If you type “carbon footprint” into Google, you are likely to get upwards of 5 million hits, a sign of the recent gold rush-like interest in measuring the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) consumed by a person, a building, or a company. For most businesses, this interest has prompted initiatives to measure and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to a recent NAEM poll, 75 percent of companies surveyed identified energy management and reduction as one of their top three sustainability priorities.
But there are many ways to reduce a company’s impact ranging from altering an existing manufacturing process to switching suppliers, or even changing the personal behaviors of a company’s employees. So, how do companies really compare?
Like many environmental and sustainability metrics, there is a lot of variation in how companies set goals and report GHG emissions. Because greenhouse gas reduction goals and programs are not being consistently developed, even the participants in the EPA Climate Leaders program use drastically different language.
Some have set goals specific to their category and segment. Best Buy Co., Inc., for example, has pledged to reduce its emissions by 8 percent per square foot (from 2005 to 2012), while Burt’s Bees, Inc. plans to reduce its GHG’s by 35 percent per dollar sales (from 2006 to 2011). Still others, like Sprint Nextel Corp., have committed to absolute reductions of 15 percent by 2017, or pledged to become carbon neutral, as Dell, Inc. has, by 2012.
So with all the inconsistencies, how do we know which companies are finding “pay dirt” by making genuine strides, and who are just shuffling the pan?
When we did our first NAEM climate change event in New York in 2006, most companies were just trying to get a baseline measurement of their emissions. As we prepare for our upcoming Corporate GHG Strategies conference in Chicago in August, we’ve seen a huge jump in the number of companies who have met their initial goals and now are making progress toward more ambitious GHG reductions. Across the board, however, companies continue to face common challenges such as developing clear boundaries, instituting long-term management processes and achieving authentic results.
While I strongly encourage transparency, I believe that many of the rankings out there are ultimately less important than the existence of actual programs and decision-making processes that help bring about real reductions over time.
Because as far as Mother Nature is concerned, relative success is just not good enough.
Understanding that one size will never fit all, I’m curious to know what metrics you think are most useful to understanding actual GHG reductions? What do you think is the best way to compare companies regardless of industry sector?