Think going carbon neutral is something you should do, but don’t really know what it’s all about? Join the club. Thousands of businesses are taking the leap in business sustainability and becoming carbon neutral by purchasing carbon offsets. But after paying for their “environmental sins”, they are left with the feeling of… now what?
If you’ve ever felt this way, read on. While exploring these questions, we found five common mistakes businesses were making that lead them to feel this sense of emptiness and lack of fulfillment once they became carbon neutral. Get back to the roots of why you thought carbon neutrality was a good idea in the first place, because you actually can make a difference as long as you avoid these 5 mistakes.
5 mistakes businesses make when going carbon neutral
MISTAKE 1 – You don’t know the difference between carbon neutral and carbon conscious.
Being a carbon neutral business means you’ve balanced the books, so to speak, with the amount of carbon emissions you are responsible for, with an equal reduction elsewhere by purchasing carbon offsets. Sounds lovely, everybody wins. But shouldn’t you do something about reducing your own emissions?
A carbon conscious business sets science-based emissions reduction targets and takes steps to actually reduce their own energy consumption and other emissions sources in pursuit of these goals, while tracking their carbon footprint based on international standards. This type of business is investing in operational efficiencies all the time. Sometimes they will also purchase carbon offsets to neutralize what emissions they haven’t yet been able to eliminate.
MISTAKE 2 -You have no idea what Scope 1, 2 or 3 means and don’t think it matters.
Here’s an easy diagram to help you out. Basically it comes down to who is actually responsible for the emissions created as part of your business.
Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources, typically from combusted fuel, such as gasoline in company-owned vehicles or natural gas in your boiler or hot water tank.
Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions, such as those generated from the utility where you purchase your electricity. You are responsible for how much you use, but you don’t control how it’s made.
Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions (not included in scope 2), that occur in the value chain of your company, including both upstream and downstream emissions. Typically these are sources related to your business, but emitted under someone else’s control, like the fuel burned to deliver your mail or haul away your garbage, or the methane released from the landfill operated by your local government.
The GHG protocol requires you to measure Scope 1 and 2 in order to create a carbon inventory to make sure you have accounted for all your emissions sources, and highly recommends measuring Scope 3, particularly if it is a significant source of emissions.
MISTAKE 3 – You haven’t taken any steps to reduce your carbon emissions.
By not doing this, you are most likely missing out on lower utility bills, risk being caught by inevitable carbon legislation and miss out on new customers who care about this stuff. Consumers care more about a business that is open, honest and transparent about how they operate and what their plan is to reduce their environmental impacts. Don’t believe us? Read this article.
MISTAKE 4 – You calculated your carbon footprint…for free on the internet and expect a “Carbon Neutral Logo”.
Oops. Well you did it. Free carbon footprint calculators don’t provide much guidance or follow up do they, and often don’t capture all of your emissions scopes or sources? How do they know if you’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? To obtain a seal that confirms you are a carbon neutral or carbon conscious business, someone needs to check up on you and trust your sources.
Do you expect a logo that proves you’re carbon neutral now? Think again. Most credible offsetting companies like Offsetters.ca need to understand how you came to conclude your carbon footprint and will request evidence to back up your claim before providing you with a carbon neutral logo. There is a reason why consultants and organizations have in-depth tools that have a cost associated with them… each business is unique and there are a lot of different factors to accurately calculate your carbon footprint. Plus, some are not developed using international standards, so you have to read through carefully to know for sure.
MISTAKE 5 – You have no idea where your money is going.
Small and medium sized businesses are operating within the voluntary carbon market, meaning you have a choice whether you purchase carbon offsets or not. Your money is added to the $500M+ that supports innovative climate reducing projects. But how do you know where your money is going? Most offsetting organizations have portfolios, where you can choose, like with a financial advisor, which types of companies or areas you wish to support. Projects within the portfolios can range from installing a heat pump in a retirement home and giving efficient wood stoves to villages overseas, to supporting projects like methane capture in landfills and protection of endangered forests.
Don’t get me wrong, these projects are great but it’s hard to pat yourself on the back for helping a retirement home install an heat pump when you could use one in your business to reduce your own energy bills and carbon footprint… it kind of makes you wonder about your priorities!
For an extensive guide on purchasing carbon offsets, view David Suzuki’s Climate Offset Guide.
What to do next
To meet consumer demand for being an honest, authentic and transparent business, you need to dig a little deeper into your carbon footprint and take action to reduce your carbon footprint, before becoming carbon neutral.
A program that can help you do this for free, is ecobase Certified. With this program you can generate an eco fund that you can then invest in your own energy saving, carbon reduction projects, allowing you to be that change you wish to see in the world, while saving money every month from lower utility bills!
Interested in reducing carbon footprint in the travel industry? Read our post: Reducing carbon emissions from guest travel.