What Responsibility Do Businesses Have in Climate Change
By: Jane Marsh
Businesses are among the most significant contributors to climate change, which means they can also play a positive environmental role when implementing new sustainability policies. Updated energy use and waste management procedures can help companies go green, allowing them to become better environmental stewards.
How Industry Contributes to Climate Change
Big business was responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2020. That doesn’t include the farming industry, which contributes another 11% of total GHG emissions. Most of this air pollution stems from using oil and gas as a fuel source. Still, operational inefficiencies — like using excess lighting or disposing of food waste — also contribute, leading to lower profits and harming the environment.
What Businesses Can Do
Companies can reduce their carbon footprint and save money in the long run in numerous ways.
Set Emissions Targets
First, businesses must measure their emission levels to understand how much they contribute to air, water and land pollution. Doing so doesn’t just help the climate — it also protects employees. Emissions from vehicles and machinery contribute to lung cancer, with the disease risk increasing 90 times when workers are exposed to asbestos and cigarette smoke.
Businesses should first measure the amount of Scope 1 emissions they create. The Scope 1 category includes direct GHG emissions from company sources, such as vehicles or furnaces. Next, they can factor in their Scope 2 emissions, including purchasing heating, cooling, steam and electricity. Lastly, companies can measure their Scope 3 emissions. These are indirect sources of pollution, such as business travel, employee commutes and leased assets.
After calculating overall emission levels, companies can set near-term and long-term targets for reducing air pollution.
Reduce and Offset Emissions
Industrialization releases around 6.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually into the atmosphere. Therefore, a critical component of reaching net zero is lowering emission output. To achieve this goal, companies can reduce their packaging waste, energy usage and water consumption in several ways.
For example, businesses can reuse their packaging, use smart HVAC systems and install low-flow water fixtures. They can also reduce unnecessary outdoor lighting to save energy — by using soft-white LEDs on a timer or motion sensor; companies can vastly reduce their lighting costs and use less oil and gas.
However, even the most eco-savvy businesses will inevitably produce some waste. To help reach net zero, companies must clean up as much pollution as they create. Most businesses do this by investing in another company that promotes renewable energy or conservation.
Businesses can comb through different carbon offset projects and choose one that aligns with their mission. For example, they might invest in a company that plants trees, builds wind turbines or cleans up polluted rivers. Offsetting emissions isn’t the perfect strategy for reducing climate change, but every little bit helps.
Switch to Green Energy
Another way companies can help the environment and lower overall expenses is to use sustainable energy sources. Solar panels have high upfront costs, but many companies are installing rooftop panels as their price falls and governments subsidize solar power. They last an average of 30 years, making them an excellent long-term investment for large businesses.
Some companies are taking advantage of wind power with either onshore or offshore turbines. Onshore wind turbines have low energy transportation costs and generate substantial power. In comparison, offshore turbines don’t generate as much electricity but are easier and cheaper to build. Depending on location, either one can be an excellent option for businesses looking to go green.
Geothermal power has also found a place in reducing the effects of climate change. Since geothermal energy comes from underground, it is more stable and less subject to climatic conditions than other forms of green energy. Many businesses, from hospitals to restaurants, tap into underground heat sources for direct heating or to generate electricity.
Create a Culture of Sustainability
Finally, businesses need to shift their company culture to incorporate greener practices. Business leaders can start by providing comprehensive training programs covering climate change and why taking action is essential. Additionally, companies can make changes around the workplace that make it easier to live sustainably.
For example, they can replace the coffee maker that uses single-use plastic pods with one that uses biodegradable filters. They can place recycling bins around the office and incentivize recycling with employee rewards programs. Installing an EV charging station can reduce emissions since employees can drive their electric vehicles to work.
Stopping climate change will only happen if businesses are on board, but companies can achieve this goal in several ways. They must emphasize better energy efficiency, set attainable emissions targets and overhaul their workplace culture to emphasize sustainability. Only then can the world stand a chance at achieving environmental balance?
Jane Marsh is Editor-in-Chief at Environment. co