Posts

What is a Carbon Footprint?

Assuming you have not been living under a rock for the past few years, you have most likely heard the term “carbon footprint.” It’s one of those terms that people throw around in an attempt to sound “greener.” But if you’re like me, you may wonder what the word actually means. Is it like carbon paper? Am I actually making a big black footprint somewhere? If I step lightly will it lessen my impact? Okay, I’m kind of joking, I know enough about it to know my carbon footprint doesn’t actually involve my feet, but if not our feet, what parts of us do impact our carbon footprints?

So what is a carbon footprint?

Merriam Webster defines carbon footprint as “the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period.” Awesome. That makes it 100% clear, right?

But what does that mean?

The Guardian’s Green Living Blog provides a better explanation. They say, “When talking about climate change, footprint is a metaphor for the total impact that something has. And carbon is…shorthand for all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The term carbon footprint, therefore, is…shorthand to describe the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. That something could be anything – an activity, an item, a lifestyle, a company, a country or even the whole world.”

It is important to note that although emission totals are generally reported in carbon dioxide (CO2), there are several other greenhouse gasses that contribute to the overall impact (methane, nitrous oxide, refrigerant gases, etc.). Because these other gasses are generally released in much smaller amounts, and in order to simplify the reporting process, they are converted into CO2 equivalents, or CO2e’s.

How can I measure mine or my company’s carbon footprint?

This is really where things get tricky because the carbon footprint of any product, good, or thing is so vast it becomes very difficult to measure. Many companies only account for a portion of the actual footprint. “A magazine publisher might claim to have measured its carbon footprint but in doing so looked only at its office and cars while ignoring the much greater emissions caused by the printing house that produces the magazines themselves.” The carbon footprint of every product includes not only direct emissions from the manufacturing and transportation processes, but also includes several indirect emissions, such as those caused by the extraction and processing of oil, a key component in plastic.

What I mean is this, say you go to the grocery store; you have a gallon of 2% milk in each hand. One gallon is the typical store brand and the other is from a local dairy farm. You know that in the ads for the store you are at they say that they strive to be low emission and to minimize their carbon footprint. The local company is family owned and doesn’t do very much advertising but you know they bring the milk to the store from right up the street. So which do you buy, store brand or local? It’s a difficult problem because measuring total impact is nearly impossible.

As for measuring yours or your company’s carbon footprint, the easiest way would be just to work backwards and be as all inclusive as you can. Remember to think not only about your direct influence, but your indirect influence as well. Although you could be lead down innumerable paths, this should help you to get a basic idea of your impact. And once you get good at thinking this way, it may help you make better (less carbon emission heavy) choices in your life!

Sustainable Business Practices – Part 3

In closing our series on sustainable business practices, I felt it wouldn’t be conclusive without a look into the triple bottom line. You can refer to these three ket points as Socially Responsiblity, Environmental Soundness, and Economic Viability or simply: People, Planet, and Profit. These three pillars of business effort are the core of what makes a business sustainable.

Impacts to people are huge for businesses. It starts with its employees at number one, then the people who live near its operations, the people who purchase their goods or services, the people who sell them goods and services, the people who come into contact with any byproducts from their goods or services, the people who are impacted by any changes their operations cause to the environment, etc.

Protecting our planet may be regulated by local municipalities, states and the U.S. EPA – but policing actions are not the same as preventing damage. Consider the environmental hierarchy: reduce, reduce, and recycle. Recycling has the lowest benefit. Reducing wastes and impacts – by not creating them at all – has the most far reaching effect.

Profit is not a four letter word. Profit is a very good thing for the growth of our economy and the improvement of job markets. And it is a proven fact that doing the right thing for our environment can also be lucrative for business. For example, reducing energy usage reduces costs which can drop straight to the bottom line. Innovations in existing products and the development of new products and services to enter the marketplace with an added green benefit or selling point also contribute to increased profitability.

At Heritage, we added a fourth pillar in our sustainable efforts – patrons. Our Patrons are the consumers, people and businesses who engage with our services. Going full circle to assure we consider the ripple effect of all our actions, we believe it is “material” for our business to focus on impacts to our patrons.

If you do your sustainability homework on many other large businesses, you will see that many adjust their focus points as well to complement their business. But no matter what you call them, principles of the triple bottom line are covered.

