Critical Analysis of the Making up of a Business’ Total Carbon Footprint
The sustainability of the environment is a key concern the world over. This is because of the huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other green house gas emissions that humanity has produced in the last century, which is thought to be the key culprit in global warming. Any business that hopes to survive in the current age must address the issues of environmental pollution related to its activities.
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In fact, being a green organization is fast becoming a distinct selling proposition in a very competitive global market place. As Hill (2010), states, “Many companies really do understand that their long term success is based on a sustainable business policy and environmental sustainability”. The concept of carbon footprint arose as a subset of the larger ecological footprint, which forms a core part of life cycle assessment.
It refers to the whole set of greenhouse gases emitted by a person, process or organization in the course of its activities. The unit of expression of the footprint is commonly in tones, and in carbon dioxide equivalent. “All the gases are represented as carbon dioxide equivalents”.
A primary footprint refers to carbon produced directly by a person or organization while secondary footprint refers to the footprint produced by others on an organization’s behalf, when they produce demanded products and services. The life cycle of these goods and service contributes towards the secondary footprint.
Determination of Carbon Footprint
The process of determining the carbon footprint of a business requires an appreciation of the life cycle analysis of the various products the business produces and those that it consumes. In addition, a business engages in various support activities including advertising, transport, catering, and participation in conferences among others, which may not directly add to the carbon footprint of the products they produce.
These too need consideration. The assets a business owns have an effect on its carbon footprint therefore there is a case for their analysis for inclusion in the tabulation of the total carbon footprint.
The process of carbon management requires that an organization determine the boundary within which they want to calculate the carbon footprint. “For successful carbon management, it is advisable to expand the system boundary from the production site to all of the life cycle stages, including suppliers of parts, use, and end of life”.
The most visible source of a business’ carbon emissions is in the production process. A business engaged in the production of goods requiring electrical energy or fossil fuels has a larger primary footprint caused by their processes, compared to a service based business. The burning of fuels to produce energy for production is a well-documented source of green house gases.
While some businesses burn the fuels directly in generators, others buy electricity from diesel and coal plants which burn fossil fuels for the production of power. Therefore, any calculation of the carbon footprint of a business must include the consideration of the contribution of its production processes to green house gas emissions.
For our business, this means that there is need to analyze all the products we produce to determine their contribution to our carbon footprint as we determine the overall carbon footprint for the business.
While less visible, the services industry contributes considerably to green house gases emissions. Services offered on site require transportation of equipment and staff, while services offered in a centralized location requires energy whose production causes greenhouse gas emissions.
Transport is one of the key sources of global warming since most cars on the roads the world over rely on fossil fuels for locomotion. In addition, provision of services rely on many power consuming devices, such as air conditioning systems for hotels, warm swimming pools in some resorts, central heating in cold places, among others.
Also personal services such as saloon and barber services rely on electricity to provide energy required to run the equipment required to offer the services. This means that our business must look at all the services it offers as we move towards establishing the size of our carbon footprint.
In any case, the services need not be commercial for them to contribute to the overall footprint. In-house business services requiring the operation of computers, catering, and lighting are all contributors to our footprint as a business.
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Beyond our products and services, our assets are a source of green house gases, hence contributors to our carbon footprint. This classification may overlap with the previous two yet not including it may lead to omission of some considerable sources of carbon emissions.
Maintenance of office buildings, which includes cleaning processes such as carpet vacuum cleaning, use of cleaning and disinfection aids such as aerosols and detergents all contribute to the primary carbon footprint due to assets.
The secondary footprints include transport related emissions for utility providers who visit our business premises to offer their services. To measure correctly the impact of our assets contribution to our carbon footprint, we need to consider it in context. Otherwise, the calculations may be full of duplications causing a distorted perception of the true nature of our carbon footprint.
The final significant source of carbon emission from our business is business activities that we engage in. They include advertising, hosting seminars and conferences, human resource related activities among others. An activity such as advertising involves the use of materials developed for promotion.
These materials when produced internally form part of our primary footprint and when produced externally they form part of our secondary footprint.
Other activities such as participation in seminars and conferences may in actual sense fail to fall within our primary business sources of carbon, but in effect, they contribute significantly to our secondary footprint. Their inclusion in emissions calculation improves the odds for a more realistic evaluation of our carbon footprint.
