Sustainability Today: 5 Practical Strategies for Employers to Reduce Carbon Footprint
In an era where environmental issues are gaining more attention, businesses increasingly recognize the importance of reducing their carbon footprint. Some emissions, like direct ones that stem from operations or energy purchased, are more straightforward to address and understand.
However, other avenues also produce GHG due to the operation of a business – like your workers commuting- and they are often much more challenging to quantify and thus remedy. These are usually called Scope 3 emissions and they are the ones that arise due to a business activity but indirectly.
Sounds confusing? We will explain in a bit more detail further down but overall, Scope 3 emissions can be challenging to put your finger on and devise a strategy to tackle them. Here, we will explore 5 practical and relatively quick solutions for employers to effectively reduce their indirect emissions and contribute to a more sustainable future.
What are Scope 3 Emissions, Anyway?
Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions are categories used to classify greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by organizations. These categories are defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a widely accepted accounting tool for businesses to measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions.
Scope 1 refers to direct emissions resulting from things you own and control, such as a fleet of vans or your factory’s industrial production processes. They are usually easy to list but may require more serious and expensive changes to tackle.
Scope 2 emissions are the ones that are usually related to your energy consumption, such as electricity, heat, or steam, that your company buys from an external provider. These are considered indirect emissions as the emission occurs at the facility making and supplying you with the energy, not on your site where it is only used.
However, Scope 3 is often the real key to the problem. According to the UN Global Impact Network UK, Scope 3 emissions sometimes account for more than 70% of a business’s carbon footprint. Collecting data and measuring the impact of Scope 3 emissions is often tricky as Scope 3 covers indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that occur due to a company’s activities but are not directly owned or controlled by the reporting entity.
These emissions encompass the entire value chain of the organization, extending beyond its own operational boundaries. They can include employee transportation, purchased services, waste generation or deliveries, and supply networks.
So, what can you do as an employer to tackle those? Here are our 5 suggestions, which can be actioned quickly and have a real impact.
Partner with Sustainable Service Providers
By partnering with service providers who share similar environmental goals, businesses can extend their commitment to sustainability and lower their emissions.
A good starting point is for companies to list all services they buy and use. Once they have a complete picture of providers, it is easier to see how eco-friendly each one is. After eco-auditing suppliers, if there are some a business is not happy with, they can start searching for alternative vendors working towards reducing their own carbon footprint.
Businesses should consider sustainability credentials, energy usage in their operations, vehicle fleets, and actions taken to offset emissions, amongst other things. This process can take some time, but it is one that a company can start today.
Implement a Waste Reduction Program
To address some of your GHG emissions, you must also consider your waste. Employers should implement comprehensive waste reduction programs within their offices.
You can establish a robust recycling program within the office premises. Provide clearly labelled recycling bins for paper, plastic, glass, and metal materials. Educate employees about the importance of proper waste sorting to maximize the effectiveness of recycling efforts.
When it comes to recycling, companies shouldn’t forget about composting. You can provide compost bins in common areas like kitchens or cafeterias for organic waste, such as food scraps and coffee grounds, so they don’t end up in landfills. Composting helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with organic waste decay, and it produces nutrient-rich compost that can be used for landscaping or donated to local community gardens.
Furthermore, it is always a good idea for employers to take it a step further – not to simply recycle items but encourage the minimal use of single-use ones like disposable cups, cutlery, and packaging. Companies should promote the use of reusable alternatives alongside the recycling of single-use ones.
By fostering a culture of waste reduction, businesses can make a tangible impact on their indirect emissions.
Promote Cycling to Work
One impactful way to reduce carbon footprint is by encouraging employees to choose active travel options like cycling or walking over the traditional car commute.
The transportation sector is one of developed countries largest contributors to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990–2021, transportation accounted for the largest portion (29%) of total US GHG emissions in 2021. Light-duty vehicles, like cars and light-duty trucks, are the largest category responsible for GHG emissions.
A serious proportion of this is commuter-related, and employers are in a great position to help employees choose alternative modes of transport like cycling by making simple changes. One of the easiest ways to do that is by providing safe and secure bike storage and parking like bike shelters, racks, and stands.
Additionally, according to the British Council for Offices and their report on cycling, non-cyclists would consider cycling to work if there was not only better bike storage but also better peripheral amenities such as showers, lockers, and changing areas where they can problem-free get ready for the workday ahead without worrying about being sweaty or smell from the ride.
These additions to your workplace will reduce transportation-related emissions while also improving your employees’ physical and mental health.
Embrace Remote Work
Due to technological advancements, changing work dynamics, and COVID-19, remote work has become more feasible than ever. Employers can further reduce Scope 3 emissions by allowing employees to work from home one or more days a week.
Researchers from Cornell University and Microsoft found that working remotely two or four days a week reduced an individual’s emissions by up to 29% compared with on-site workers. This was related to the reduced need for daily commuting, which cuts down on emissions from travel, but it was also due to less office energy use for things like heating or cooling. The study called on companies to look at energy efficiency measures and consider downsizing and sharing office space by moving some of their workforce out of the office at least some of the time to reduce capacity and size and thus reduce office energy consumption.
- Opt for Eco-Friendly Packaging
The environmental impact of packaging is often underestimated. A significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions originates from decomposing waste in landfills. Adding to the environmental concern, this decomposition process often releases methane, a gas with a much higher warming potential than carbon dioxide. Packaging is a big culprit here, and swapping conventional packaging with recyclable or reusable alternatives can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from waste decay.
To lower their carbon footprint, employers should explore sustainable packaging options to minimize their ecological footprint and contribute to a circular economy.
Reducing Scope 3 emissions requires a holistic and collaborative approach. Employers are pivotal in driving sustainable practices within their organizations, influencing employees, and establishing partnerships with eco-conscious suppliers.
By implementing these practical strategies, businesses can significantly minimize their carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.