The Climate Accord signed in Paris last month has been hailed as a turning point in the world’s attitude towards climate change because nearly all of the world's countries have committed to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The accord aims to stop global temperatures from increasing by more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and it sets an aspirational target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The latter goal represents a big win for the nations that are the most vulnerable to the rising sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change.
Scientists almost universally agree that the reductions these 195 nations have pledged to are not enough to halt global warming; at best, these pledges will reduce emissions by about half enough to keep atmospheric temperature from rising by 2 degrees Celsius. However, the Accord also legally commits nations to revising their emissions targets every five years starting in 2023 and publicly reporting how they are doing. This “name-and-shame” system is expected to prompt countries to continue to make their emissions reductions goals more aggressive as technology improves and the world collectively develops best practices for reducing carbon emissions.
The move towards global tracking and transparent reporting means that nations will have to assess their carbon footprints much more extensively. Right now the US federal government only tracks the greenhouse gasses of its biggest emitters—facilities that emit of 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent—and suppliers of products that would emit greenhouse gases if released or combusted. However, in a tightening regulatory environment with increasing emphasis on reporting and reductions, US businesses of all sizes will likely be required to identify and reduce their carbon footprints in the near future. The US has pledged to reduce its emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025; in order to make this reduction a reality, US businesses of all types will have to participate and seriously address their carbon footprints.
While the world testified to their global commitment to combatting climate change with this Paris Climate Accord, important local and state-level commitments are gaining steam as well. Many grass-roots initiatives across the US are working to change energy policy in cities, counties, and states. For example, more and more US cities like Austin and Atlanta are implementing their own energy conservation measures and requiring business to assess their energy use every year. California has instituted a cap-and-trade policy, and new regulations such as these are introduced every year. US businesses will face increasing pressure at the municipal, state, federal, and international levels to clean up their acts. In order to make our pledged reductions a reality, the entire US economy needs to understand the environmental impact of their business operations, analyze the opportunities to limit their emissions, and make concrete changes to reduce their carbon footprints.
One of the most important tools for tracking greenhouse gasses are carbon emissions assessments, which calculate the impact of all sorts of business activities with a universal measurement: the carbon emissions equivalent. All environmental damage caused by human activity can be quantified in terms of its carbon emissions equivalent; so, this universal metric allows us to compare the impact of business operations across markets, nations, and geographies in a simple, concrete way. Carbon emissions assessments survey a business’s complete operations and calculate the carbon emissions related to all business activity. These assessments take into account direct emissions produced by burning natural gas and operating a company’s machinery, vehicles, and equipment, and they also track all kinds of indirect emissions, such as those created producing the electricity the company consumes in order to operate, the impact of travel in vehicles not owned directly by the company, waste disposal, the production of materials and fuels needed for the company’s operations, and the costs of transmission and distribution activities.
EDSS is moving proactively to address our own impact on the climate and respond to a tightening regulatory environment. We’re starting by comprehensively studying our own business operations to track our emissions. Then, we’re analyzing our results to compare our company performance with other similar businesses and setting goals for reducing emissions. Finally, we will be identifying concrete steps we can take to reduce our energy consumption and waste. In other words, we’re following three simple steps: track, analyze, and reduce. Our expertise in energy efficiency has already helped us reduce our carbon footprint through efficient lighting, well-controlled mechanical building systems, and a tight building envelope that protects against infiltration. Now, we can quantify those energy savings in terms of carbon emissions and set goals for our company’s performance using this universal metric. Currently, we’re working on addressing our waste streams and secondary emissions from activities like transportation, packaging, and shipping. EDSS can offer this same evaluation to our clients to help business owners nimbly respond to the changing regulations about climate change.
The part EDSS plays in reducing the world’s carbon emissions may seem small. After all, re-engineering the world’s energy consumption is a massive task. But, this is a task we all must participate in—whether we believe that climate change is the product of human behavior or not—because the simple fact is that fossil fuels are a finite resource. And besides, wasting energy is the equivalent of throwing money out the window. No successful business can afford to do that.