Reducing carbon emissions is taking centre stage for growing numbers of consumers and for the public. What does carbon mean for your business?
There is a direct link between using energy (at least energy from fossil fuels) and carbon emissions. When fossil fuels are burned, they release energy and form carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product.
Humans pull oil, methane and coal from the ground. These natural resources formed eons ago are distilled and modified to harness the energy services they provide.
We all rely now on fossil fuels to heat buildings, transport goods and people, transform materials into usable products, and power lights and telecommunications.
But there is a problem. CO2 forms when those fossil fuels are burned. CO2 has always been in the atmosphere. How is CO2 a problem?
The problem with CO2
The CO2 problem is a physics problem. When sunlight hits the earth, some of that energy is absorbed and radiated back to space in the form of infrared energy. Touch a dark rock that has been heated on a warm sunny day and you’ll experience this phenomenon first hand. Energy arrives on earth in one vehicle – sunlight and leaves in another – infrared heat.
Infrared waves travel through the atmosphere into space at wavelengths of 700 to one million nanometers. Oxygen (O2) and nitrogen (N2) molecules in the atmosphere absorb energy with very short wavelengths of about 200 nanometres or less. The infrared energy waves are much longer than that, so these two gases give them a free pass out into space.
Not so with CO2. CO2 molecules absorb energy at wavelengths between 2,000 and 15,000 nanometers – which includes the wavelength for infrared energy. The likely reason is the three atom structure of CO2 compared to the much simpler, two atom structure of O2 and N2. The CO2 molecules absorb, vibrate, then re-release the infrared heat. About half the heat continues out into space and about half is retained in the atmosphere or directed back to earth. This phenomenon is referred to as the 'greenhouse effect.'
Humans have burned so much fossil fuel energy there is now more CO2 in the atmosphere than at any time in at least three million years. This elevated level of CO2 is warming our planet’s climate. The heat being retained is raising global average temperatures and fueling extreme weather events. The more CO2 there is, the higher will global average temperatures be pushed.
All businesses burn fossil fuels. All businesses emit carbon into the atmosphere. To address the problem of a hotter climate, everyone needs to reduce their carbon emissions.
What carbon reduction strategies are best for a specific company?
A carbon emissions strategy is becoming as essential for every company as is a budget, a risk management plan, or a marketing strategy. But how to do it?
Governments and companies worldwide are making commitments to reduce carbon emissions, often to reach 'net-zero.' In simple terms, net-zero occurs when we stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere. We reduce emissions when we use less energy or switch to no- or low-carbon energy. We can remove emissions through nature-based solutions (e.g. forests) or technology (CO2 capture and storage.) By doing both, an organization can reach net-zero.
Here’s why carbon can’t be spelled without E-N-E-R-G-Y. Carbon emissions can’t be managed without managing energy:
- Energy audit: take control, learn what’s going on, implement your findings;
- Nix carbon: purchase non-emitting energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal;
- Efficiency: update building and operations systems to energy efficient ones;
- Reduce: eliminate unnecessary energy use. Switch off equipment when not needed;
- Goals: set targets for reduction and energy savings;
- Yearly: monitor and report to maintain control and to continually improve.
How to manage energy
Energy management is not a task just for one department. Effective energy management, on the pace and scale required, requires a shift in organizational culture. Almost everyone in the business needs to take an active role. Engage your employees. Tap into every corner of your organization to build your team of energy and carbon management champions. The support of the CEO and other senior management is essential for meaningful energy management.
Does managing energy and reducing climate risks have business benefits? A resounding “Yes.”
Here are a few of the benefits our 360 Energy clients have realized:
- Saving on energy and operational costs: Energy efficiency measures consistently cut energy use and energy costs in buildings.
- Meeting customer expectations and demands: Every business is in a supply chain. Every business has customers. Proactive energy management enhances the opportunity to effectively connect with consumers who are looking for tangible environmental values.
- Meeting environmental regulations: All orders of government are enacting requirements or providing incentives for organizations to meet emission reduction targets. A good energy management program always provides necessary compliance documentation and reporting.
- Securing investment and financing: Regulations will soon require banks to disclose climate related risks in their loan portfolios. Managing energy proactively means being prepared for emerging finance and investment requirements.
- The pressure on businesses to reduce carbon emissions will only accelerate. The key to success in exploiting this opportunity to manage carbon is by managing your energy.