Three Tips for Trimming CO2 Emissions

Three Tips for Trimming CO2 Emissions

Commercial and industrial energy use accounts for nearly 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That adds up a staggering 2 billion metric tons of CO2 each year.

Any company can get on board with the environmental movement by taking simple, yet impactful measures to cut carbon emissions -- and save money in the process. Here are a few ways to start:   

Avoid the Red-Eye When Temperatures Drop

U.S. commercial flights emit nearly 500 billion pounds of CO2 annually.  But, despite the attention focused on carbon emissions, carbon dioxide accounts for only half of a flight's contribution to the greenhouse effect.  Just as important are thermal impacts of jet contrails -- a phenomenon known as radiative forcing.  Contrails are high ice clouds whose development is catalyzed by the particulate in jet exhaust.  These clouds block sunlight entering and heat leaving the atmosphere and account for half of total jet warming effects.

Contrails' effects on atmospheric heat fluctuate, with night and winter flights having more detrimental effects than day and summer flights.  During the day, contrails block enough sunlight to largely compensate for the heat they trap, while at night they have no positive effect.  Winter flights trap more thermal energy relative to solar energy blocked than summer flights.  

Schedule daytime flights -- they contribute about half as much to the greenhouse effect as night flights.  Flying from Los Angeles to New York during the day instead of night will cut a CO2 footprint by at least 1,000 pounds.  Scheduling trips during the summer when possible reduces air travel impact by at least a quarter.

Reengineer Document Shipping  

Shipping documents electronically can save money and CO2 emissions.  For example, airlines began creating digital records of reservations rather than paper tickets a decade ago. As a result, they have reduced operational costs from eliminating paper, envelopes, and shipping; improved customer service and satisfaction; and significantly reduced their carbon emissions. Global electronic sales in the airline industry now account for more than $400 billion a year.

In 2006, the United States Postal Service alone emitted nearly 5 million tons of CO2.  Businesses can reduce the impact of mailing by examining document processing for employees, customers, and vendors. Start by asking if sending a physical document is needed.   Recipients often prefer electronic shipping because it is timelier and receiving requires less effort.  

E-mail or fax can be alternatives to mailing for almost any business correspondence -- from shareholder reports to signed legal documents.  If confirmation is required, select the "return receipt" option in an email client. If printing and shipping physical correspondence is necessary, print double-sided on recycled paper and ship by boat, rail, or ground.  Only ship overnight or two-day for emergencies.  Shipping by air emits 20 times more CO2 than ground, 50 times more than rail, and 150 times more than water.  Be sure to use a shipping company that practices disciplined load balancing and efficient route planning.  

Finally, scrutinize cost effectiveness of printing and sending unsolicited material, especially catalogs enclosed in orders placed electronically.   Check for duplicate names or address variations, cease sending when orders don't materialize, or mimic good internet practices with an easy 'unsubscribe' capability.   

Green Your Next Event as a Case Study

Greening company retreats, year-end office parties, or 2009 kickoff meetings helps the environment while teaching employees about carbon emissions and conservation. Assess an event in the planning stages to do an emissions inventory and determine where changes can be made.

Travel of staff, speakers, vendors and attendees causes two thirds of an event's emissions.  Energy use for hotel rooms and the event space are other big contributors.   Pick an environmentally-frugal venue that minimizes travel, is accessible via public transit, and is small and energy-efficient.  Then scrub the invitee list to optimize -- even minimize -- attendees.

If an event includes food, consider vegetarian options when possible and go local.  A recent New York Times article profiled seven tips for eating less meat, which is a carbon-intensive food. Ten vegetarians could be fed by the same land that it takes to feed one meat eater.   Locally-grown food cuts transportation fuel and packaging waste, and supports the local economy.  

Further reduce emissions by recycling and composting waste, using biodiesel for generators, and providing materials to attendees electronically.  Any takeaways should be eco-friendly ones, such as canvas tote bags.  Address unavoidable carbon emissions in an event's carbon footprint by offsetting.   

After the event, apply some of these principles to business operations.  

These are small steps, but if taken by many, they can have a profound impact.   And, as demonstrated time and again, they have a dual benefit of reducing your company's carbon footprint and improving the bottom line.

Patti Prairie is the CEO of Brighter Planet, a company that helps people reduce their carbon emissions and build a clean-energy future. The company is kicking off its One Day campaign Wednesday where people are invited to go carbon neutral for a day. For each person who signs up, Brighter Planet will donate 136 pounds of carbon offsets (the emissions for the average person for one day).