In the past few years, a change has occurred in how businesses,
big and small, approach environmental concerns. Business leaders
are discovering that sustainable practices are essential to meeting
the demands of increasingly environmentally savvy stakeholder,
and can boost their bottom lines, as well.
Since 1982, my organization, the World Resources Institute (WRI),
has researched environmental issues and advised organizations ranging
from Fortune 500 companies to small enterprises in developing countries
about sound environmental business strategies.
Becoming one of the expert non-profit organizations that companies
seek for advice has been a challenging but interesting road. Several
years ago, my colleagues and I began to research ways to combat
rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are at the root of the
growing global warming crisis. Understanding that organizations
of all sizes contribute to these emissions, we were not content
with simply devising strategies for others. We wanted WRI to “walk
the talk,” and put its recommended approaches to energy and
GHG-emissions management into practice.
Even though WRI is not considered a traditional polluter—with
smokestacks or factories—like many other service-oriented
companies, it does produce GHG emissions through the heating, lighting
and cooling of its office building; the energy used to power its
computers; and the fuel used every time an employee hops on an
airplane to meet with a partner, or rides the train to work.
Sound energy management is the key to reducing GHG emissions, and
WRI quickly discovered that it could implement a number of energy-saving
ideas ranging from no-cost to some-cost, with an eventual payback.
To start, when we moved to a new building in 1999, the space was
configured to maximize use of natural daylight; energy-efficient
appliances and lighting were purchased; and motion sensors were
installed to make sure that energy was not wasted on lighting empty
rooms. Staffers are encouraged to use the organization’s
in-house video-conferencing equipment to replace some airplane
trips. Also, we worked with our landlord to ensure than 100 percent
of our electricity was “greened-up” with clean, renewable
sources like the wind.
In 2000, WRI’s Washington, D.C., headquarters was recognized
as one of the top 10 most responsibly designed buildings by the
American Institute of Architects. This year, we are expanding our
office space, and will apply for Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design (LEED) Commercial Interiors certification. We’re also
working with our landlords at the American Psychological Association
to plan and install a green roof.
Many of these activities are saving
our organization money—essential
for a non-profit—and all of them reduced WRI’s contribution
to GHG emissions. But there was only one way to be certain that
we were reducing emissions: by regularly measuring them and tracking
our progress over time.
Regular GHG measurement and reporting is a critical activity for
any business that wants to effectively manage its GHG emissions.
At the time, there was no standardized tool that companies could
use, so WRI set about the task of developing one. To accomplish
this, we teamed up with the World Business Council for Sustainable
Development (WBCSD), based in Geneva, Switzerland. Over a span
of several years, WRI, WBCSD, dozens of businesses, other non-profits,
expert individuals and government agencies worked to create the “GHG
Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard.” The
standard is somewhat akin to Generally Accepted Accounting Standards,
except it measures GHG emissions. It is now used by hundreds of
companies around the world and underpins numerous voluntary and
mandatory GHG programs. We apply the GHG Protocol standard to our
own annual measurement of GHG emissions and publicly report the
results annually on our Web site. Each year, after calculating
our emissions and pursuing activities to reduce them, we purchase
carbon offsets so that our annual emissions balance is zero.
We synthesized much of our research and experience to help our
office and other companies we partner with to become more climate-friendly
in a pair of recently released WRI guidebooks. Hot Climate, Cool
Commerce: A Service Sector Guide to Greenhouse Gas Management is
tailored specifically to non-industrial companies, and details
the various steps necessary to manage, track and reduce GHG emissions.
In another new publication, Switching to Green: A Renewable Energy
Guide for Office and Retail Companies, we break down the often-confusing
process of buying renewable energy into five easy steps.
WRI’s ongoing work with the business community is exciting.
We’re working with numerous Fortune 500 companies across
the country on strategies to help them prosper in a carbon-constrained
world. Activities include building the business case for corporate
action on climate change; developing GHG inventories; and exploring
emissions-reduction solutions, such as investment and deployment
of clean energy technologies.
Samantha Putt del Pino is a project manager in the Climate
and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute in Washington,
D.C. (www.wri.org). Putt del Pino works with the private sector on
corporate responses to climate change. She also manages WRI’s
organizational commitment to “walk the talk” by measuring
and reducing its carbon footprint.