Beginning with a magnificent bang in the city of Philadelphia in 1970, Earth Day is a momentous modern celebration of our ancient home. From that celebration onward, April 22 and often the entire encompassing week have been dedicated to education and activism for the preservation of the Earth and its natural beauty. A modern term in the world of ecological and emission education is the term “carbon footprint” which heralds a turning point in the characterization and national understanding of our individual effect and contribution to carbon usage.
This article is not meant to give you a perfect figure of the number of tons of carbon your company uses; there are more than a dozen calculator tools and government resources built to do just that. This article, instead, is meant to put your emissions in realistic, human terms. “Carbon footprint” is a vague phrase; it’s time that the language of ecologists and scientists ought to be transferred to those who can make a meaningful difference: America’s small business owners. By coming to terms with the multiple layers and means of carbon uses in today’s small businesses, we offer the same hopeful goal as Earth Day’s founders: “to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide.”
What is a Carbon Footprint?
Your business’s carbon footprint is an informed estimate of the overall greenhouse gasses emitted in order for your business to run regular operations. This includes any kind of greenhouse gasses your workplace emits as well as emissions justified by your business, meaning, emissions that only happened because your business asked for them to be. There are five main gasses that go into a carbon footprint: Carbon dioxide; this gas, as you likely know, occurs by combustion of any kind of fossil fuels. Methane is another greenhouse gas but is largely found in the farming industry or landfills. The next is nitrous oxide which is off put by large amount of agriculture and the production of commercial chemicals and pesticides. The final two gasses to consider are hydrofluorocarbons – primarily produced for use in refrigeration, air-conditioning, insulating foams and aerosol propellants – and sulfur hexafluoride which is most frequently offset by producing electronics and semiconductors as well as processing magnesium.
Carbon emissions are commonly separated into three “scopes” which demark the amount of direct agency you and your business have for that certain type of emissions. For the sake of clarity, we have separated all relevant types of emissions into two categories: direct emissions and indirect emissions. Direct emissions are those you and your employees have the immediate, tangible choice to reduce or turn off i.e., these are the switches you flip. Indirect emissions are those that you and your employees consent to and supplement the running of your business.
Facilities Emissions: This is the type of emissions we think about the most. When you turn on the lights, the heat, the AC, HVAC systems, refrigerant systems, or any other on-site power-drawing mechanism, this constitutes your business’s facilities emissions. This is equally the easiest type of emission to calculate and find a firm figure for. Power companies generally keep very specific records of your usage for billing reasons, but you and your employees can use that same information to meaningfully calculate how much power you use monthly, annually, or even daily. Importantly, however, when you turn on the lights, of course, there isn’t a smokestack above your office blasting out greenhouse gasses; the greenhouse gasses required to run your basic facilities are processed off-site but are still actively drawn by you and your employees.
Manufacturing Emissions: Workplaces that manufacture products and process raw materials will inevitably produce carbon emissions. If your business has machinery which wholly uses fossil fuels to run, that directly contributes to your total carbon footprint. Determining your overall fossil fuel use onsite will likely be the simplest emission type to find out on this whole list. How much petroleum do you buy monthly, or annually to run your machines? The amount you use is, then, the amount you emit to do business.
Travel Emissions: Travel emissions constitute emissions for all fuel-powered movement required for you to do business. When your employees commute to work, the greenhouse gasses emitted by their cars or the buses they take are required for your business to run smoothly. Also, any kind of business travel by car, boat, or plane contributes to the overall required emissions for your business. Another element to consider is if you employ couriers or last-mile delivery drivers; this is another type of travel emission in that your business requires these emissions in order to continue daily operations.
Deliveries to or from Your Place of Business: Unlike direct travel emissions, these are emissions that you or your managers commission on behalf of your business. If your company exports products that are delivered by a trucking company, those contribute to your total indirect contributions, as the emissions would not have occurred if not for your consent. The same is true for any kind of deliveries made to your workplace; even if you don’t own the vehicles making deliveries, these emissions still contribute to your overall indirect carbon footprint.
Partner Manufacturing: Any manufacturing done on your behalf is considered part of your carbon footprint. In the proliferation of offsite manufacturing and international manufacturing hubs, this means that businesses may have to do considerably more work to find out the emissions from their partners compared to in-house emissions.
Treatment of Waste Produced by Your Business: This is another abstract calculation that, while difficult to find a specific figure for, knowing can lead to meaningful changes for many businesses. Beyond the garbage in the bins taken away by municipal services, consider what kind of packaging and tags your products have. These elements will undoubtedly become waste immediately after customers purchase those items. Tags and wrappings made of certain plastics have the potential to enter landfills or dumps and produce greenhouse gasses, emissions that would not have occurred without your business. With this in mind, any kind of trash or waste that begins with your business and either ends in a landfill or is treated by incineration is, indeed, part of your carbon footprint.
Leased Assets & Franchises: For a business to meaningfully calculate its carbon footprint, all sites and franchises that act under your direction also are your indirect emissions. In leased assets or properties in which you are the landlord, any and all emissions created by your tenants or leaseholders when they are at your relevant property are likely part of your business’s carbon footprint. For example, if a tenant in one of your buildings or a location you franchise uses AC systems that you authorized the installation of, that output was (indirectly) justified and led to its happening because of your business. By the same logic, your business has the potential to install more efficient systems while the tenant or leaseholder likely does not; this means that you, the business owner, are indirectly responsible for those emissions.
Gloom and doom abound: you and your business likely produce some amount of avoidable greenhouse gasses, but what now? No, you don’t have to close your business and reenter the wild woods to repent your ecological sins. Businesses in tune with their overall greenhouse gas usage are also the most equipped to create an achievable reduction plan. Find those emissions you can most directly control and start there; in what ways can you make processes more efficient or streamline operations to reduce overall emissions? Then, once you address direct emissions, move on to the emissions which are emitted by third parties on your behalf. Be sure, also, to set a timeframe for your reduction plan so you can tangibly see if your plan is working or needs updating; consider starting with a one-month reduction plan and then moving onto a more ambitious year-long strategy.
Fear is the Mind-Killer and Carbon is the Earth-Killer
Frank Herbert, one of the principal speakers at the first Earth Day, said to a crowded Philadelphia auditorium “I refuse to be put in the position of telling my grandchildren, ‘Sorry, there’s no more world for you. We used it up.’” By learning more about how you and your business directly use carbon-spawning products and processes, we can advance the lengthy process of adjusting emissions and usage to better protect our Earth. Demystifying the process of carbon emissions is the next major step in the existential fight for Earth; by simply taking heavier considerations toward the processes in your business that contribute to emissions, progress is forthcoming.