Carbon savings in the workplace

Posted on Tue Oct 01 2013

The terms ‘carbon emissions’, ‘carbon reduction’ and ‘carbon credits’ have been bandied about for quite some time and to many, these may still linger with a mystic aura. Does everyone really know what they mean and/or how they can be implemented by an organisation? In this week’s post, we will de-mystify these terms and explain how an SME can commercially benefit from adopting a carbon reduction strategy.

Carbon 101

First, let’s begin to establish and clarify some of these cloudy terms. Carbon is actually a chemical, but in the context of carbon emissions it equates to a whole lot more. Typically, carbon emissions are also known as greenhouse gases (GHG). These are gases or emissions that absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range of our atmosphere. The primary gases are water vapour, methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and ozone, to name a few. When these gases are emitted into the environment it consequently causes the greenhouse effect – a process that naturally traps some of the sun’s energy to maintain life on Earth. However, this natural process is growing at a much higher rate due to the greenhouse gases caused and emitted by humans. Greenhouse gases are the main causes of global warming and today there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any point in the last 800,000 years. Consequently, we have seen drought, severe hurricanes, forest fires and melting polar caps as a result of global warming.

With our ever-increasing populations, soaring global consumerism and ease of transportation, our world is imprinting a bigger footprint on the atmosphere on a daily basis. While this paints a very dreary picture of the present day environment, many measures can be implemented to reduce our carbon footprint. Thankfully, the impacts of global warming have been taken very seriously by our governments with a number of campaigns set up to lobby the awareness and importance of our environmental impact today. The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) proposed the Clean Air Act to cut power plant emissions by 26% in the next seven years. The United Nations has developed the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is the voice and educator on the matter, and in the UAE we have seen the establishment of the Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence (DCCE). The DCCE has been set up to measure the footprint of the UAE as part of its commitment to the Kyoto Principle and also acts as an advisory body to guide UAE-based firms on how to reduce their environmental footprint. Carbon reduction strategies are now being implemented by global organisations to minimise their impact on the environment due to their business activity and where a company cannot reduce its emissions, it will offset. Carbon offsetting is the process of calculating your emissions and buying credits to the equivalent of your emissions. One carbon credit is the equivalent of one tonne of carbon emissions; hence, a business will traditionally buy a series of credits from a verified carbon off-setting project for the value of their emissions.

What your SME can do

Now that the background to the evolution of carbon has been explained, it is now time to focus on methods SMEs can adopt to reduce their footprint and enjoy the cost savings. The following steps are a good blueprint to follow:

Carbon footprint measurement

  • In order to achieve any cost benefit from creating a carbon reduction strategy, an organisation should aim to measure its carbon footprint.
  • A foot-printing exercise will give your SME a great helicopter view of your emissions’ hotspots and allow you to focus on key areas of reduction for your company.
  • Online calculators are now available to give you an overview of your impact on the environment as a company, or you can engage with a specialist sustainability consultancy to help with the foot-printing process.
  • Once a footprint is completed, you can then implement and measure your carbon reduction on a monthly or quarterly basis

Transportation

  • Transportation is one of the biggest polluters of our environment and although fuel is cheaper in the UAE than in most other countries, this does not mean we should not be mindful of how we utilise it.
  • SMEs should encourage staff to use public and company transport where necessary.
  • Should company transport cause logistical issues, perhaps adopting a carpool scheme for colleagues who live in similar neighbourhoods could be adopted as a way of reducing your carbon emissions.
  • Encouraging staff to use video conferencing facilities or Skype to conduct external meetings is not only more cost-effective and time-efficient, but also lessens the environmental impact when not having to drive to a meeting.

Energy and water

  • Encourage employees to be more diligent with the use of energy at the workplace; as mentioned in the previous post, the number of employees that leave their computer on overnight is astonishing and a simple action of switching off the electricity at the socket point makes a difference.
  • Air conditioning in the office does not need to be set on 18 degrees for employees to function productively. Ensure that meeting rooms or office space that is not being utilised has the AC switched off.
  • Within the office environment, encourage staff to drink water from a central dispenser as opposed to drinking from smaller bottles. A plastic bottle takes 700 years to decompose; hence, when it is not disposed of correctly it will continue to let emissions into the atmosphere.

Office supplies

  • Research and review recycled paper options for printing documents. Today, the cost difference between recycled and non-recycled paper is marginal.
  • Implement a paperless office environment. This is possible for many organisations, by utilising online spaces such as Dropbox to store important files and documents.
  • Use recycled merchandise in the office such as stationery or biodegradable cups – not only are you positively impacting the environment in your buying behavior, but also providing awareness for staff who use these amenities.

Carbon reduction strategies do not need to be complicated or require expensive audits or equipment to reduce your environmental impact. The above recommendations are simple ways to promote your SME’s journey to reduce its footprint and become a more environmentally-friendly organisation.

 

Also read about: Energy Management & Consumption.


About the Author

Ahmed Detta
Ahmed Detta
Ahmed Detta is a consultant for a number of corporate and governmental organisations on implementing sustainability and CSR mandates that bring environmental, social and financial returns to an organisation. He has a strong commercial, technology and sustainability background and has led the start-up and growth of two recycling firms in the UAE.

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