Carbon neutrality: the next step in corporate accountability

Carbon footprint, you say?

The good folks at Wikipedia define a carbon footprint as the total amount of Co2 and other so-called greenhouse gasses emitted during the full life cycle of a product or service – or as a direct result of delivering these.

The deal with carbon footprints

Each person has a carbon footprint, an environmental impact on global warming as a whole, based on the fact that we drive cars running on fossil fuels, we produce waste that emits carbon dioxide during the disposal period, and we go through reams of paper that reduce the number of trees.

Heavy industries and primary producers obviously have a heavier footprint than service sector businesses and individual consumers, yet they nonetheless contribute to these industries’ carbon footprint by consuming their products.

Essentially, the carbon issue is everybody’s baby.

But what if my organisation is predominantly service-focused?

Realistically, primary production industries stand to make the greatest contribution through the optimisation of energy efficiencies and the reduction of emissions, yet it is also up to corporate and individual consumers to utilise products and services in a carbon-conscious way.

In Europe, carbon neutrality is fast becoming as big an advocacy and compliance issue as ethical labour outsourcing had been in the Nineties. Even in South Africa, corporate sustainability reporting already forms an integral component of shareholder communications.

And, as it turns out, there’s some serious money to be made from the global carbon market.

Getting on the green bus

UK retailer Marks & Spencer, for example, has unveiled a £200m, five-year plan to become carbon neutral by 2012. Given the fact that carbon neutrality is very likely to become a mandatory regulatory requirement in future, this early adoption has earned M&S incredibly positive publicity, and positioned them as a future-oriented, environmentally conscious and progressive retailer.

That’s setting the bar pretty damn high.

Reduction vs. offsetting

In brief, the distinction is the following:

You can reduce your own carbon footprint by being more energy-efficient. Think lift club to work, green cars, less plastic shopping bags and low-energy appliances.

Carbon offsetting involves activities that counter carbon emissions. It’s the process of neutralising your carbon impact by making up for it elsewhere.

For the sake of brevity, it involves this:

A shovel, a seedling, a hole in the ground and you.

That’s it!

Planting a tree is not only ridiculously good eco-Karma, but a great work-out too.  If you have a patch of soil to your name, populate it with trees – and if you don’t, go plant one somewhere where it won’t get you arrested.

And if it could – well, then don’t get caught.

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2 Responses

  1. I think that there’s not enough fuss made in SA about the effects of Global Warming. Take for instance Aids (another huge crisis in SA) – how many lectures/research/advertisements etc are being done on this issue (it is for a good cause, I know). My son in Grade 1 is already getting lectured on Aids, but if you ask him what Global Warming is, he doesn’t know.

    I don’t stand unsympathetic towards Aids (please don’t get me wrong), but not everybody has got Aids or is HIV positive. Whereas Global Warming will, without doubt, become such a huge issue in everybody’s lives if we don’t take care of it. Life on earth will soon be non existent. What future is there going to be for my 2 sons if we don’t act immediately?? Life in a couple of years will be non existent – and not because of Aids, because of Global Warming. But still, Global Warming is one of those issues that get’s pulled out of the hat when there’s nothing else to talk about … “and how is the weather there by you …”

    It’s easy to pass the bucket and say “I’m insignificant and can’t change anything” and not get involved. But it is every person on this earth’s responsibility to take action immediately. I would love to see the Government get as ACTIVELY involved in this issue, as they are involved in the HIV/Aids crisis.

  2. It certainly will have implications for larger chunks of the population. But, as with Aids and electricity supply, for example, it would seem that government favours a reactive approach to crisis management.

    Now I have not been in school, library and community education-type environments for a long time, but I do get the impression that initiatives such as Arbor Day have fallen by the wayside. Public service and awareness announcements are definitely focused on Aids-related issues – which is good – although I for one don’t think that their at all effective.

    I do think it is time that environmental education, as a priority issue, gets tabled alongside Aids and sex education in schools.

    Yet as in many other areas of public service delivery, the political will is somewhat lacking.

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