Need for Business to Manage Reduction of Carbon Footprint
There are some very critical business reasons that make our participation in emissions reduction by seeking to reduce our footprint a sound business decision. These include participation, as members of the global community, in the global environmental conservation effort. In addition, it registers our participation in the mitigation of business risks associated with a large carbon footprint.
Thirdly, there is a potential for reduction of business costs because of efficient operations and finally, there is an opportunity to attract reduced penalties from regulators and even take advantage of incentives for our business.
Operating in the current business environment requires every business to be environmentally conscious. Indeed, beyond the business, it has increasingly become the duty of everyone to be environmentally conscious as a global citizen. Global warming threatens the entire human civilization and as such, people have a responsibility to do their bit to stem the tide.
The environmental damage threatens not just human life but also plant and animal life, and with it, the source of vital materials required to sustain the human race. This is the first reason why everyone must be concerned with the environment and actively pursue its protection. The current pollution levels are the result of sustained emission through the last two hundred years.
Bishop (2008) records that in the last two hundred years humanity has contributed to more than doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Since it took the effort of many people over time to build up the carbon dioxide levels to what they are presently, it will also take similar effort and cooperation from everyone to cut back the emissions. “We need to do all we can to reduce global warming and pollution”
The second reason why it is important for every business to manage its carbon emission has to do with the effects of carbon on the economy. The economy suffers from diverse impacts related to global warming. “Negative impacts of global warming include a reduction in agricultural production and forest biomass and extensive property damages from coastal flooding due to a rise in sea level”.
These kinds of impacts affect businesses directly and indirectly. Participating in an effort to reduce the possibility of occurrence of such impacts is not an option but a necessity for all businesses in the world. When the physical environment within which we operate caves in because of environmental damage, our business will be inadvertently affected. In our context, the reality of emissions related disasters lives with us.
Failure to participate in emissions reduction efforts is to risk the entire boat, which if we do nothing, will sink all of us. As Wilson and Sasseville (1998) state, “Corporations may face a world where poverty, degraded environment, and crumbling political systems make doing business increasingly difficult; while from a positive viewpoint, corporations may find that the drive towards sustainability can provide them with innovative and financially advantageous ways of doing business”.
The lesser the carbon we produce, the lower the associated carbon related costs our business will incur. In the not so distant future, governments are likely to start imposing some kind of carbon tax to organizations that are not carbon neutral. The sooner we begin moving towards carbon neutrality, the better we will be at avoiding this eventuality.
In addition, carbon neutrality is a strong attraction for the increasingly carbon conscious clients we compete for in the market. By going green, we stand the chance of developing, “competitive advantages in national and international markets” . This means that we have the opportunity to increase our bottom line by simply becoming more environmentally conscious in our operations.
The drive to reduce our carbon footprint currently does not include stringent expectations hence we have the advantage of time. The regulations are bound to get tighter with time as our government seeks to meet its international commitments on emissions reduction. Taking advantage of the incentivized processes now will reduce the overall impact on our business and will place us at a strategic advantage.
An internal advantage we stand to gain is that in the process of reducing our carbon footprint, our organization will have to look at ways of making operations more efficient. In the long term, we will benefit from a reduced operational budget because of more efficient operations. In this regard, reducing our footprint will insure our long-term future as an organization.
Luckily, the field of environmental management has grown enough to provide us with the tools we need to undergo the process of reducing our carbon footprint.
Friedman (2003) states, “Sophistication in environmental management has grown at the international level, and various international entities have developed programs and initiatives to assist environmental managers and businesses in making changes and identifying opportunities to further improve environmental performance”.
Critical Appraisal of Renewable Energy Technologies
We stand to benefit a lot from using renewable energy sources as our carbon reduction strategy. There are numerous options for this kind of strategy. They include a number of solar power alternatives, wind energy, and bio-fuels. Alternative energy is one of the ways that our business can go green.
Solar power options include thermal and photovoltaic systems. Thermal systems use heat energy from the sun for water and space heating applications. Photovoltaic systems on the other hand utilize the sun’s photon energy to produce electricity. The availability of solar power depends on the particular location on the earth.
Regions that lie within the tropics have the greatest potential because they register much higher quantities of solar flux compared to areas that lie beyond the tropics. Since solar power generation does not interact with the carbon cycle, solar power is an environmentally friendly source of power. The major drawback for solar is the large cost of inputs.
Solar is still more expensive per unit compared to conventional energy sources. “The initial capital cost of solar energy collection equipment, adequate to provide year round solar heating, is 3 to 5 higher than a simple fossil fuel heat source” .
