Climate leadership Article | 7-minute read

What to do next after calculating your business’s carbon footprint

5 practical steps to turn your carbon footprint calculation into a powerful tool for your business
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You invested time and resources in measuring the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of your business. Now that you know your company’s carbon footprint, what do you do next?

“Calculating your GHG emissions is an important milestone, but it is not your finish line. This is when the actual work really begins,” says BDC sustainability expert Marianne Pemberton.

Many entrepreneurs feel that they have reached the finish line once they know their GHG emissions. While this is a significant step, it is important to understand that measuring your emissions is not the end of your sustainability journey.

Calculating your GHG emissions is an important milestone, but it is not your finish line. This is when the actual work really begins.

This is why, when talking with entrepreneurs about limiting their GHG emissions, Pemberton likes to use the analogy of learning to play an instrument. You will get better and better every day, and you will see results, but you will always have something left to improve.

Regardless of your motivation to calculate your company’s carbon footprint—personal conviction to build a more sustainable business, customer or employee demands or preparations in anticipation of regulatory changes—it’s important that you follow up on your GHG calculations with climate-related actions.

Here are the key steps to follow during and after your first GHG data collection cycle.

1. During calculations, document everything and keep good records

If this is the first time you are measuring your GHG emissions, you are establishing your baseline year. To produce the emissions inventory, you’ve had to make a lot of assumptions that will impact the calculation of your baseline year, as well as any future calculations.

For example, let’s say you’ve got five business locations and one of the locations, a small retail space in a commercial building, was excluded from your GHG emission calculations. All these decisions felt obvious in the moment but must be documented to ensure consistency and comparability year over year.

Take the time to write everything down and to explain any exclusions and assumptions. “Be kind to your future self. Keeping good records and writing down challenges and lessons learned will make the GHG measurement easier the next time you do it,” says Pemberton.

Be kind to your future self. Keeping good records and noting challenges and lessons learned will make the GHG measurement easier the next time you do it.

Download our free GHG Calculator toolkit

Designed for Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), our GHG Calculator is an easy and accessible tool for calculating your business’s carbon footprint.

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2. After the calculation: set a reduction target

Your business’s GHG emissions are like a snapshot in time. It’s the same as financial performance. You might have had a good year, but is it better or worse than last year?

Now that you know where you stand, set a realistic, credible reduction target based on your baseline year emissions. Businesses generally begin with Scope 1 and 2 emissions, which are under the company’s control. Moreover, targets can be absolute (total emissions reduction) or intensity-based (emissions per unit of output).

While the most rigorous emissions reduction targets are science-based targets (SBTs) verified by a third party, the right emissions reduction target for your organization should balance ambition with feasibility.

Here you might find opportunities to cut costs by reducing your energy use or eliminating other forms of waste in your business.

“If your biggest spend is also your biggest source of emissions, you’ve got a beautiful business case right there to reduce those in tandem,” says Pemberton.

If your biggest spend is also your biggest source of emissions, you’ve got a beautiful business case right there to reduce those in tandem.

3. Spread the word

Key stakeholders and employees in the business units that are most impacted by the GHG emissions results (and the new targets) should be the first ones to be informed. “If your fleet is your largest concern, you need to get your operational manager and their team involved first,” says Pemberton. “Actually, they should have been an important part of your measurement exercise.”

Once this is done, using your regular tools for communicating with employees—newsletter, townhall meetings, video, emails—share the results and tell them what you plan to do next.

Your sustainability efforts are incredibly powerful tools in providing a sense of purpose to your people. Be honest about your sustainability plans and about the level of employee involvement needed to achieve your objectives.

Steer clear of greenwashing

Investors and insurers are getting a lot of pressure to understand finance-related climate risks in their investments, so you should consider giving them an update about your GHG reduction strategy, reduction targets, or other climate-related initiatives.

You could also publish your carbon footprint and action plan on your website or send an email to your partners, suppliers and even your customers. “It all depends on your company’s culture and marketing approach”, say Pemberton. “But what’s most important is being ready to answer questions such as: So, what? and What’s next?”.

