Eco-Coach

Green your life at home, work & play

New online tool helps businesses track impacts through their supply chain May 2, 2012

You want your company to improve its community and eco-image and along with that, you want to know what your suppliers are doing to spiff up theirs as well.  It can be a large investment of time to read through every company report – annual, sustainability, CSR – wading through the rhetoric, not to mention dozens of corporate rating and ranking lists of best and worst performers to find out.  But now there is a much faster way to get an understanding from multiple angles of just how responsible those companies are by using CSRHUB*.  This new service offers free and subscriber options for accessing social and environmental ratings based on a wide array of sources to achieve a more unbiased view of a company’s performance.

While still in development stages, CSRHUB has ratings for about 5000 companies worldwide so far.  The ratings are based on four scales – community, employees, environment, and governance.  Ranked search results by industry are based on your settings for the four adjustable scales depending on how you value each.  There are also special issues of concern (accessible with a paid subscription) to use in further filtering results, such as nuclear power connections, board diversity, and involvement with pesticides/pollutants.  Also with a subscription, users can save search results and export them in spreadsheet format.

The CSRHUB site is set up so that you can go directly to a particular company’s rating page or you can search for groups of companies by industry, region or data source.  They currently have over 130 sources that they access for data to consider when rating a company.  These range from the Calvert Social Index to EPA Climate Leaders list to Working Mother magazine’s list of mother-friendly companies.  The entry for each company (when accessing the database as a subscriber) lists basic contact information, their overall and individual scale ratings (based on your preference settings), sources of data that were used in determining their rating, ratings history (graphically by month), and optional reports to purchase.  There are also typically links to recent articles pertaining to CSR topics where the company was mentioned and even current job openings listed.

Access to the basic search and CSR ratings features are available without even registering for the service.  But by registering you get the added benefits of creating unlimited profiles and lists of companies.  These can be shared with other users as well.  Registering also allows you to post to their discussion forums.  For those who want more access to the large amount of data and ratings (segregated into 12 subcategories) on CRSHUB, subscriptions on a personal or professional level are available.  Personal level access can be purchased on a monthly or annual basis for as little as $8/month.  A chart of the features by subscription status is available.

And have no doubt that they embrace their mission fully—CSRHUB recently elected to become a B Corporation.  B Corp status is a relatively new legal designation for companies that do not want to be confined to the traditional corporate dictate of profit above all else.  Currently a handful of states have passed legislation to allow B Corp status with another handful considering such legislation.  From CSRHUB’s website:

B Corps use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.  Unlike traditional corporations, B Corps agree to meet social and environmental performance standards, disclose their performance so that it is transparent, and include consideration of all stakeholder interests in their legal structure…. We are part of a community that intends to change the world and we need to show that we have whole-hearted dedication to our cause.

Since CSRHUB is still growing and expanding their database, they appreciate all feedback from users and potential users.  They want to hear from businesses and individuals about what CSR issues concern them most, which special issues are of greatest interest, how the data is being used, and how the site/service can be improved.  Here’s your chance to guide this data tool in a direction that helps save you time and gives you valuable information regarding your current and potential business partners.’

*We are not in any way affiliated with this tool

 

Review of Four Carbon Calculators for Business (and a few other cool tools) March 17, 2012

If your company is just starting down the road of sustainability, and you’d like to get a sense of just how much your carbon emissions contribute to the CO2 on the planet, then taking advantage of one of the free internet carbon calculators for businesses is your ticket.  While these calculators can be scaled for almost any size business, the underlying assumptions are more suited to SMEs.  This is a quick (typically under an hour of time depending on the size of your company or organization) and relatively painless method of getting a snapshot view of your company’s annual emissions.

In all cases, it is beneficial to have several recent months of utility bills (or total amounts) handy, as well as an idea of annual totals.  You will also need good estimates of miles travelled in all forms – company cars and delivery trucks; business travel by rail/plane; and average commuting miles per employee.  Paper usage by type and amount (weight) should also be estimated since it is a significant impact of many office environments.  Once you’ve tracked down these numbers – or made educated estimates – the actual entering of data should only take a few minutes.

The four calculators detailed here are in no particular ranking and do not reflect a specific endorsement.

