The carbon footprint of a business is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released by an organization. More and more businesses are disclosing their carbon footprint due to increased stakeholder pressure and as a response to climate change.
To become a committed green business, organizations must take responsibility and work to lower their overall GHG emissions.
In this Green Business Bureau article, we give you 18 simple ways your business can lower its carbon footprint. From switching to renewable energy suppliers to retrofitting workspaces and conducting energy audits, the tips we give are to be used as guidance, along with your carbon footprint report, to help you develop a carbon-neutral strategy.
18 ways business leaders can lower their carbon footprint
Completing a carbon footprint assessment for your organization is the first step towards lowering the climatic impact of business operations. Once you’ve identified business activities that are the highest GHG emitters, you can prioritize reducing the GHG emissions of those activities.
According to the EPA, the largest source of GHG emissions in the United States is electricity and heat. It’s therefore likely that heating and powering office buildings and factories contribute the most to an organization’s GHG impact. With this in mind, focusing on energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources could significantly reduce the climatic impact of a business’s operations.
How one business lowers its carbon footprint over another will differ considerably. The most effective strategies will be dependent on an organization’s unique carbon footprint report. Yet, to help guide you, below we’ve listed 18 ways organizations can lower their carbon footprint.
#1: Switch to a renewable energy supplier
Switching to a renewable energy supplier will lower your carbon footprint by reducing the total scope 2 emissions associated with your business.
Look for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), also known as Green Tags. These are tradable, non-tangible energy certificates proving that 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated from an eligible renewable energy source.
Some top renewable energy suppliers in the United States include Green Mountain Energy, Green Fuel Technologies, and Viridos.
#2: Reduce your carbon emissions from air travel and commuting
Opt to travel less and utilize software programs such as Zoom and Skype to hold non-location-specific meetings. For domestic travel, consider using trains or car sharing. Traveling by train has the potential to reduce emissions by ~75%. Also, why not implement a cycle to work scheme, which will encourage employees to use lower GHG emitting forms of transport.
Another way to reduce emissions from travel would be to introduce remote work/hybrid working models. Working remotely eliminates emissions from an employee’s work commute, plus electricity from office appliances is also lessened.
#3: Increase efficiency of office lighting
Change the lighting across buildings to more energy-efficient options. Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs are popular due to their outstanding environmental benefits when compared to traditional bulbs. LEDs are mercury-free (which is hazardous waste), and also 100% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, helping you reduce your carbon footprint. Once more, the Department of Energy in the US estimated that LED lighting could reduce national energy consumption by 29% by 2025.
Another way to reduce emissions from lighting would be to ensure there’s adequate natural light. This removes the need for artificial lighting. Also, opt to have motion sensors that will automatically switch lights off when rooms are not in use.
#4: Reduce energy usage in your data center and comms room
For larger organizations that own their server or data farm, setting data and comms rooms to 73.4°F (23°C) will provide an optimum temperature that saves energy without the added risk of overheating.
A study by McKinsey showed that data centers have been known to emit a massive 80 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year. A huge amount of energy is used to keep these facilities at low temperatures when a moderate temperature is all that’s needed.
#5: Optimize your heating and cooling systems
Implement temperature controls to manage heating and air conditioning. You want the temperature of internal workspaces to be set appropriately, and as per the outside air temperature. What you don’t want is opposing temperature control systems competing as this will waste masses of energy.
Train your employees on energy conservation methods, such as reducing the temperature of workspaces. Consider taking away locally controlled thermostats to make them centrally controlled.
On top of this, make sure your boiler is regularly serviced to verify it’s operating as efficiently as it should. High-efficiency, A-rated boilers can convert up to 92% of consumer energy into usable heat, wasting only 8% of the energy obtained from the combustion of fossil fuels. Old, poorly serviced, inefficient boilers could waste from 20-25% of energy.
#6: Reduce, reuse and recycle
Think about sustainable procurement to engage employees in reducing consumption of items such as paper, food, drink, laptops, phones, and packaging. Provide employee training on the concept of reducing demand with minimalistic purchasing, plus practice what you preach here.
Use recycled materials when possible, in your supply chains, and when providing resources to your employees (e.g. recycled paper). Also, consider kitting workspaces out with second-hand furniture, which is not only good for your wallet but also lessens your demand for natural resources. Used furniture does not mean degraded furniture. Many organizations resell their old equipment when closing or refurbing workspaces.
Make sure you have an efficient recycling scheme in place, including plenty of recycling bins on-site. Work on the notion that you should reduce, then reuse, and then recycle.
#7: Minimize emissions from food and waste
Food takes a significant amount of energy to produce and transport. Ensure kitchen staff and employees are aware of the issues and provide facilities to encourage a proper food waste disposal system.
