Editor’s Note: Dan Lambe is president of the Arbor Day Foundation, the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Extreme weather made headlines all summer. Hurricane Ida made landfall in the Gulf before causing additional massive flooding and devastation in the Northeast. Wildfire season in the West started earlier than usual, and sweltering heatwaves broke temperature records in some of our nation’s largest cities, like Seattle and Portland.
These extreme weather events are caused in large part by warming temperatures occurring across the planet. This isn’t a phase that we can wait out until normalcy returns. This is, in fact, our new normal, according to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Thankfully, many corporate leaders around the globe are recognizing their role and putting some serious muscle behind the battle against our climate crisis. They’re setting their own internal carbon reduction goals while making investments outside of their operations in efforts to curb emissions and other factors that harm our environment. Others, meanwhile, still have a long way to go in making the fight against the climate crisis a central part of their business.
Here’s where they can start:
Make changes to the operation
Before trying anything else, businesses should first make the necessary changes to their own operations that will reduce their carbon footprint.
This could mean reducing employee transportation and travel, for starters. Reductions can also be made at operations facilities from curtailing energy use or increasing the percent of electricity that comes from a clean energy program. Reducing the amount of trash disposal and expanding recycling programs can further lower a business’s carbon footprint.
Making meaningful change can not only lead to a more efficient business, but it can also save on costs down the line. For instance, switching a corporate fleet to electric vehicles or installing solar panels at a facility can lead to reduced energy consumption and ultimately recoup any additional upfront capital costs.
Purchase the right carbon credits
Voluntary carbon credits have the potential to be game-changing for the planet. They go beyond compliance mandates and allow companies to take ownership over their environmental ambitions. Companies voluntarily purchase them directly from carbon offset project developers (who create the projects that sequester carbon), through a broker or an exchange, or from a retailer. This does two things: 1. It makes up for emissions that cannot otherwise be eliminated through improvements to the business operations, and 2. It helps to finance those carbon sequestration projects that lead to the credit being provided. Oftentimes, these projects fund technologies that remove emissions from the atmosphere or reforestation programs that sequester carbon naturally through trees.
Carbon benefits should be measured, monitored, verified and accredited by an independent third party and issued on a public registry backed by an accredited international standard, like Verra, throughout the life of a project. These standards help outline how to calculate the amount of carbon captured compared to what would happen without the carbon credit project, and carbon leakage, which can occur when a business moves its operations to other regions or countries to get around climate regulations.
Tracking these variables and following proper protocols is important to ensure the voluntary carbon credits a company is purchasing are legitimately mitigating climate change.
Make sure nature is represented in your carbon strategy
While new technology or renewable energy solutions are carbon mitigation options to consider, nature-based solutions — specifically trees and forests — can do so much more for a sustainability program, our communities and our world. Yes, trees and forests capture carbon — and will continue to do so for decades to come. But the benefits of tree planting and reforestation go way beyond simply sequestering carbon.
From an ecological standpoint, trees and forests improve air quality, enhance biodiversity, create habitat, preserve land and stabilize soil. They also improve our water by reducing runoff pollution and help with flood control and storm surge. Green environments also help to encourage physical activity, improve mental wellness and reduce stress. Trees also have been shown to help reduce crime and improve property values in our communities, too.
Make no mistake, we are collectively taking on the biggest issues facing generations as a result of this climate crisis. The leadership emerging from the authentic efforts of corporate executives teaming with public and nonprofit partners is a model of advancing sustainability around the United States and the globe.