TerraPass Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

TerraPass offers carbon offset management services for individuals/families and businesses.  This business calculator evaluates emissions in 5 areas: building/site; server/data center; vehicle fleet; additional business travel and commuting—thus making it almost comprehensive.  It does, however,  leave out calculations for the impact of paper usage and printing.  See the additional tools listed below for an answer to that gap.  It is flexible enough to be used by a variety of organizations and non-office based businesses since it has preset assumptions to select for a school, restaurant, hotel, warehouse, retail, health care facility, or church.  Another helpful feature is that larger companies are able to include data for multiple office locations at once.

Results are shown in bar graph form and can be downloaded into PDF for future reference.  Their Carbon Balanced Business Advisors are available by email or phone to offer guidance.  Companies that sign up for their badge program can earn three levels of badges depending on metric tons of carbon emissions reduced by year.  There is also a separate event/conference carbon emissions calculator available.

In developing their calculators TerraPass used data from the EPA, Department of Energy (DOE), World Resources Institute (WRI) and industry surveys to establish emissions factors and protocols.  Additional background information is available on their website for those who want to understand more of the methodology and assumptions behind their calculators.   TerraPass was voted best carbon offset provider by TreeHugger in 2010 & 2011.

CoolClimate Network Small Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

This calculator was developed by researchers at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California, Berkeley.  Although it is labeled for small business, it is applicable for most sized businesses.  Data is entered under three main categories: facilities, transportation and procurement.  The inputs for transportation are less detailed than for other calculators, but the procurement category—which helps companies begin to track impacts through their supply chain—is very detailed.  It includes over 20 subcategories (each with default values available) including printing, computer equipment, paperboard, chemicals, fabricated metals, tires, etc.  Other extra features are that you can select gasoline, diesel or compressed natural gas (CNG) powered vehicles; energy usage of your office building can be compared to like commercial buildings by following the link to Energy IQ in the calculator.  While it doesn’t address commuting impacts separately, the data can be consolidated and entered under one of the ten possible vehicle entries.

The summary of results compares your company to averages for your industry.  Your company’s results can be saved to an online profile.  In the final “Take Action” section, 15-25 steps are suggested as ways to pledge to reduce your company’s carbon impact.  Each pledge action option also has more details available about the assumptions (which can be adjusted), specific actions to be taken and sometimes suggestions for further information.

Calculations and assumptions for this calculator are detailed on the website.  The data came from a variety of sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Transportation, the USDA, and the Carnegie-Mellon Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment model.  This calculator requires a bit more effort in tracking down a variety of input data and doing some pre-calculations.  In the near future improvements to this calculator will include considerations for amount of recycled material and water usage as they factor into carbon emissions.  This calculator was reviewed in the May, 2011 issue of Environmental Science & Technology journal.

Carbon Footprint Business Calculator

Carbon Footprint is a UK-based carbon management services company.  This business calculator is best suited for small businesses, and it offers both metric and American measurement options for flexibility.  It is also available in an array of languages—thirteen to be exact.  This calculator assesses emissions on energy use of the office building and transportation—which is divided into three sections: fleet mileage, flight travel and public transit.  There is an option to select estimated emissions for your office building based on the number of employees or to enter actual energy usage by category.  Up to ten flights and ten different vehicles can be entered.  Alternatively, total fuel amounts consumed can be used in the calculation instead of mileage per individual vehicles.  Similar to the CoolClimate Business Network Calculator, commuting mileage/impacts would have to be consolidated under the vehicle fleet entries.

Consultants are available by email or phone (remember they are based in the UK though) for additional guidance.  A PDF emissions report by source, ideas for carbon reduction and management planning guidance is available for purchase ($20-30).

This calculator’s assumptions and methodologies are based largely on Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) Voluntary Reporting Guidelines, but information from the EPA, WRI and others was also included.  Further information is available on Carbon Footprint’s website.

Carbonfund.org Business Carbon Calculator

Carbonfund.org is a nonprofit that provides carbon offset solutions for individuals and businesses.  This business calculator is comprehensive and evaluates emissions in seven areas: office site; vehicle fleet; additional business travel; commuting; special events (they also offer a separate wedding calculator); paper usage and shipping.  There is an option to base office/site emissions calculations on number of employees, actual utility bills or square feet of office space.  As with the TerraPass calculator, this one also considers the number of servers onsite.  Shipping impacts are broken out by air, train, truck, ship—and even zeppelin (nice to see there can be a bit of humor in this task!).   Business travel impacts even include hotel data.  Given the breadth of considerations, the amount of data required will demand a greater time commitment in collecting or estimating numbers.