Once more, opt to have more environmentally friendly, and less carbon-intensive food choices. This means purchasing local produce and providing vegetarian and vegan options, to use less meat overall.
Reducing meat consumption is one of the most effective ways of lowering food-related emissions. Emissions from the transportation of food are negligible in comparison according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology. Analysis shows that substituting less than one day a week’s worth of calories from beef and dairy to chicken, fish, eggs, or plant-based alternatives reduced GHG emissions more than switching to local produce containing meat.
Note, you should still look to buy local as well as lowering meat intake. Although not as effective, buying local can still lower food emissions by up to 5%, while simultaneously supporting local communities.
The GHG emissions from common food items are recorded above. Note that 100 grams of beef protein will emit 50KgCO2e. Compare this to grains (2.7KgCO2e), soybeans (1.98KgCO2e), and plant-based meat (0.44KgCO2e). It’s easy to see how reducing meat intake can significantly lower a business’s carbon footprint.
#8: Minimize single-use plastic
Conducting product Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) encourages sustainable procurement. An LCA will flag materials such as plastic as unsustainable. This is because plastic is derived from materials like ethylene and propylene, which are made from fossil fuels (mostly oil and gas). Extracting and transporting these fuels releases tonnes of GHG emissions. In 2019, the production of plastics added more than 850 million metric tonnes of GHGs into the atmosphere.
Once more, plastic has devastating environmental impacts beyond the GHGs emitted due to its durability in our environment. This causes problems in our oceans, with microplastics residing in food chains.
#9: Print as minimally as possible
The carbon footprint of office paper is estimated to be ~4.29gCO2e per A4 sheet. The average office worker uses ~10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. With this in mind, you can see how paper use can significantly increase your carbon footprint. Emissions occur from deforestation, and production and transport processes. For instance, the chemicals used to bleach paper have a significant environmental impact.
Move from paper-based systems to digitized systems when you can. The Climate Group estimates that digital applications could replace up to 25% of paper consumption.
However, it must be noted to approach this tip with caution. As mentioned, data centers can use huge amounts of energy and have a large carbon footprint. Knowing which is more environmentally friendly, paper vs digital is still under debate.
#10: Pay for carbon offsetting
No matter how many green choices your company adopts, it will still be generating some amount of GHGs during activities. Carbon offsetting is a great solution to fill these gaps, but shouldn’t come at the expense of reducing GHG emissions in the first place. Also, when choosing offsetting projects, consider the land-use change occurring, asking the question: Is the offsetting project durable in the long-term and is it converting degraded land into productive natural ecosystems?
There are four main types of carbon offsetting projects to consider:
- Forestry and conservation: This includes protecting and re-establishing ecosystems by planting trees and vegetation. The methods used for sustainable reforestation, plus calculating the advantages of this, have greatly improved. This progresses our understanding of the benefits these offsetting projects provide.
- Renewable energy: Renewable energy offsets help build or maintain solar, wind, or hydro sites across the world. By investing in renewable energy projects, a business will boost the amount of renewable energy on the grid, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels.
- Community projects: Community projects introduce energy-efficient methods or technology to undeveloped communities around the world. The benefits of these projects surpass carbon credits, as they can make entire regions more sustainable.
- Energy waste: Waste to energy projects involve capturing methane and then converting it into electricity. This may mean capturing landfill gas, human or agricultural waste in smaller communities.
#11: Look at energy-efficient retrofitting
According to IPCC, ~19% of the global CO2 emissions are associated with the building sector. Reducing emissions here involves implementing energy-efficient retrofitting in work-related buildings, to reduce business-related GHG emissions.
To do your bit, look to improve your building insulation. This will lower the amount of heat energy needed to warm workspaces. Research shows that overall, improved insulation lowers lifetime emissions. In addition, the location of this insulation also affects lifetime GHG emissions, with the most efficient cases having thicker insulation on the walls.
Install temperature sensors and an HVAC control system to regulate the temperature of workspaces according to the actual internal temperature state. This will prevent heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems from working in opposition, which will waste a vast amount of energy.
#12: Purchase ENERGY STAR equipment
ENERGY STAR is a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. This program is designed to promote energy efficiency and give information on the energy consumption of products and devices using a set of standardized methods. You can find the ENERGY STAR label on certified products under categories for commercial buildings, homes, and industrial plants.
ENERGY STAR labeling identifies and promotes appliances and electronics with superior energy efficiency. The aim is to help organizations save money and reduce GHG emissions.
