While there is some debate about the exact mechanisms of carbon footprints, there is little disagreement that businesses should do their best to implement sustainable practices whenever possible.
While each business within an industry differs in operations and the resources it uses, certain industries like transportation, electricity production and industries that burn fossil fuels have the largest average carbon footprint each year.
What is a carbon footprint? A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted from the direct and indirect uses of fossil fuels. Knowing how your company contributes can help you better evaluate how you can improve the long-term sustainability of your operations and reduce your carbon footprint.
If your goal is to look for ways your business can improve the sustainability of its operations, here are some carbon footprint facts you should know.
Your Carbon Footprint Can Come From A Variety of Sources
Your company’s carbon footprint is calculated from a variety of sources. Even carbon footprint calculators themselves can vary. Our carbon footprint calculator focuses on information like hazardous waste transportation, but there are several footprint calculators available that delve into more detailed information like electricity use and company vehicle use.
In manufacturing, in particular, there are several factors that can impact this calculation. They include:
- Consumption of fossil fuels
- Transportation of your waste and goods
- Electricity usage
- Other indirect sources like employees driving to work, business travel and the carbon footprint of outside contractors
Keep in mind there is a debate over whether carbon emissions from shipping are the responsibility of the manufacturer, the shipper or the consumer. The safest approach is to assume all are responsible and accept your responsibility for the emissions produced when shipping items in and out of your facility.
Transportation Is Responsible For The Most Emissions
Transportation was responsible for approximately 28% of emissions in 2018, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Transportation emissions primarily come from vehicles such as cars, planes, trucks, boats and trains. According to the EPA, more than 90% of fuel used for transportation is petroleum-based, which includes diesel and gasoline.
A company’s carbon footprint can be impacted if it sells or purchases any type of product or service that is transported using a vehicle that burns fossil fuels.
Other Areas Are Just As Impactful
Though transportation tops the list, there are several other types of production that were responsible for the lion's share of emission generation in 2018, including:
- Electricity production: 27%
- Industry: 22%
- Commercial and residential: 12%
- Agriculture: 10%
When taking into account indirect emissions associated with electricity use, the EPA estimates that industry’s share of emissions was actually closer to 29%, making industry the largest contributor of any section.
It’s important to note, however, that your business may differ from what the average statistics state. If your company is more agriculture-based, your share of emissions generated may be higher in this category than another company.
Natural Resources Are Decreasing
Human activity both increases carbon emissions, while simultaneously decreasing natural sources of carbon sequestration (tying up carbon in the ground rather than releasing it into the atmosphere). For instance, according to One Tree Planted, carbon is impacted by:
- Liquid fuels such as oil or petroleum: 36%
- Solid fuels such as coal: 35%
- Gaseous fuels such as natural gas: 20%
- Deforestation, which increases emissions by decreasing the cleaning performed by forests: 5%
- Industrial gas emissions from manufacturing or processing plants: <1%
Reducing your carbon footprint involves more than using less fuel, as outlined above. Even wasting fewer resources like paper, the production of which destroys the natural areas on which we rely to clean the air and keep the planet healthy, can make a difference.
How Can Businesses Decrease Their Carbon Footprint?
There are several ways companies can begin updating their sustainability plans and moving toward reducing their carbon footprints.
- Choose energy-efficient equipment, electronics and lighting: Making the effort to find the greenest possible products can go a long way toward saving Planet Earth. Try CFL bulbs, use rechargeable batteries, and work with companies that recycle old devices when you’re through with them.
- Choose vendors that have low carbon footprints: By sourcing your supplies and services from vendors that monitor and take care to reduce their own footprints, you’re automatically reducing your own. Some manufacturers have begun assessing and publishing their products’ carbon footprints, so do some detective work when choosing your partners. It could make a real difference.
- Look to your roof: According to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, “Replacing 80% of conditioned roof area on commercial buildings in the U.S. with solar reflective material would offset 125 mmt CO2 over the structures’ lifetime, equivalent to turning off 31 coal power plants for one year.” Next time you’re up for a roof rehab, keep this in mind.
- Purchase fuel-efficient vehicles: When you’re due to replace those commercial trucks, make sure you opt for options that keep fuel costs and carbon emissions low. And don’t forget about the construction of containers themselves: the University of Michigan also points out that “Replacing the global fleet of shipping containers’ roof and wall panels with aluminum would save $28 billion in fuel.”
The transportation of your waste can also significantly contribute to your carbon footprint. Currently, many manufacturers in the western United States ship their waste across the country to cement kilns in Kansas or Arkansas. It’s at these facilities that their waste is fuel blended, a common form of open loop recycling.
However, companies have another option. They can legally send their hazardous waste solvents to Temarry Recycling, which offers a closed loop recycling and recovery process at its Tecate, Mexico, facility.
For West Coast companies, this offers a significant reduction in transport distance, which reduces fuel costs and fuel usage. This, in turn, reduces the amount of emissions a company produces through waste transportation, and therefore its carbon footprint.
Spent solvents are also re-manufactured and sold back into industry for their original solvent properties, offering an added benefit when compared to fuel blending.
There’s endless work to do when it comes to reducing your business footprint, but starting with waste transportation can make one of the greatest impacts.