduce or reuse first. That will help keep waste levels as low as possible. Where necessary, turn to recycling. And if there are items the local municipality won’t accept for recycling, seek a sustainable materials management partner that can recycle that waste or connect you with other operations that can.
When the three Rs aren’t enough, process any other waste in a manner that diverts it from landfills, mitigating greenhouse gas pollution, soil and waterway contamination and ecosystem degradation. Consider composting, anaerobic digestion or waste-to-energy solutions, which, in addition to safely managing waste materials, generate clean energy and avoid many of the drawbacks attributed to other popular forms of renewable energy.
In the end, the goal of prioritizing the waste hierarchy is to shift operations from a linear business model of “take-make-waste” to a more circular model that utilizes resources at every stage of their lifecycles. Eventually, and on a much grander scale, this will ideally lead to a circular economy in which companies and supply chains reduce material use, redesign materials to be less environmentally detrimental and recapture what was once considered waste as a resource to manufacture new materials in a self-sustaining, closed-loop cycle.
Completely eliminating emissions is a goal that not all companies can achieve. To make up lost ground, your company can purchase carbon offsets to further reduce your carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting involves paying a broker to invest part of that payment into efforts to help reduce and / or capture greenhouse gas emissions, such as funding renewable energy generation, recycling programs, or reforestation projects. For these actions, the paying company receives carbon credits, which are federally recognized metrics that illustrate how much greenhouse gases have been diverted from the atmosphere due to such efforts.
Companies can also directly participate in carbon offset ventures, like land restoration or the planting of trees to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the end, the idea is to be a stakeholder in projects and initiatives that will “counteract” any emissions that a company can’t eliminate on its own.
Your efforts to reduce your carbon footprint can help build momentum for additional sustainability endeavors within your organization. Encourage new ideas and projects around sustainability and honor them with recognition, prizes, or even monetary rewards.
By showing concrete support of strategic sustainability efforts through direct action and financial support, companies can inspire others to do the same. Your positive example can influence partner businesses, customers and communities to reduce their own carbon footprints and incentivize policymakers to establish supporting legal guidelines on a city, state or even federal level.
While many of the ideas above are general steps that your company can implement on its own, it’s also important to recognize when you need help. To facilitate what’s outlined above and take a genuine deep dive into how your business can best pursue ESG goals, it might be helpful to work with a sustainable materials management partner. That partner can help measure your company’s carbon footprint, craft a plan for decreasing it, provide training to your staff and management, and provide support throughout and beyond your strategy’s implementation and certification process.
To learn more about how sustainable materials management can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint and its environmental impact, read our article.
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