How to become a climate change hero while working at the office?

Posted by Karolis Mirinavičius

With only 11 years left to tackle the global problem of climate change according to recent release by the United Nations it’s time to talk about the business role in reducing the impacts of the crisis. The question is probably not new to major large businesses, however, usually a new quest for a smaller company wanting to have their input in green house gases reduction. “We are an office-based business, do we actually emit CO2? How much? What actions can we take to tackle that?” – these are only some of the questions we hear more as all conscious businesses realize their impacts and unavoidable role in the climate change crisis.

So, what small steps every business can take to start the talk about the climate change and actually do a real good?

1. Measure A really good way to start is by measuring your business impact. Rather than just doing a guesswork you can actually keep a measurable data on how well you are doing in the field of sustainability. Even a rough estimate of calculating the emission of electricity, gas, transport and other major areas would be sufficient to start with and begin tracking the progress along the way. Re-cap the results and measured reductions a couple time a year and communicate the achievements with all the colleagues.

2. Reduce, reuse, recycle You have probably heard the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” – but any business new to the green movement will find its starting line here. The Three R’s should apply to every facet of your business – from packaging, to office supplies, to operations, and supply chains.

Always start from a recycling program in your office (if not done yet) as this simple step will not only start the discussion among colleagues but will be a great first step towards actually making a difference in reducing your footprint. For some colleagues this practice will even extend outside the office walls to family homes which delivers even higher overall result.

3. Reduce paper consumption in the office – encourage partners to follow On average a typical office-based employee prints around 1 500 sheets of paper per year, that’s around 7,5 kg of paper per employee. Even though we often see paper as a necessity, taken the technologies and job tools we use today this attitude requires a revision. Cloud document management systems, e-signatures, online tools and other everyday electronic measures really oblige us to rethink how we use paper resources.

It is common in businesses to see this issue as a minor one and difficult to change. However, it does not have to be like this with a few easy arrangements around the office:

• Post in-house reminders near printing machines or at desktops to encourage employees choose an electronic copy of a document. Encourage employees utilize cloud-based document management systems, such as OneDrive, Google docs and others – these not only save paper but improve work efficiency, create a digital culture and improve employee skills. • Incentivize employees to reduce printing by introducing a personal track of sheets printed per year or month and reward for achievements. • Conduct paperless meetings. This way employees not only demonstrate a good example among colleagues but also represent company’s attitude towards sustainability in front of the clients.

4. Adjust equipment settings Although usually office equipment (e.g. computers, screens, printers, projectors, AC, other) does not seem as a thing you could or should really save on – these are the primary work tools that deliver the value – often these devices are the primary energy vampires at an office. Can we not use them? – most definitely not. However, what can be done is adjustment of the settings. Most new equipment from a PC to mobile devices and even microwaves have an ECO setting which uses less energy, computers have a battery saving mode which also saves energy and conserves the battery, printers turn to standby or sleep mode and reduced but sufficient projector brightness can all together save a reasonable chunk of energy. Maybe this will not change the world on an individual employee scale but take an office of a few dozen or a hundred colleagues and this is where it really starts to make the difference. Encourage employees do same at home and adopt these habits within families to see an even greater, two, three or four-fold effect.

5. Use green electricity When energy saving practices start to get traction it is time to think about the energy you actually use. In a modern day the energy need will be rising due to electrification and in order to stay on the path to sustainability a very impactful thing you can do is ask your electricity supplier for a green energy option. Green energy is same on the consumption side – same wires, same electrons, no impact on your operation, but the difference is also key – it is produced using resources that are renewable (usually wind, solar, hydro power plants). By switching to green energy your business is doing a great favor for the environment, but not only – accountable CO2 emission reductions, business reputation and leadership recognition benefits come along.

Although green energy in some cases costs a slight premium in comparison with a non-renewable electricity in some cases it is actually cheaper. Ignitis in Lithuania offers green electricity and locally produced green electricity packages for which a governmental subsidy applies so the business can have a return on some electricity duty taxes – this way green energy at the end of the day is even cheaper than a general one. Green electricity for a cheaper price with all the sustainability, communication and reputational benefits for my business? – Yes please.

6. Path towards CO2 neutrality Many businesses nowadays seek for CO2 neutrality – a rather difficult target to achieve but looking into where the future leads us – an unavoidable one. It is expected that not long from today all businesses will have to be CO2 neutral and pay taxes for unnecessary carbon emissions. This may be a significant culture and financial shock for many businesses not taking a gradual approach starting now. It is recommended that business start the CO2 neutrality as business-as-usual practice as soon as possible and offset the remaining emissions that practically cannot be reduced or avoided. This is where CO2 offsetting services can be of high importance for any kind of business – a tool where business compensates for own carbon amount by investing in projects that reduce the emissions elsewhere.

So, let’s say a business has a remaining 100 tons of carbon emission that cannot be reduced. By purchasing CO2 reduction credits for 100 tons the business actually invests in a project that is being developed (e.g. wind farm, CO2 capture and storage, reforestation) and claims that the 100 tons will be captured or offset from the atmosphere, so a net business emission of carbon is 0 i.e. the business is CO2 neutral. More information on CO2 offsetting principles and projects also at Ignitis innovation hub.

7. Educate and make it fun! A really good way to engage employees is to start with education and later a reward. Educational programs are usually a good first step, but a competition brings it to a different level. Track progress of employees and/or teams individually, have program advocates participating and keeping the targets on a challenging level and set a good, tempting rewards for achieved milestones. The targets can be individual for a firm and different, for example, reduction of paper use, recycling targets, transportation switch to green alternatives, electricity savings and other – choose what works best in your case.

Want to discuss further? Contact me, Karolis.

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