The upcoming 2013 GRI Global Conference on Sustainability and Reporting has the theme of “Information – Integration – Innovation.” Will this be the set of buzz words for sustainability in the years to come? Freely given information is certainly easier to understand than making sense of company transparency. To me, Integration in this context means making sustainability a part of every aspect of your business – management, employee, and consumer engagement. And again Innovation: seeking new ideas and redesigned old ideas that will change our impacts on the world.

If I’m right about this new wave of understanding, remember you read it here first. 

Sustainable Business Practices – Part 2

In today’s technology biased world, people readily search the internet from home, from work, or on the go from their cell phone for answers to all of life’s questions. But do you question the backstory of the answers you find before making a buying decision? 

It feels great to make the healthy decision to pick fresh fruit for a snack. But do you know if the fruit you select is grown and transported locally, from another state, or another country?

Do you select bottled water simply on cost; or do you pay any attention to where it was bottled, how much packaging surrounds the bottles or if the bottle itself has been light weighted to use less plastic? 

Considering there are no mandated sustainability labels for products and services today, what should you question and what should you look for when you do your sustainable homework to check out a business? If you are checking out the sustainability practices of a business from their corporate web-site, look for these major components:

      • Transparency
      • Materiality
      • Reporting
      • Innovation

Transparency: Businesses that wish to be sustainable make a serious commitment to choices that impact more factors than just profit. They commit to noble actions to protect future generations. Companies that want to prove their sustainability commit to being “transparent” in their business actions. This doesn’t mean that private companies have to disclose detailed financials or that any business would openly share trade secrets or intellectual property. It does mean they will publically share their goals and actions (positive and negative) that relate to their impact on our earth.

Materiality: When a business decides it is time to publically talk about their sustainability efforts, they have many decisions to make. But all of those decisions should come back to “material” (physical, relevant) business impacts. For example, a business that manufactures a car is responsible for the complete life cycle of their product from raw material to end of life destruction. All of the impacts to employees and land from the physical manufacture of each part and the assembly of the car, to the impacts of emissions from fossil fuels needed to operate the vehicle and safety of passengers are included in that life cycle and should be addressed by the business in their sustainability efforts.

Reporting:  There are no laws that require businesses to report their sustainability efforts. And there are hundreds of voluntary programs a business can choose – or completely do their own thing (even it that is nothing). The most popular are the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The impetus to start reporting is to satisfy the consumers who may spend their money on your product or service and the financial investment community (including stockholders) that may well help a business to expand and grow. Reporting needs to be timely, include a baseline for comparing current activities, include improvement goals and share the positive and negative aspects of their most recent efforts.

Innovation: Some consumers wait for new technologies to become mainstream and comparably priced to its predecessor before buying something new. But, aren’t we all impressed with those technology companies that are always on the cutting edge? Who are the companies that are on the cutting edge with new green products or improved products? Have you paid any attention to the changes in laundry detergent – that could be a blog of its own! How do you pick the right light bulb, dishwasher, or thermostat? As with buying a hybrid or electric car, you need to compare way more than the sticker price in your decision process.

Sustainable Business Practices – Part 1

When you hear the word “sustainability” what do you think? Most people think “green” or “protecting our earth.” On a personal level though, it comes down how these thoughts are turned into the actions we take at home, at play, and at work. Do you shut off the lights when you leave a room? Do you pay attention to lawn watering bans in the summertime? Are you both recycling and looking for ways to reduce?

You also react to the obstacles business puts in front of you – layers of packaging for food products (a bag inside a box), understanding the chemical composition of products (VOCs in paint), and trying to guess if the latest marketing tactic is real or green washing. How you react to these obstacles is how you embrace your sustainable power!

It is the consumer who decides if a product or service is successful – simply by choosing to buy or walk on by… Do you consider the full impact in your buying decisions? For example, did you know that the transportation and distribution of some products can represent a larger carbon footprint than the manufacture and end of life disposition? That slogan “think global, buy local” has real merit. Yet, some people will still pay more money for specialty water from a tropical island – a product that is transported thousands of miles by boat, truck, and car before it makes it to your refrigerator. Have you considered these high carbon emitting steps it must go through before you can have a cool refreshing drink to carry with you? Will you still choose that option or will you purchase a filter for your tap and some reusable containers? Much of sustainability truly is your decision.