In addition, the life cycle analysis of solar equipment shows that it takes energy from other sources to manufacture the vital equipment required for solar generation. Depending on the source of the energy, it may actually be environmentally disadvantageous to use solar equipment because of the pollution caused during equipment manufacture.
Wind energy comes from changes in atmospheric pressure driven by temperature changes in different parts of the world. As temperatures rise in one area, air expands, and as it seeks to reestablish equilibrium with the rest of the wind systems, winds occur. Certain wind speeds are necessary for viable production of wind energy.
Low wind speeds are not suitable for electricity generation, but may be suitable for other needs such as pumping water, which rely on wind strength. The advantage of wind, just as solar is that wind is free. It costs nothing to produce the motive force. However, wind turbines and windmills are not free. The cost determines the viability of using wind as an alternative sources power.
Not all areas are suited for wind energy production on a commercial scale, limiting its applicability. This is because of variations in wind speeds over the earth’s surface. Wind turbines have a higher maintenance cost because they have many moving parts. Their impacts on the environment include noise and aesthetic disturbance since they jut out of the landscape.
Nevertheless, they are an important option in the effort to reduce the carbon footprint of any business. In our situation, we need to analyze the suitability of wind power within our location to determine whether the location of our premises records sufficient wind speeds to generate sufficient power to contribute significantly towards reduction of our carbon footprint.
The use of bio-fuels is a viable option for reducing emissions too. Sims (2002) observes that, “Biomass has the dual advantage of acting both as an energy substitute for fossil fuel (a carbon offset) and a means of sequestering carbon (a carbon sink)”. Plant and animal matter are the sources of bio-fuels.
They are either combusted directly, or processed thermo chemically or biochemically to produce an intermediate fuel. Unlike power generation from solar and wind, the use of biomass is not automatically sustainable. In fact, burning of biomass can releases as much carbon dioxide per unit quantity of fuel as fossil fuels. Carbon embeds onto plant matter during photosynthesis.
This makes the use of bio-fuels tricky in the reduction of carbon footprint is concerned. When combusted, plant matter release nearly as much carbon as they fixed while they were growing. The net carbon exchange remains rather low for sustainability. In addition to this challenge, there is the risk of cutting down more plants for fuel than the possible replenishment rate, which leads to net release of carbon to the atmosphere.
This makes the use of bio-fuels a sensitive balancing act that requires very careful handling if we hope to attain any reduction in the carbon footprint of our business.
Other challenges noted in the expansion of bio-fuels include “limited amount of land available to meet the needs for fuel, feed, and food in the coming decades”. This is especially critical in developing countries. This notwithstanding, bio-fuels are a more sustainable way of running our operations compared to fossil fuels.
Other sustainable ways of generating energy for our requirements include use of hydropower and expanding the use of nuclear power. The main issue with these options is the large capital requirements. On our own, we cannot take advantage of these sources because we lack the capacity to construct and operate the plants.
However, in conjunction with other industry stakeholders, we have the opportunity to form or join already existing lobby groups to encourage the government and private investors to invest in these plants and manage them. Our power lies in the purchasing power we have when we come together as energy consumers.
This way, we will contribute towards reduction of the carbon footprint of our business. Hydropower plants requiring dam construction have some environmental effects such as loss of land, interference with the migration patterns of fish and production of methane, which is a greenhouse gas, by dead plant and animal matter lying at the bottom of the water, and in some cases geological disturbances.
Nuclear energy on the other hand does no present any carbon hazard to the environment. It however carries the risk of a nuclear pollution resulting in radioactive contamination of the environment. These two sources may help with reduction of our current carbon footprint but require careful mitigation of the environmental consequences they have the potential of bringing.
The best way for us to attain and retain a reducing balance on our carbon footprint in our energy use will be the use of solar in combination with wind power to take off major heating and lighting loads, which contribute approximately forty percent of our total power consumption.
Solar thermal power will help reduce the need for electricity that we currently use for space and water heating while combined photovoltaic and wind energy systems will alleviate our need for electricity to light up our facility. The advantage we have is that when solar production falls, wind production peaks, while when winds seize, solar power rises to meet the shortfall.
These two forms of energy have an established mutual relationship-making wind and solar photovoltaic hybrid systems reliable the whole year round. In addition to these measures, other in-house measures to improve the efficiency of our energy consuming apparatus also provide opportunities for us to improve our business’ carbon footprint.
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