Be honest and don’t overdo it. Don’t overcommunicate and don’t give misleading information on your actions or their results. Do not rush to make claims of carbon neutrality, which are increasingly criticized and difficult to substantiate.

… and greenhushing

Greenhushing refers to businesses that are hesitant to talk about their sustainability work because they’re worried about reputational backlash.

The best way to disclose your GHG emissions with integrity is to be transparent about what you are including in that number and what you’re not including.

“Is it just Scope 1 and 2 emissions? Or is it also Scope 3? You can have one company that says they have a 10,000-tonne carbon footprint and another that says 1,000, but they’re measuring totally different things,” Pemberton says. “This is why carbon footprint benchmarking is a delicate exercise.”

To facilitate comparability, businesses should report both their total emissions (absolute emissions) and their emission intensity.

Total emissions is the total amount of GHGs emitted into the atmosphere over a specific period. It’s usually measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

Emission intensity is a measure of GHG emissions per unit of activity or output. For example, your emissions intensity could look like:

  • Tonnes of CO2e/ building floor area
  • Tonnes of Co2e/ tonne of paper produced
  • Tonnes of Co2e/ total kilometres of cargo transported
  • Tonnes of Co2e/ dollar generated

In our GHG Calculator, we help make reporting easier for you with the Total Carbon Emission Equivalencies table in our results dashboard. CO2 equivalents are used to standardize the effects of various GHG emissions, by converting emissions or energy data to the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. You can also see your annual emissions expressed in a concrete way, such as the number of smartphones charged, the number of drives across Canada, and the number of trees required to offset that carbon footprint.

4. Create a climate action plan

A climate action plan is a document that details your ambitions, timeline, metrics and KPIs to help you reach your emissions reduction goals.

It should include:

  • A manageable list of impactful projects
  • A timeline for achieving each one
  • The employee or employees responsible for each project
  • The metrics to gauge your progress (milestones and key performance indicators)

Raising awareness among your employees is essential, since they are your biggest ambassadors and will be the key players in rolling out your action plan.

Big companies often publish sustainability reports to highlight what they’re doing to lessen their environmental and social impact. Looking at your peers’ reports may give you an idea of how to structure your climate action plan.

Get your departmental leaders involved and ask them to set their own targets. Be a sustainability opportunist: use budget renewals, lease renewals or new purchases as opportunities for low-carbon purchases and decisions.

Looking for quick wins

Most business emissions happen in four areas: electricity, heat and cooling, materials and transport. Here are examples of projects to consider to reduce your emissions:

Buildings and equipment

  • Adjust thermostats and turn off lights when space is unoccupied
  • Keep blinds closed to keep heat in or out (depending on the season)
  • Turn off unnecessary or unused equipment
  • Install LED bulbs and motion sensors for lighting

Vehicles and transportation

  • Promote carpooling, public transportation, biking and remote work for employees
  • Install charging station(s) for your customers or employees
  • Educate drivers on ecological driving techniques and implement a no-idling policy

Procurement and waste

  • Buy local to reduce transportation-related emissions
  • Donate leftover food from facilities, offices or events to food banks
  • Compost food waste from your offices and facilities

Climate leadership and certification

  • Adopt an environmental policy with a focus on emissions reduction
  • Provide training on climate change and climate action to employees (energy-saving behaviour, commuting, etc.)

5. Monitor and track performance

It’s easy to start with high ambitions and get derailed by day-to-day pressures. That’s why a dashboard and regular check-ins are essential for monitoring progress, identifying problems and taking corrective actions.

As much as possible, try to align these metrics with your existing business processes.

Most businesses decide to track emissions on a yearly basis, but it can also be every two years. However, if you are implementing energy efficiency projects, monitoring should be done more regularly. For example, if you’re looking to evaluate the impact of a LED lighting retrofit in your distribution facility, you should track electricity consumption three months before the retrofit and three months after. This will provide an estimate of the return on investment within a six-month period.

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