The power is truly yours; you decide what to buy and perhaps where to invest. The public awakening to sustainable business practices is beginning to level the playing field. Just as products become obsolete and new businesses grow rapidly due to new technology development, similar business decline and growth opportunities are happening as consumers use their sustainable buying power. The businesses that are engaging in sustainable practices are moving up while those that don’t remain stagnant or fall behind. Think about it; what products do you choose? What companies do you support or avoid?

People in this newly emerging sustainability field are working to standardize the calculation and publication of product LCAs (life cycle analysis) and carbon labels, similar to nutrition information you see now, may soon show up on the products you use. But until those are standard practice, what options do you have to educate yourself today? Of course, after “use your common sense,” the next answer is the Internet. Many businesses now report all of their sustainable efforts on-line and in annual reports. Just remember, it is a voluntary practice, so if you can’t find sustainability prominently shared on a business web-site… that tells you something as well.

Household Hazardous Wastes

According to the EPA website, hazardous waste is waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to our health or the environment. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, gases, or sludges. They can be discarded commercial products, like cleaning fluids or pesticides, or the by-products of manufacturing processes. Although it may surprise you, many of these products could be sitting in your cabinets right now.

What to Look For

If the product you have says any of the following, you may have a hazardous waste on your hands: Flammable, Volatile, Toxic, Corrosive, Caustic, Reactive, Poison, Contains Phosphates, Eye Irritant, Harmful if Swallowed, or Do Not Mix. Once you identify a product with one of these warnings, make sure to take extra care when using it.

Some Common Household Hazardous Wastes

– Ammonia

– Drain cleaner

– Mothballs

– Oven cleaner

– Spot removers

– Window cleaner

– Aerosol spray

– Nail polish remover

– Toilet bowl cleaner

– Tub & tile cleaners

– Glues & cement

– Household batteries

– Paints & stains

– Brake fluid

– Lighter fluid

– Motor oil

– Transmission fluid

– Herbicides

– Insect repellents

– Pesticides

What Should You Do?

If you have a hazardous product, the best thing to do is make sure you use all of it for its intended purpose. If you can’t do that though, there are several organizations that sponsor hazardous waste drop-off events where you can bring your old products and be assured that they will be properly disposed of. The US EPA website is a good place to start finding a time and location that will work for you.

Top Ten Hazardous Waste Generator Violations (And How to Avoid Them): Part 3

This week we will finish the article about the Top 10 Hazardous Waste Violations (And How to Avoid Them) written by Patty Smith, CHMM (Certified Hazardous Materials Manager).

4. Used Oil Labeling Violations   

          AVOID this by:

1.) Understand the definition of used oil.

2.) Any container or tank utilized to hold used oil should be labeled “Used Oil”.

3.) Ensure fill pipes used to transfer used oil to a UST are marked “Used Oil”.

3. Universal Waste Violations

-Violations for Spent Batteries:

1.) If universal waste batteries are in poor condition, they must be stored in a closed container.

2.) Labeled “Universal Waste Batteries”, “Waste Batteries”, or “Used Batteries”.

-Violations for Spent Lamps:

1.) Universal waste lamps must be stored in a closed container.

2.) Labeled “Universal Waste Lamps”, “Waste Lamps”, or “Used Lamps”.

AVOID this by:

1.) Understand the regulations for universal waste.

2.) Train employees on proper universal waste handling procedure.

2. Open Container Violations

AVOID this by:

1.) Rule of Thumb- if the contents would spill if the container was overturned, then the container is considered open.

2.) Close and latch funnels; screw in bungs; use drum rings and tighten bolts.

3.) Train employees to close containers when not adding or removing waste.

 1. Storage Area Accumulation Date Violations

-Containers of hazardous waste in a 90 or 180-day storage area must be marked with an accumulation date.

 AVOID this by:

1.) Once 55 gallons of hazardous waste or 1 quart of acute hazardous waste is exceeded at the satellite accumulation area, storage area dating requirements apply after three days.

 2.) Make sure all containers of hazardous waste in storage are marked with waste accumulation dates during weekly inspections.

 In General:

• Familiarize yourself with the regulations.

• Know your generator classification.

• Select the best storage method for your hazardous waste.

• Train employees so compliance is a team effort.