I’m sure that, like me, you were devastated by the findings of the latest UN climate report. It has become painfully obvious that the state of our planet is in a dire predicament. The problem is likely worse than many of us would like to admit, especially in the business world. Since the UN issued a “code red for humanity” regarding the climate crisis, it is very much top of mind for me. The future of our children and grandchildren is clearly at stake. We now know unequivocally that we have years instead of decades to act. And as with most societal issues, it is up to business to lead the way and literally save the planet.
We are all seeing the effects of climate change. Extreme weather events have been happening all over the world, wreaking havoc on infrastructure and communities. Tremendous forest fires on the West Coast of the U.S., flooding in Europe and China, and significant heatwaves are all attributed to climate change.
Many of us have committed to living more sustainably over the years. I along with a lot of my friends and colleagues have implemented individual lifestyle changes. From cutting out or reducing eating meat, switching to more eco-conscious vehicles, and making our homes more sustainable, many of us are trying to do our part. But personal action is not enough. We need the entire business sector (small, midsize and large companies), including the most impactful global brand companies, to commit to more sustainable practices and reducing emissions. All companies must move beyond rhetoric and promises to aggressive and deliberate climate and energy action. Let’s look at three actions businesses can take right now to combat climate change.
Cut out carbon emissions
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), levels of carbon dioxide released into the air reached 419 parts per million in May. That is higher than any time in the last 3.6 million years. Other greenhouse gasses, like methane, are also on the rise.
Reducing carbon emissions is one of the most important things a company can do to lower their climate impact. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing carbon emissions. It is largely dependent on an organization’s industry and business objectives.
The best place a company can start moving towards sustainability is to measure and analyze emissions and overall carbon footprint. A company’s carbon footprint is the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that were produced as a result of its operations. Included in a company’s carbon footprint are both its direct and indirect carbon emissions. Direct carbon emissions are emissions caused by the company through heating and cooling, company owned vehicles, and more. Indirect carbon emissions are those emissions caused by a company’s supply chain.
Companies can use an external auditing service or conduct an internal audit examining scope 1, scope 2 and scope 3 emissions, pictured above. Once you understand the size and scope of your company’s carbon footprint, you need to evaluate where you can cut emissions. In doing this, you’ll need to set a timeline for action with reasonable but aggressive targets. Cutting your organization’s emissions is not an overnight process, but you have to have a plan and a timeline associated with it and then inspect the plan in your management and board meetings.
Focus on energy efficiency
Energy is a significant expense for nearly every organization. Energy concerns have become elevated on the corporate agenda recently and some companies are more mature in their energy strategy than others. The choices a company makes about its energy consumption and sourcing can significantly influence its cost structure. Managing the environmental and climate impacts of energy use is an increasingly important differentiator for consumers, investors, and corporate customers.
Like determining your company’s carbon footprint, energy use and cost is best determined through analysis of your current practices. Once you have conducted an audit and understand where most of your energy use is coming from, you can change your company’s energy strategy. Energy use is also critical to resilience and continuity planning. Businesses need to set aside an annual budget for efficiency projects annually.
There are a lot of options for sustainability when it comes to energy use. Moving to 100 percent renewable energy is becoming more of an achievable goal as technology advances. Many governments offer clean energy subsidies and purchasing energy from clean sources should be a priority. Larger organizations have the power to influence their supply-chains to adopt sustainable practices. Identify the changes your company can make today and commit the budget and time needed to make those changes happen over the next several years.
Engage your employees
Most of the big changes regarding carbon footprint, energy efficiency and emission come from the top down in an organization. But employee participation and employee-driven initiatives are a critical component of a company’s carbon reduction plan.
One of my favorite examples of getting employees involved comes from GE. They invited employees to participate in “energy treasure hunts,” which were structured examinations of facilities used to find energy and resource waste. Employees then made recommendations for efficiency improvements. In the end, GE was able to save more than $110M by acting on employee feedback. Over the past 10 years, GE has brought the treasure hunt process to more than 6,000 customers and partner firms.
Companies can boost employee engagement with energy strategies by rewarding participation in efficiency activities like treasure hunts, sharing energy and ROI data internally to foster friendly competition, and providing energy education and training. Employees are one of an organization’s most important resources in managing their climate impact.
As we continue to see the damaging effects of the global climate crisis, it’s easy to feel helpless. However, it’s vital to remember that it is not too late to make the changes needed to avoid a climate catastrophe in the future. Through corporate and governmental accountability and action, there is much that we can accomplish.
Companies of all sizes can contribute and need to act now. I hope that this latest UN report among the many other climate reports serve as a wake-up call for business leadership. As a business leader and a mum, I worry about the future for my children and grandchildren. We collectively need to ensure that we are taking steps today that will allow them to thrive tomorrow. We have the power to right the ship and the responsibility to act in the best interests of our families, our employees, our communities and the world around us.