Skip to main content

10 Stops on the Road to Carbon Management

<p>&nbsp;Though managing and counting carbon is now table stakes for mom and pop shops and Fortune 500 firms alike, many companies don't know where to begin. These 10 stops will get you well on your way to carbon management.</p>

There’s no denying that managing carbon has become table stakes in today’s business world. Organizations of all shapes and sizes need to manage their carbon footprint -- and they know it. However, what some don’t know is where to begin.

Most companies have a tough time deciding how to start down the road to carbon management. In this evolving industry, there are thousands of moving parts and picking and choosing amongst all the opportunities can be an overwhelming undertaking. Should I focus on renewable solutions or energy efficiency? Do I spend my time starting sustainability initiatives or reporting on them?

Through my work with organizations around the world, I’ve learned that successful carbon management programs most often embrace ten basic guiding principles. Whether you’re a mom & pop shop or a Fortune 500, be sure to hit these 10 stops on your road to carbon management:

1. Know Your Inventory

GBX - the Power of 10Determining your carbon inventory is the fundamental first step in any carbon management program. Pin down the parameters of your footprint by answering the following questions: What exactly will your company’s carbon footprint include? Scopes one, two and three? All sources? How far down the supply chain should you go? Engage operational colleagues across facilities to gain a comprehensive understanding of energy use associated with the product or service you provide.

2. Analyze Your Footprint Internally

Squeeze the mileage out of your carbon inventory by sharing it with employees throughout your organization. Raising the proverbial ‘antennas’ of other functional groups will prompt them to consider carbon’s effect on the business. Marketing has a keen interest in incorporating initiatives into messaging. Facility teams use the carbon inventory to identify opportunities to improve efficiency and eliminate waste. There may even be a future cost to carbon, so Finance needs to understand the landscape.

3. Set Reduction Goals

Carbon reduction directly translates to money saved, which makes the TBL triumvirate -- people, planet and profit -- very, very happy. Nearly always, the less carbon you’re emitting, the less energy you’re buying. The less energy you buy, the better you’ve mitigated exposure to volatile energy prices. Get multiple functions on-board to analyze your carbon data and set goals, keeping in mind the corporate budget for implementing projects.

4. Invest in Efficiency Efforts

Never underestimate the “power of people” and behavioral change. More often than not, the most impactful and cost-effective “efficiency projects” simply require improving workplace practices and processes. Most all companies can drastically improve efficiency without investing significant capital or buying the latest gadget. Proactively prioritize your efficiency efforts to focus on areas with high carbon intensity levels, high energy prices and the existence of incentives & rebates to maximize returns.

5. Be Cleaner

From RECs to on-site generation, the market continues to unfold with cost-effective renewable energy solutions. Approach this stop on the carbon management road with a deep knowledge of available opportunities according to industry and location. Paper and waste management companies can generate energy from biomass waste. Businesses in New Jersey can dig into solar REC opportunities. Operations in Ontario can explore feed in tariffs offered by utilities. Regardless of the situation, take into full consideration the complexities of feasibility and cost.

6. Capitalize on Incentives

Get in the game of incentives, grants and rebates by using them in tandem with your overall sustainability priorities. Federal, state and local opportunities aim to accelerate progress on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, but are often time-sensitive and location-dependent. Whether it’s the Save Energy Now program or Renewable Energy Investment Credits (1603C), incentives can reduce pay-back-cycles and increase sustainability project cash flows.

7. Track Progress

Benchmark your progress over time in order to illustrate ground you’ve covered to reduce your carbon emissions. Wal-Mart, P&G and other scorecards currently require companies to track sustainability efforts and developments. In addition, regulatory schemes will likely reward early action, so documentation will be crucial in claiming credit for historical efforts.

8. Consider Verification

Validating and registering your carbon inventory with a third party can substantiate the rigor, transparency and validity of your data. Consider the value of registering your emissions with reporting programs such as The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UK Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to keep yourself free from watchdogs claiming “greenwashing.”

9. Engage Your Suppliers

To borrow a well-known phrase from Ronald Reagan, it’s all about the “trickle-down” when determining a carbon footprint. When businesses report on the emissions of their product or service, they are often implicitly reporting on the aggregate footprint of their suppliers. Look down your supply chain for opportunities to cut carbon, waste and energy use and pressure your suppliers to step up their efforts. As customers increase their demand for life cycle analyses, getting a handle on your suppliers’ carbon profile will become more crucial than ever.

10. Talk About It

I’m always struck by the number of companies afraid to talk about their sustainability efforts. I often hear comments like “My numbers aren’t impressive enough” & “Our competition might be doing better than us.” However, it’s key to remember that if you’re not saying anything, the assumption is that you’re not doing anything. Avoid giving that impression and get credit for your efforts by communicating in an honest and transparent way. As Marc Gunther highlighted in a recent webinar, there are five major constituents demanding details about your carbon footprint. I can almost guarantee that they will be asking, if they aren’t already.

John Hoekstra is the Director of Sustainability at Summit Energy, a sustainability services and energy management firm. John can be contacted at or

More on this topic

Tune in starting at 10:25am ET for keynotes and conversations on the latest in sustainable finance.