Basics

Start here: Corporate climate action basics

Want to make a difference on climate at work but not sure where to start? Start here.

Article by
John Wetenhall

Do you remember the exact moment you became concerned about the effects of climate change? Or perhaps it was less of a lightbulb moment and more of a slow build, like a pot of water coming to boil? From summer bushfires choking the air here in Australia to rising sea levels forcing migrations inland in coastal cities, we’re feeling the effects and it will only get worse. 

Our goal is to help answer: what can we, as busy professionals with full time jobs in other areas, really hope to accomplish?

More than you might think. This three part series will help you answer that question for yourself and your organisation.

Part I (below): Understand foundational concepts and first steps 

Part II: Explore the most impactful actions corporations can take

Part III: Understand the key people and first actions

Part I: Foundational concepts

Emissions are the culprit

Scientists have demonstrated that human activity in the last couple hundred years is resulting in rising atmospheric temperatures, brought on by increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions. These come largely from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and power our vehicles, as well as from food production and decay, industrial processes, and more. To avoid warming the planet further, we need to drastically reduce our emissions, and find a way to remove the excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (learn more at Project Drawdown).

The key to addressing climate change is reducing emissions. Potential actions should be evaluated on their impact to emissions reduction.

WorkForClimate focuses on reducing emissions from the corporate sector. The first step is to understand the different types of emissions and measure them accordingly.

Carbon accounting

Researchers have developed a system of carbon accounting to classify and count carbon emissions from any organisation. There are direct and indirect emissions, which are divided into Scope 1, 2, and 3.

Scope 1: All direct Greenhouse Gas emissions from sources owned or controlled by the organisation

Scope 2: Indirect emissions from consumption of purchased electricity, heat, or steam.

Scope 3: Other indirect emissions, such as production of purchased material and fuels, transport related in vehicles not owned by the organisation, waste disposal. This covers supply chain emissions.

Accounting in detail requires a level of data and expertise that can make it seem out of reach for the average professional. That said, a good first step is to categorise your company’s main sources of emissions according to Scope 1, 2, 3. It’s often easier to get the data for the larger or more addressable sources, such as electricity generation, which is a good starting point.

Learn more about the details and how to calculate them from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the leading authority on this topic.

Corporate goal setting frameworks primer

There are multiple frameworks designed to motivate corporations to reduce their climate impact, taking into account inputs like carbon accounting. These are valuable tools to help motivate your company to make changes.

Commitments

Net Zero: All emissions have been reduced, and where not possible, offset, to achieve a net result of zero emissions by the company’s chosen date.

Science Based Targets: Companies develop their emissions reduction targets in line with the SBTi criteria. There is sector specific guidance, and each company’s commitment can look quite different. Learn more.

We dive into more detail on these two in our article, Net Zero vs. Science Based Targets.

Goal Based

RE 100: corporations set a target to source 100% of their energy from renewable sources. Learn more.

EV 100: Similar to RE100, this global initiative focuses on companies switching their vehicle fleets to electric vehicles by 2030. Learn more.

First steps

Before going any further, you should find out what work your company has already done in this area. 

Questions that will help guide you:

  • Does your company have a Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility team and/or a Sustainability Report?
  • Has your company made any public statements or commitments about its emissions or energy? You can find these on the website and in annual reports.
  • Does your company have goals in other areas of Corporate Social Responsibility?
  • Is there a “Green team” or other employee group that talks about these issues?

With the answers to those questions, you’ll have a solid foundation to start thinking about possible areas of impact your company could work on, the topic of the next article.

Key takeaways:

  • Reducing emissions is the most important lever for addressing climate change
  • Emissions can be classified into three types depending on where they come from and who is responsible for each (Scope 1, 2, 3).
  • Goal setting frameworks help corporations stay focused on and accountable for their emissions.
Copyright © 2021 WorkForClimate