Crash Course in... Becoming carbon-neutral

You used to think that being green was a luxury for your company, but climate change has made you realise that you can no longer ignore it. The buzz is about becoming carbon-neutral, but where do you start?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Consider your drivers. Do you want to become carbon-neutral for marketing reasons, for financial reasons, or just to save the planet? Says Mark Armitage of the CarbonNeutral Company: 'Your drivers will help to tailor your carbon-reduction programme and determine key performance indicators.' Build a case for going carbon-neutral.

Measure it. First, measure your current carbon footprint - or get a specialist to do it for you. That primarily means taking account of your energy usage and emissions caused through travel. Before you begin, think about whether you're collecting the right data and whether it's readily accessible.

Switch it off. 'Most companies can save around 15%-20% of their energy consumption through a combination of measures such as getting people to turn off lights, re-setting temperature switches, reducing air-conditioning use and insulating,' says James Wilde, head of strategy at the Carbon Trust.

Stay put. Look at cutting out non-essential air and road travel, and create a policy on when staff should travel. A state-of-the-art video-conferencing facility could obviate the need for many trips. And look at introducing more efficient vehicles into your fleet.

Engage your people. 'It's much better if your people decide for themselves when it's sensible for them to travel,' says Armitage. You'll also need them to participate in switching off the lights and other energy-saving measures. Explain how it will benefit the business - as well as the planet - by saving costs. Do you really need an office in Paris that produces no revenue? And would bringing services back in-house be more energy-efficient? Becoming a low- or no-carbon firm aids recruitment and retention.

Make demands of your suppliers. 'Think about differentiating yourself by offering low-carbon products,' says Wilde. 'Work with your supply partners to find ways of reducing the carbon content.'

Offset with care. You can wipe out the impact of your energy use at a stroke by switching to renewables. Then offset your residual carbon impact by investing in projects in the developing world - where your money goes further - that will reduce global carbon emissions. But make sure the offsets you purchase are independently verified.

Set targets. It's not a one-off exercise. Next year, you can save even more energy. You'll also save more money, spend less on offsets, and your FD will be a happy bunny.

Do say: 'Our aim is to minimise our own carbon impacts, to work with suppliers and customers to help them do the same, and to invest in measures that will cancel out our contribution to climate change.'

Don't say: 'Climate change is going to present us with some exciting new marketing opportunities.'

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