People tend to think of Earth Day in terms of individual awareness, that all of us must be thinking about how we can change our lifestyles to promote more sustainable use of our natural resources. That's undeniably true. Individual choices are a crucial dimension of sustainability: but it can't stop there. All of society--individuals, communities, governments and corporations--must adopt sustainable practices if we are to preserve our natural resources for future generations.
In this Earth Day series we suggest different ways to think about sustainability beyond individual practice, and how communities and organizations could mainstream sustainability into their policies and strategies. We start with the private sector.
Greening Your Corporation
Global warming is probably the most significant threat to our economic and social infrastructure, not to mention the natural environment. Businesses play a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and driving innovation for new, clean technologies. Individuals can do a lot to reduce their carbon footprints, but businesses need to step up to reduce emissions in the workplace. Otherwise, we won't reach the scale of emissions reductions needed.
Businesses are learning that corporate action on climate change is good for the environment and the bottom line. Here's a very quick tour of what corporations can do to reduce their emissions:
- Measure your emissions. An emissions inventory, that is, a list of emissions sources and quantities, is the first step towards reducing them, and that's true for individuals, corporations and entire countries. Manufacturing businesses need to check out the GHG Protocol, which is a globally-recognized standard on corporate GHG accounting and reporting. It also has a suite of tools for calculating emissions for corporations in different sectors and for businesses as a whole. Service sector and retail companies are responsible for GHG emissions from their electricity and building use, corporate travel, and activities related to their supply chain. They too can (and should) measure and reduce their emissions, and Hot Climate, Cool Commerce provides guidance for how they can do that.
- Establish an emission reduction target. An emissions reduction target is the amount of emissions your business commits to reducing over a period of time. The GHG Protocol has lots of information about targets; Hot Climate, Cool Commerce gives examples of different kinds, and how to choose one.
- Invest in efficiency. The main source of emissions for many businesses is energy use, and an important strategy for reducing these emissions is energy efficiency. Efficient lighting systems, computers, HVAC systems and refrigeration units can all save considerable energy. And of course, saving energy reduces operational costs, which is good for the bottom line too. Green buildings can also save considerable energy and provide a better work environment (green building practices can be applied to existing buildings as well as new construction). Green roofs provide even more environmental benefits: plus they're just plain cool (as it were).
- Buy Green Power. Green power options are now available just about anywhere, and many corporations are already buying significant amounts of green power. The Switching to Green guide will get you started, and it covers options from on-site generation to buying green power through a utility to renewable energy credits (RECs). Check out the Green Power Market Development Group for information on green power technologies and case studies on corporations that are using them.
- Measure and reduce emissions from travel. Whether it's business airline travel, employee commuting, or product shipping, emissions from transportation can be significant. In fact, transportation is the fastest growing source of emissions in the U.S. But transport-related emissions can be measured, and they can be reduced. Here again, Hot Climate, Cool Commerce has guidance on how to get started, and the GHG Protocol's calculation tools provide the means to measure transport-related emissions.