Understanding the influence your company’s operations have on its carbon footprint is an important step toward ensuring sustainability - both fiscally and environmentally.
In fact, there is growing evidence that companies that prioritize sustainability initiatives achieve a healthy balance of environmental viability and bottom line profitability.
For most businesses, it is natural to be hyper-focused on building your customer base and increasing sales. However, emphasizing sustainability in your operations - no matter how big or small - can also have a significant impact on your bottom line.
According to Nielson, customers care about environmental issues and that’s reflected in their buying habits. In fact, 81% of respondents in a survey said companies should play a role in improving the environment.
One of the ways to do this is to understand the impact of every facet of your business and how even the smallest actions can impact your overall carbon footprint, or the amount of carbon dioxide and carbon compounds emitted from the direct use of fossil fuels.
The Largest Carbon Footprint Sectors
Every business differs in its operations, though certain industries tend to be greater sources of greenhouse gas emissions, which directly impact a company’s calculated carbon footprint.
While your business likely fits into one of these economic sectors provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, you may use more than one of the resources these sectors utilize.
According to the EPA, the primary sources for emissions in 2017 in the United States were:
Transportation (28.9% of greenhouse emissions): Transportation emissions mainly come from cars, planes, trucks and other forms of transportation that burn fossil fuels. If you sell or purchase any type of product for your company that is transported using a vehicle that burns fossil fuels, your carbon footprint is impacted.
Electricity production (27.5%): According to the EPA, nearly 63% of electricity is sourced by burning fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.
Industry (22.2%): This sector burns fossil fuels primarily for energy, though many companies that produce goods from raw materials must produce chemical reactions in their manufacturing processes, which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Commercial and residential (11.6%): Burning fossil fuels for heat, using products that contain greenhouse gases and the method by which waste is disposed of directly impacts the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released.
Agriculture (approximately 9%): Livestock, agricultural soils and the production of rice are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Regardless of which sector your company falls into, it is important to understand what contributes to carbon footprint.
Direct And Indirect Emissions
A company’s carbon footprint is impacted by both direct and indirect emissions.
Direct emissions are emissions that come from sources that are controlled by the business. Most direct emissions come from energy produced through fossil fuel consumption.
However, companies that manufacture a product likely also produce direct emissions through chemical reactions that occur when producing chemicals, iron and steel, and cement. Their factory equipment may also burn fuel for power or heat.
Another example of a top source of greenhouse emissions is a company’s fleet. Both passenger cars and trucks that transport products produce carbon dioxide emissions.
Indirect emissions, on the other hand, are emissions that result from electricity, heat or steam used to power the company’s equipment. In other words, a company’s indirect emissions come from purchased energy used to power HVAC equipment, water heaters and other similar types of equipment.
There are other types of indirect emissions that can’t necessarily be controlled but can be influenced. For example, travel for business. By purchasing airline tickets, your company is contributing to the emissions that a plane emits during travel.
Other examples include employees using their vehicles to travel to work, emissions associated with outside companies contracted to provide solid waste disposal or wastewater treatment, and companies delivering goods you need for production.
You can use our carbon footprint calculator to determine your current carbon footprint.
Changes That Make A Big Difference
By understanding some of the top ways that businesses contribute to their own carbon footprints and the global footprint as a whole, companies can begin to make changes in their sustainability plans. Even the smallest changes can have a significant impact on long-term goals.
For example, companies can reduce their carbon footprint by:
- Adopting practices that minimize fuel use, such as maintaining company vehicles for optimum performance and encouraging employees to carpool or take more fuel-efficient transportation choices.
- Incorporating more fuel-efficient vehicles into your fleet, whether that’s through adding electric hybrid vehicles or choosing vehicles that are more fuel-efficient.
- Reducing energy demand by installing energy-efficient appliances, windows, electronics and even light bulbs in your office space.
On a larger scale, options may include:
- Switching fuels that run your machinery, from coal to natural gas.
- Investing in renewable energies, such as electricity generated from wind and solar sources.
- Identifying suppliers that prioritize sustainability performance and examining opportunities to increase energy efficiency in the supply chain.
One of the ways companies can have a substantial impact is by examining their waste removal and transportation practices. Waste transportation is one of the most significant activities that impacts a company’s carbon footprint.
In fact, most businesses are unaware of the carbon footprint they create, especially if they produce hazardous waste that must be passed on to a transportation company for proper disposal.
Simply using appropriate disposal facilities that have the benefit of proximity and focus on sustainability can reduce a company’s carbon footprint. For example, many West Coast companies send their solvent waste to fuel blending facilities. However, the closest fuel blending sites are located in Arkansas and Kansas. Not only do companies incur substantial transportation costs, they also dramatically increase their carbon footprint through the burning of fossil fuels needed for diesel fuel.
Temarry Recycling, located just across the Southern California-Mexico border, offers companies an alternative to fuel blending through a distillation process that repurposes solvents for continuous use. Companies can also take advantage of the shorter transportation distance - saving fuel costs and dramatically reducing their carbon footprint.
By taking the time to evaluate your business practices, understand how they impact your carbon footprint and continue to focus on corporate sustainability, your company can take the next step to preserve and protect both itself and the environment as a whole.