There is no option for exporting a final summary report or viewing a graphical representation of your company’s performance.  They do offer you options to select from (renewable energy, energy efficiency or forestation) to immediately offset your carbon contributions.  Companies that purchase sufficient carbon offsets through them are offered a Business Partners CarbonFree logo to display.

For this calculator, protocols and assumptions come from a variety of sources, but EPA and DOE data are primary.  Details are available to review on their website.  Carbonfund.org was the Reader’s Choice for best carbon offset provider by TreeHugger in 2010 & 2011.

Additional Tools

For the carbon calculators that don’t include calculations for office paper usage, there is a supplemental calculator provided by the Environmental Paper Network–the Paper Calculator.  It calculates carbon impacts for many different types of paper and paperboard based on weight (tons) and percent recycled content.  This can then be added to the results from one of the business footprint calculators.

For those who are more ambitious, there is the option of Office Carbon Footprint Tool Excel-based spreadsheets which follow the framework that is documented by the World Resources Institute/World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WRI/WBCSD) GHG Protocol Corporate Standard to calculate office-based greenhouse gas emissions.  This spreadsheet calculator is recommended by the EPA (as a guide) and Clean Air-Cool Planet (which provides a popular calculator for college campuses).  The latest 2009 version is available via the EPA site.

Once you have used one of the calculators to estimate your company’s carbon output, you may want to know how to communicate that to your employees effectively and with impact.  The Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies calculator from the EPA will help you do just that in thirteen different ways—including comparisons with number of barrels of oil, electricity use of homes, rail cars full of coal and even acres of forest that would sequester an equal amount of CO2.  CO2 or carbon can be entered as tons, metric tons, kilograms or pounds.  It will also consider other GHG gases—methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbon gases, perfluorocarbon gases and sulfur hexafluoride.

 

The Most Sustainable Companies of 2011 February 3, 2012

It’s that time of year again, compiling multiple summaries of anything and everything that happened in 2011 that you could care to read about: the Top Energy Stories, the Weirdest, Wildest Animal Stories and, of course, most sustainable large companies. In this analysis, Corporate Knights, a clean energy magazine, ranked the top 100 sustainable companies in 22 countries. Japan had the greatest number of companies, 19, while the U.S. came in second with 13, an improvement by one from 2010’s assessment. Other countries with a large number of green companies were: the UK (11), Canada (eight), Australia (six), Switzerland (six), France (five), Denmark (four), Finland (four), Brazil, Germany, Norway, and Spain (three each).
The analysis criteria ranged from comparing income to amount of waste produced and water consumed, as well as the percentage of women leaders and level of transparency in the company. Johnson & Johnson was the highest ranking U.S. company (number two overall), with Norway’s Statoil ASA taking the top position. Finland’s Nokia OYJ was number four, Intel Corp number six, Britain’s AstraZeneca PLC number seven and General Electric Co. number 11. Other notable U.S. companies, like Procter & Gamble Co., Kraft Foods Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Coca-Cola Enterprises, ranked 44th, 45th, 75th, and 78th, respectively.
To learn more about Corporate Knights’ analysis, visit their website.

 

New Protocols for Product Carbon Footprinting October 24, 2011

When considering a company’s carbon footprint, we most often think about the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions tied to the company’s operational

energy use.  While company energy use is a definite concern, it is also important to consider the emissions tied to a business’s products as well.  The World Resources Institute (WRI) has recently released supplements to its Greenhouse Gas Protocol for measuring GHG emissions from corporate value chains as well as product lifecycles.

The Corporate Value Chain protocol will help companies evaluate the emissions of products that they produce, buy, and sell.  Identifying emissionsfrom value chains allows companies to dive deeper into their carbon footprint, identify the highest sources of company emissions, and establish the most efficient methods for reducing emissions.

The Product Life Cycle Standard enables companies to measure the carbon footprint of a given product from resource extraction, through production, to consumption and disposal.  With a better understanding of how all phases of a product’s life cycle contribute to GHG emissions, companies can be better equipped to design products with lighter environmental impacts.

Companies seeking to “green” their operations should consider carbon footprinting their products as well as their value chain.  GHG emissions are often tied to inefficient uses of energy; identifying areas where energy use can be reduced and emissions can be cut often leads to cost savings.  For more information regarding the new protocols, please visit the Greenhouse Gas Protocol website.

