SoL/SFL Working Group on Carbon Helps Companies Respond
The first meeting of the working group on carbon happened twice because so many people were interested, no one date worked for everyone. Individuals from eighteen companies joined the first meeting by phone to dig in to the details of how their companies might respond to the climate challenge. Joe Laur co-founder of SoL Sustainability Consortium said suddenly everyone is expressing interest.
“I though I had five or six companies interested and that was a lot. Usually if there’s more than three than I’ll design a project for it,” Laur said.
Participants include individuals from companies in the Sustainable Food Lab, the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL Sustainability Consortium) and some companies not currently affiliated with either network. Individuals from Nike, Ford, SYSCO, Laura’s Lean Beef, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Interface, Plug Power, Waste Management, J.P. Morgan, Co-America Bank, Seventh Generation, Cabot and many more are interested or involved. The next call is scheduled in late August and the group will meet in person at the SoL Sustainability Consortium meeting in September.
Matt Roman of Visteon Corporation said, "I think the most interesting thing is the level of interest even from companies who have never engaged in the discussion before. I don't think this would have happened a year ago. The main theme that seems to be developing is that companies are interested to see where this is headed and want to be engaged, some to help develop their initial carbon strategy, and others to take theirs to the next level. I am very intrigued to see where it goes."
Laur has framed the work in terms of three main methods of approach: the Reduction Program, the Cool Corporate Citizen Program and the Carbon Commons.
In the Reduction Program companies support each other to take actions best suited to their business. Individuals from more experienced companies help newcomers with referrals for good carbon footprint calculators ideas and other resources. This program could take the form of a six point learning cycle that moves from resources to help individuals gain awareness of the issue through to identifying areas of opportunity, carbon footprinting, setting reduction targets, offsetting and finally, reflection and review.
Laur said, awareness of the issue has increased but some employees still do not know the difference between carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide or think that the ozone layer and carbon emissions are the same issue. In this step, companies could share resources that help build awareness such as the film, An Inconvenient Truth.
The next step, identifying areas of opportunity includes looking in operations, transport, production, manufacturing, disposal or other areas for the maximum potential return. For example, Nike has been able to reduce its carbon footprint by 80 percent by replacing the gas in the airbags of their shoes.
Carbon footprinting usually refers to a residence or company’s operations but the concept could be used to measure the carbon impact of a division within a company, a value chain or an individual’s job.
Carbon offsets are a controversial approach that Laur said should be considered as a last resort and only with quality offsets or offsets close to home. For example, a company could invest in photovoltaics elsewhere in its own supply chain making the investment traceable and systemic.
In the Cool Corporate Citizen Program companies move beyond their own operations to the surrounding community. Companies provide incentives for employees with renewed commitment and carbon literacy to volunteer in the community using David Gershon’s eco-teams idea as published in his book the Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 pounds. Here, six to nine households team up (like a softball or bowling team) to inspire and support each other to reduce their emissions, strengthening interpersonal ties in the process.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Seventh Generation are already moving ahead with this program. Since emissions from American homes are responsible for about 10 percent of emissions globally (Americans make up about 5 percent of global population), this is a key target area.
Carbon Commons is a central web-based resource under development that collects of all the best knowledge, carbon calculators and reduction references. Laur explains, “Since the atmosphere represents the ultimate “commons,” like the commons in a small town, the idea is to prevent the ‘tragedy of the commons.’” One idea is based on google earth where users will be able to look for carbon initiatives and resources at any level of granularity from global to the state, town or neighborhood level.Laur said, "There's been a sea change in terms of awareness and need for action."