Climate change creates real risks for business that are already affecting the global economy. The good news is that being proactive in mitigating climate impacts can have real value. The CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, reports that companies that transparently report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and subsequently publish reduction targets achieve more than six times the GHG reductions and are more profitable than those with no targets. At WRI, we aren’t trying to increase profit but we do want to achieve more significant outcomes. Just like for-profit businesses, we recognize the risks associated with our climate impact. We also believe in “walking the talk.” If we are going to ask companies to measure and manage their impacts, we need to do the same.

In our 2010 inventory report, published in 2012, we set absolute GHG reduction targets around the three areas of our value chain where we have the largest impacts: energy use, business travel, and purchased services. In this year’s report, we detail our GHG emissions and sustainability activities for fiscal year 2012. In addition to publishing our own website, we also report our GHG inventory results publically to CDP. Here are some highlights.

How are we doing?

2012 was the first full fiscal year with GHG reduction targets in place, and we did see a 3 percent decrease from 2011. But we had a large increase in 2011 so we are still 14 percent above our 2010 base year emissions. Our largest sources of emissions still come from scope 3—emissions associated with our value chain as defined by the GHG Protocol. Specially, our largest scope 3 impacts are due to business travel and purchased services and sub-grant agreements with partners. Compared with 2011, we see positive trends in emissions per staff and per dollar raised, but emissions per outcome have increased.

Figure 1: Overview of WRI's 2012 GHG Inventory
Figure 1: Overview of WRI's 2012 GHG Inventory

In addition to reporting our GHG emissions and trends, our report covers other aspects of sustainability at WRI. These include a nitrogen footprint, a new sustainable events policy, and fiber testing our purchased paper products.


Our biggest challenge is growth. As an organization, we have twice the number of staff we had in 2010 and have experienced a 13 percent compound annual growth in expenses over the past 6 years. This growth is great for achieving our mission, but makes meeting our absolute reduction targets even more challenging. Our experience is not unique, as many companies also face this tension between reducing emissions and growing business. We have made progress in our emissions from electricity, which is currently 9 percent below base year. This is due to consumption decrease in our Washington DC headquarters. WRI uses less office space and the building management has instituted energy-saving measures such as moving from overnight cleaning to evening cleaning. However, our staff is still growing and we do plan to lease more space in the future, so even more reductions will be needed to maintain this trajectory towards our 2020 goal. Our business travel emissions are reducing per staff member, but the increase in number of staff is currently outpacing our reduction efforts. Additionally, we project a continued increase in sub grants which will continue to increase our scope 3 impacts. In the report, we highlight a project to engage directly with our partners and help them set and achieve reduction targets, which will in turn help us meet our goals. This provided us with valuable insight as we look to engage further with our supply chain, including what challenges we will need to overcome.

Next Steps

Beyond meeting our reduction targets, we want to increase the transparency around our internal sustainability efforts to help support partners, NGOs, and companies that may struggle with the same challenges. Large companies are realizing the benefit of sharing information to improve sustainability for all, and SMEs and NGOs need to do the same. Stay tuned as we update our webpage with more details on the work we are doing. We are working to implement new guidelines and metrics to help reduce business travel emissions, innovative ways to purchase renewable energy, and paper procurement principles to support sustainable forest stewardship. We would love to learn from you as well—what success stories and challenges have you encountered when reducing GHG emissions or improving the internal sustainability of your organization?