 

Businesses Collaborating on Energy and Climate Issues July 21, 2011

With the recent economic crisis and the ever-present threat of climate change, businesses are coming together to push for comprehensive energy and climate legislation and demand full disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions, water management, and contribution to deforestation. There are many organizations that help businesses collaborate on these issues, and you likely have one working in your local area, but here are three of the larger organizations that are working in the United States and around the world.

Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) is an advocacy coalition of businesses committed to working with policy makers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation. This legislation will enable a rapid transition to a low-carbon, 21st century economy that will create new jobs and stimulate economic growth while stabilizing the climate. BICEP is a project of Ceres, and has 20 members including Nike, Starbucks, Best Buy, Ben & Jerry’s, Gap, Target, and eBay. Visit the press room to view some of their recent involvement in both federal and state legislation, or view their FAQ page for an overview of their policy stances and why effective legislation will benefit the U.S. economy and create jobs.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is a non-profit organization that acts on the behalf of 551 institutional investors holding $71 trillion in assets under management, and 60 purchasing organizations such as Dell, PepsiCo and Walmart. CDP operates the only global climate change reporting system, harnessing the collective power of corporations, investors and political leaders. The project’s aim is to accelerate solutions to climate change and water management by putting relevant information at the heart of business, policy and investment decisions. Over 3,000 organizations in some 60 countries around the world now measure and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, water management and climate change strategies through CDP, and the data is made available for use by a wide audience. Visit their reports page to view information on water disclosure, cities, supply chain, public procurement, and investors. CDP also releases a leadership index which recognizes companies that show clear consideration of business-specific risks and potential opportunities related to climate change and good internal data management practices for understanding GHG emissions.

Similar to CDP, the Forest Footprint Disclosure (FFD) project helps investors identify how an organization’s activities and supply chains contribute to deforestation. The project aims to create transparency and address a key challenge within investor portfolios. Participating companies are asked to disclose how their operations and supply chains are impacting forests worldwide, and what is being done to manage those impacts responsibly. The disclosure information will be reported annually, enabling investors to identify the sustainable businesses of the future as well possible risks related to a company’s forest footprint. FFD is currently endorsed by 58 financial institutions representing more than $5 trillion collective assets under management.

 

Google leads Apple in the Race to Sustainability June 29, 2011

Google and Apple are two of the biggest names in the computing world today, and they compete in everything from phones to tablet computers. In the past year, Android, Google’s phone operating system, has taken a large share of the market away from the ubiquitous iPhone. But these two giants have also started to compete in another part of their business: sustainability performance and reporting.

Apple

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post on the Consumer Electronics Show and the release of their 2010 CEA Sustainability Report. Apple was featured in the report as a case study for sustainable product design. CEA commended them for being the first in the industry to complete a comprehensive life cycle analysis for every product that Apple ships to determine where its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions came from. This analysis helped Apple to see that 97% of its GHG emissions are directly associated with its products (e.g. manufacturing, customer use) and only 3% are due to facilities. Knowing where a business’s emissions are coming from is a crucial first step to any improvement plan. Apple’s Environment page includes a helpful graphic that breaks down each life cycle stage of a product an the relative impact on the environment.

Since most of Apple’s emissions are from their products, their focus has been on designing their products to use less material. According to their website, their iPod classic achieved a 50% reduction in carbon emissions between 2001 and 2010. They also have used smaller packaging techniques to increase transportation efficiency. And in regard to their product use category, which accounts for 46% of their total carbon emissions, Apple has designed every single product to meet the government’s Energy Star guidelines.

Although facilities only account for 3% of Apple’s total carbon emissions, they have still been making some improvements. Most impressive is the fact that three locations (Austin Texas; Sacramento, California; Cork, Ireland) are 100% powered by renewable energy. They’ve also begun offering a biodiesel commuter coach to some employees, currently only used by up to 800 Apple employees per day.

In January, Apple was awarded a patent for a solar-powered portable device. Although this is just a “step in the green direction” and many other patents and existing products are already out there for solar-powered charging techniques, it’s still a smart step and a strong example for others to follow. As a leader in the electronics market, whatever Apple does will cause others to take notice.

Another possible move is the development of some of Apple’s commercial real estate in Cupertino. Apple has reportedly hired Forster + Partners for the design, a well-known design firm that pays particular attention to green issues such as using renewable energy resources and incorporating the best energy-efficiency techniques into materials and equipment.

