Companies and individuals who want to improve their impact on the environment often begin by taking a closer look at their 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.
But what goes into calculating a carbon footprint? It depends. A carbon footprint calculator can consider many different factors. While one carbon footprint formula may be simple and only consider estimates of energy usage, another may be far more complex, requiring you to submit detailed information like travel, company vehicle usage and utility bills.
The carbon footprint formula you use may depend on whether you are an individual, business or are planning for an event. If you run a business, the factors that may impact your company’s score likely depend on certain characteristics of your industry as well.
Below we’ll explore some of the factors that are used to calculate a carbon footprint, as well as some of the ways that you can minimize your number.
Transportation is one of the greatest contributors to a company’s carbon footprint. In fact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounts for 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
The transportation sector, however, includes many different areas, and how they impact any particular business will vary.
Many carbon footprint calculators will take into account these seven transportation factors:
- If you have a company fleet of cars or trucks
- The type of fuel that fleet uses (gasoline or diesel)
- Average MPG for each vehicle
- Miles driven per year
- Whether anyone in your company traveled by air and how far
- Whether anyone in your company traveled by train and how far
- Whether anyone in your company traveled by boat and how far
There’s also the issue of indirect transportation emissions. For example, your employees may drive their own vehicles, but if they’re using them to drive to work or for work purposes, that’s a source of indirect emissions tied to your company.
Another example is waste disposal. If your company has a significant amount of waste or a type of hazardous waste that must be removed and transferred to another facility, the transportation of that waste can also significantly contribute to your carbon footprint.
How To Reduce The Impact Of Transportation On Your Carbon Footprint
There are several ways you can reduce the impact of transportation on your company’s carbon footprint:
- Consider adding electric or hybrid vehicles into a company fleet
- Keep current vehicles maintained through regular tune-ups to ensure they are optimally performing and saving fuel
- Reduce business travel through conference calls or video conferencing
- Encourage employees to carpool or telecommute when possible
Reducing the amount of waste you generate is another way to reduce the impact of transportation on your carbon footprint. Less waste equals fewer trips to the landfill to dispose of your waste.
If your company produces solvent waste, consider looking into where you’re shipping that waste as well. Currently, some manufacturers along the West Coast ship their solvent-based liquids, solids and sludge across the country to cement kilns in Kansas or Arkansas. It’s there that their waste is fuel blended.
By shipping waste to a waste treatment facility, such as Temarry Recycling’s TSDF in Tecate, Mexico, companies can improve the impact their operations have on the environment by taking advantage of a closed loop recycling process that keeps materials in constant use and at their highest utility and value.
Because this facility is located just across the United States-Mexico border, West Coast companies can enjoy a shorter transportation distance for their waste, savings in fuel costs and fewer CO2 emissions.
You can read more about this process in our article, How Waste To Energy Technology Is Turning Trash Into Treasure.
The amount of electricity a company uses in its office space and manufacturing facilities has a significant impact on a carbon footprint.
In fact, according to the EPA, electricity accounts for 27% of greenhouse emissions produced in the United States. This sector involves the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. When fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) are combusted to produce electricity, gas emissions are emitted. Most of these greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, though methane and nitrous oxide are also emitted in some instances.
There is some good news when it comes to electricity production in the United States. Electricity production that relies on coal sources has dropped from over 50% in 1992 to about 33% in 2015, according to the International Energy Agency. However, the United States has also ramped up its natural gas production, which significantly increases methane output during production.
How To Reduce The Impact Of Electricity On Your Carbon Footprint
For manufacturing facilities, purchased energy is considered an indirect source of emissions. This is because emissions occur when electricity is used to power equipment and other items such as lighting, water heaters and HVAC equipment.
However, reducing your indirect sources of emissions are just as important as your direct sources of emissions if your goal is to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
There are several easy ways to conserve energy, including these six ways:
- Use Energy Star certified appliances and IT equipment (the EPA estimates more than 1.5 billion pounds of emissions could be saved each year if office products were switched to Energy Star products)
- Switch out light bulbs to energy saving light bulbs
- Invest in renewable energy, such as electricity that is made from wind and solar sources
- Have employees put computers and office machines to sleep when not in use
- Consolidate printers, which can save money on energy usage, ink and paper
- Use smart power strips, which can be controlled by programmable timers
For companies that have production facilities or factories as part of their operations, switching energy sources can also have a significant impact. For example, reconfiguring plants so that machinery is run on clean burning natural gas can reduce the consumption of electricity.
When determining your company’s carbon footprint, it’s important to take into consideration some other factors as well. One of these factors include the companies that you work with. Although you are not responsible for the emissions other companies produce, if you rely on them or partner with them, your carbon footprint can be reduced.
Your business has an opportunity to examine possible ways for increasing energy efficiency in a supply chain. For example, engaging with suppliers and other businesses that offer sustainability initiatives can benefit your own footprint.
Any special events your company regularly holds can impact your carbon footprint as well. These may include meetings, conferences, workshops and award ceremonies. Travel associated with individuals attending your event, as well as the energy used at the venue, can add to your carbon footprint.
How To Reduce The Impact Of These Factors On Your Carbon Footprint
Choose vendors or contractors that have low carbon footprints themselves. 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 regularly assess and publish their products’ carbon footprints, so do some detective work when choosing your partners.
When it comes to annual events, consider hosting these events online, which can open the event to more participants. Reducing the size of the event itself can also have a significant impact on the amount of indirect carbon emissions associated with it. Six other tips to reduce carbon emissions from an event that must be held at a location, according to carbonfund.org, include:
- Select an event venue centrally located for attendees
- Choose a venue or lodging that incorporates sustainability initiatives into its operations
- Select a venue that has access to public transportation
- Encourage carpooling and room sharing
- Choose local or organic foods for provided meals, and check to see if recycling is offered
- Encourage attendees to make a donation to offset their portion of the event’s net carbon emissions
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Is Possible
There are many ways a company can reduce its carbon footprint, from reducing transportation emissions to evaluating waste management and renewable energy opportunities. Even simple acts like changing out lightbulbs or investing in Energy Star equipment can make a significant difference.
A carbon footprint formula or calculator can offer a current snapshot of your company’s impact on the environment. A calculator also allows you to input different figures to see the impact of any changes you make or are considering making to your operations.
You can read more about how you can reduce your carbon footprint and become a more sustainable business in our article, How Continued Process Evaluation Can Lead To Sustainable Solutions.