#13: Switch to a green web host
Internet use emits ~2,700,000 tons of CO2 every day. If we look at this consumption on a granular level, a single internet search releases 0.2g of CO2 into the environment. Such a high carbon footprint is caused by the energy-intensive data centers already discussed. The figures demonstrate the need to promote sustainability in the IT industry.
Switching to a green web host is one-way businesses can reduce their GHG emissions associated with internet use. A green web host uses renewable energy solutions to power websites. Common green web host platforms include A2 Hosting, iPage, and Green Geeks.
#14: Track supply chain efficiency
When calculating your carbon footprint, it’s best practice to include scope 2 GHG emissions to cover emissions from your supply chain. You’ll want to obtain quantifiable measures on the GHG emissions from suppliers, to work with your suppliers to reduce these emissions. And if there are more sustainable supply options, make the switch.
Choose suppliers with sustainable certification. This will act as proof they have environmental management at the heart of their Quality Management Systems, and are working to improve resource efficiency and waste reduction. Look for CarbonNeutral® certification which will demonstrate an organization’s commitment to decarbonization and neutralization.
#15: Switch to hybrid or full electric company cars
As part of the U.S. Build Back Better Agenda, president Biden signed an executive order for half of all new vehicles sold in 2030, to be zero-emission vehicles. This means switching to battery-electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric engines. Now is a good time for businesses to make the switch from the combustion engine, to more sustainable forms of transportation.
While the technology is still being refined, electric vehicles have the potential to move the transport sector away from fossil fuel reliance, to electricity that’s generated from renewable sources. It must be noted, however, that two challenges remain for using electric vehicles:
- To reduce the metals in batteries that are scarce, expensive, or problematic because mining carries harsh environmental and social impacts.
- To improve battery recycling meaning the metals used in spent batteries can be efficiently reused.
Yet continued investment will make these challenges solvable, and it would be unfortunate to disregard a good solution by insisting on a perfect solution. By investing in hybrid or electric technology, your business can reduce its carbon footprint and drive an electric, greener economy.
#16: Educate and engage employees with an active green team
To implement your carbon footprint reduction strategy, you’re going to need a green team to drive your initiatives forward. This should be a cross-functional team that’s tasked with identifying opportunities to improve sustainability in your organization. In this instance, we’re talking about reducing your carbon footprint.
Your green team needs to include like-minded individuals who are passionate about sustainability. These individuals will have two main responsibilities: operations and culture.
Operations focus on developing strategies to change the policies and processes used to lower a business’s carbon footprint.
A green culture covers employee participation, educating employees about the whys and how of sustainability. In this sense, your green team is the role model of your business. They are the ones who will encourage, educate, and inspire the rest of your team to support a sustainable redesign in your organization. What you want is a behavioral change, where employees are opting for more sustainable actions. This includes switching off and unplugging appliances when they’re not in use, recycling waste, and turning the lights off.
#17: Run an energy consumption audit
An energy consumption audit will assess energy use on your work premises and identify where savings can be made. You can use your energy audit as an inspection survey to analyze the energy flows for energy conservation. This analysis helps you pinpoint areas where energy is being wasted, so you’re able to save money and lower your carbon footprint in the long run.
How much energy your business uses directly correlates with your carbon footprint. By identifying ways to reduce your energy consumption, you’ll actively lower the associated GHG emissions. Signing up to the Green Business Bureau and running through our EcoAssessment will help you to identify energy-saving initiatives, supporting your energy audit.
#18: Support policy initiatives
Your business has a voice. Customers want to purchase from organizations that align with their values. Illustrate your commitment to lowering your carbon footprint through a supportive policy. Be honest and transparent about what initiatives you’ve implemented to reduce your organization’s GHG emissions.
You can leverage the GBB platform to help you here. Once you sign up for GBB you’re given an Eco Profile that details your commitment to sustainability. This profile displays what GHG reduction initiatives you’ve implemented, helping you communicate your successes and challenges transparently.
Reduce your carbon footprint with the Green Business Bureau
At the Green Business Bureau, we want to help you become a greener business. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll perform an EcoAssessment that’s specifically designed to lower an organization’s environmental footprint, including a company’s carbon footprint. Following our EcoAssessment will guide you, helping you institute initiatives that’ll reduce the GHG emissions of your operations.
At GBB we want to help companies reduce their carbon footprint across the globe, to promote businesses as climate leaders in their industries. To get started, sign up to GBB, and let’s create greener businesses together for a brighter, carbon-neutral future.
About the Author
With a Biology degree from Imperial College London and further studies at Imperial College’s Business School, Jane Courtnell has an enthusiasm for science communication and how biology can be used to solve business issues, such as employee wellbeing, culture, and business sustainability.