Google

Google has been making great efforts to improve their data centers. Their data center page gives a helpful overview and explains efficient computing, how their measure their data center efficiency (a Power Usage Effectiveness metric), their Server Retirement Program to maximize machine reuse, data center best practices, and notes from the Efficient Data Center Summit held in 2009. (They also mention their plans to attend a European Data Centre Summit this week in Switzerland).

Just like Apple, Google also uses biodiesel shuttles to help their employees commute to work in a more eco-friendly way. Google claims to drive “thousands of employees” in their shuttles every day — certainly higher than Apple’s 800. Google also supports employees that choose a carbon-free commute (e.g. cycling, walking) by donating to their favorite charities based on how often they self-power their commute. Google’s green operations page details several other initiatives, including the use of goats for grass grazing (instead of lawnmowers), details of their carbon offsets, the Climate Savers Computing initiative, participation in the Green Power Market Development Group, their LEED-certified office in San Francisco, and the use of Energy Star-rated office equipment.

Google’s green innovation page highlights some of their more creative projects. The Google PowerMeter is a free energy monitoring tool that allows you to view your home’s energy consumption online. Tracking your energy is a great tool to help you reduce energy use, but right now the PowerMeter is only available in a few areas in the U.S. and Europe. Google has invested over $38 million into two North Dakota wind farms, and they’ve agreed to invest in the Atlantic Wind Connection project. Since renewable energy projects (e.g. wind, solar) require expensive capital, it’s important to have investments like this to get them started.

Other long-term projects from Google include Enhanced Geothermal Systems and related investments to geothermal energy research (Potter Drilling, AltaRock Energy, Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab, and Stanford University). And the RE<C project is aimed at taking calculated financial risk to accelerate clean energy down the cost curve. The goal is to help make renewable energy (RE) cheaper than coal (C), hence the name RE<C.

Overall, it’s great to see these two companies making concentrated efforts to reduce their carbon footprints and both have made some significant progress. Both Apple and Google continue to redesign their products (in Google’s case, data centers) and facilities using a variety of methods and practices. But it’s Google’s commitment to long-term projects such as renewable energy investments and home energy use monitoring that really gives them the edge in the race to sustainability.

Image sources: Apple.com and Google.com

 

Managing Water Risk in the Private Sector June 13, 2011

It is becoming increaDroughtsingly clear that lack of access to potable water will lead to one of the next major crises that we will face as a global community.  We are already witnessing the impacts of water scarcity in pockets around the world today, and this dilemma will only worsen with time.  While much of the focus surrounding water favors social and environmental issues, water is important to all sectors of modern society.  To remain competitive, businesses will need to assess the impact of water risk on investments.

Water risk is a lack of water that arises from water scarcity, water pollution, and water competition.  In the private sector, this risk can cause financial disruptions, increase costs, lead to revenue losses, and compromise growth.  Sectors most vulnerable to water risk include the food and beverage industry, the power industry, mining, and some manufacturing.  Water risk poses such a significant threat to business that last year the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identified water as a potential material use that public companies should disclose to investors.

In line with the SEC’s sentiment, in 2010, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) released a report studying corporate disclosure of water risk (view the full report).  The study looked at the water risk reporting of 100 publicly traded companies across eight of the most water-vulnerable sectors.  The report’s intention is for investors and companies to learn from the reporting practices of these 100 case studies and promote a better understanding of how water risk impacts a company’s operations, supply chains, and products.  But CERES was surprised to find that even in sectors most threatened by water risk, reporting on risk and corporate water performance is weak.  As water quality and scarcity becomes an even more severe issue, companies will be forced to take water risk more seriously.

Recognizing water’s relationship to future prosperity, the World Resources Institute (WRI), in partnership with Goldman Sachs’ Center for Environmental Markets and General Electric, is developing a Water Index to chart water risk across regions and sectors.  The Water Index will help investors understand and forecast water’s impact on businesses and investments.

The Water Index will rely on publicly available data provide information on water quality and water scarcity indicators.  This data will be presented spatially on interactive map overlays that allow users to compare and combine risk scenarios.  Because water is a local issue, risks will vary by region and sector.  Although some groups have attempted to calculate companies’ water footprints, this is one of the first attempts at quantifying water’s impact on companies.

The pilot project will focus on the water risks of thermal power generation in China.  WRI and its partners hope to highlight potentials for reducing water risk in this sector by providing recommendations for making the sector less vulnerable.  This pilot is just the start of what may prove to be an instrumental tool for aiding corporate water risk reporting and for businesses to ensure future growth and success.

 

 
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