When you hear people talk about “doing their bit” to stop climate change, more often than not they’re talking about individual people – and with good reason. We face opportunities all day long to make environmentally-friendly choices, like turning up the thermostat in the summer, walking not driving, and turning off the lights when leaving a room.
These are all great and important actions – after all, the collective impact of a million small changes can be pretty huge. But simply focusing at the person-level misses a big opportunity to make our daily lives more sustainable. Most of us spend at least eight hours a day at work, where we may not be able to decide to use compact fluorescent lightbulbs or control the air conditioning – which is why it’s critical for companies to do their part too, equally for employees to help them make environmentally friendly choices.
There’s an upside to adopting sustainable behavior for companies too. First off, there’s what McKinsey calls “reputation management.” As more people vote their values with their pocketbooks, it behooves companies to maintain a strong socially responsible identity which lure customers. Perhaps, more importantly, there’s evidence that sustainability attracts and retains better employees, especially among millennials – the largest and fastest growing sector of the workforce.
Companies can do a lot of things, both large and small, to make their operations more sustainable. Here are a few things you can look for to see how your employer stacks up:
There was a time when it seemed every email signature included a line asking people to think about the environment before printing. These days, that caution is hardly necessary as more offices are going paperless. Part of the reason is technology. With email having completed its takeover of paper mail, and services like Evernote, Asana and even simple Google Docs making it easier for teams to collaborate online, there’s less need to use paper to get work done. Signing important documents has become part of the paperless process too, with companies enlisting the use of electronic document signing services like DocuSign.
There’s a clear climate benefit from reducing paper use. Since carbon dioxide is food for trees, forests are one of our biggest tools to reduce greenhouse gases. In the United States alone, forests offset 13 per cent of the country’s emissions. Anything we can do to decrease demand for tree products like paper helps preserve and grow this important carbon sink.
Beyond this direct benefit, going paperless is also about creating a culture of conservation. By discouraging printing as waste, you’re encouraging people to think about whether they really need something or not. That goes for other office supplies, disposable utensils and dishes, thermostat settings and more. The first step toward reducing impact is making folks aware of the magnitude of the impact they already have.
Make it easier for employees to choose a carbon-light commute
Your company can actively work to make it easier for you to make climate-friendly choices – particularly when it comes to your commute. In the United States, the transportation sector accounts for one quarter of all carbon emissions. The good news is trends are changing and more people are getting out of their cars. Biking to work increased 60 per cent in 10 years and transit trips hit a record high in 2014. There’s clearly a demand for more active transportation, but barriers still remain. Infrastructure investments like protected bike lanes and new rail and bus lines are somewhat out of our hands, but there are things companies can overcome themselves.
First, take a look at your company’s amenities and benefits. Does your office have secure bike racks or a bike room available for bike commuters to store their ride during the day? What about showers and changing rooms for bike commuters to get ready and presentable for work after a commute that’s also a workout? Do they offer a transit subsidy so employees can get free or reduced fares or take advantage of tax breaks on transit use?
Second, think about your office location. No matter what amenities you provide, if your company is located in a suburban office park without sidewalks, you’re not going to convince many people to get out of their cars. In 2013, Panasonic moved its US headquarters from suburban Seacaucus, New Jersey to downtown Newark – a move that made solo car trip commutes (once the commute of nine in 10 employees) a minority. Today nearly 60 per cent of their employees take transit. Not all companies are able to move, but any business making a serious commitment to climate action should think about the brick and mortar ways they contribute to the problem.
Buy carbon offsets
Even the most eco-friendly company is going to have some climate impact. After all, we’ve got to keep the lights on, run our computers, travel to meetings and conferences, and many other things that keep a company up and running. But doing activities that create some emissions doesn’t mean you have to have a carbon footprint. For the emissions you can’t reduce, your company should consider purchasing carbon offsets.
Carbon offsets are projects undertaken – like reforestation or investments in renewable energy – that, essentially, make up for the carbon pollution we produce. Both non-profit and for-profit carbon offset organisations exist. Carbon Offset Research & Education can help you decide which offset program meets your company’s needs and criteria.
Evaluate your supply chain
Making changes at home is an important start, but for big corporations, their biggest impact can be downstream through their supply chain. Sure, supply chains are complex with contractors and subcontractors at many levels, all with their own policies and practices. But setting a clear policy in support of sustainable practices among suppliers can encourage behavior and policy changes down the chain. Organisations like Ceres offer tools to assess supply chain sustainability and resources on how to make changes.
Become a B Corporation
After making changes to improve sustainability and reduce climate impacts, it’s critical that companies codify this commitment in a way that ensures the policies will outlast the people who put them in place. A great way to do this is to become a B Corporation. Certified B Corps have committed to and met a set of rigorous standards around social and environmental responsibility. Becoming a B Corp makes your company part of a community committed to doing good while doing business, including for the environment: B Corps are 47 per cent more likely to use renewable energy. Most importantly, this third-party designation creates a transparent way to keep your company honest and committed to sustainability.
Climate change is already affecting people, communities and businesses around the world. Individuals and governments are often asked to make changes to their habits and laws to reduce emissions, but there’s a lot companies can do as well to both reduce their direct emissions and help their employees live more sustainably at work. Change doesn’t have to come from the top down. Even as an employee, you can help your company become a better steward of climate change action just by bringing it up. Ask about swapping paper plates for porcelain. Encourage human resources to add and advertise transit benefits. Look into the requirements to be a B Corp and talk to your supervisors about how your company can apply. We all have a lot to lose, but if we’re all doing our part, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.
- Joe Baker is the Vice President of Editorial and Advocacy for Care2 and ThePetitionSite. He is responsible for recruitment campaigns for nonprofit partners, membership growth efforts and all editorial content. Prior to Care2, Joe was the Executive Director of N-TEN. Joe serves on the Board of Directors of Death Penalty Focus, the Advisory Board of GiveForward and volunteers for the Sierra Club and Amnesty International.
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