Many businesses are taking steps to reduce their impact on climate change by managing their greenhouse gas emissions. As a consequence, these businesses are not only becoming more efficient, but also saving money. One way that businesses are successfully managing their greenhouse gas emissions is by reducing their carbon footprint.

Carbon Footprint Defined

A carbon footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases—in terms of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)—produced to both directly and indirectly support human activities. Activities such as driving your car, heating your house or office with coal, oil or gas, and using electricity all emitted carbon dioxide and, thus, contribute to your carbon footprint. Furthermore, your carbon footprint is calculated as the sum of all carbon dioxide emissions, which were induced by your activities within a given time frame (usually a year).

Why Reduce Carbon Emissions?

The burning of fossil fuels either directly via coal, oil and gas, or indirectly via electricity, releases large quantities of carbon dioxide, as well as other gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth’s atmosphere behaves like a greenhouse, trapping heat. When carbon dioxide and other gases become trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, it forms a blanket around the Earth. The sun’s rays are able to penetrate this blanket, warming up the Earth’s surface. As a consequence, heat energy is produced, which radiates towards space. This outgoing radiation does not pass through the atmosphere and, as a consequence, it is reflected back towards the Earth where it is trapped. This heat has caused the global temperatures to increase by 1.5 degree Fahrenheit over the last 100 years. This rise in temperature not only causes sea levels to rise, but also results in increased ambient temperature, extreme weather events, and communicable vector-borne and zoonotic diseases—of all which have severe negative consequences on the health of workers

Three Steps to Reduce Carbon Footprints in the Workplace

The workforce is a country’s most diverse and powerful movement. Therefore, the workforce can be a successful tool in affecting change as it relates to the issue of climate change. Although the impacts of climate change on occupational health and safety have not yet been studied in detail, the effects that climate change may have on workers health and well-being can be mitigated by adopting these three strategies to reduce carbon footprint in the workplace. They are: (a) measure or assess carbon emissions in the workplace; (b) take action to reduce fossil fuel use; and (c) raise awareness among workers.

1. Measuring and assessing carbon emissions in the workplace

The main sources of carbon emissions in the workplace are:

  • Electricity that is used for lighting, heating, cooling, and IT equipment, such as computers, printers, photocopy machines, etc.
  • Fossil fuel use, including gas for heating and kitchen use
  • Vehicle fuel use, that is, workers who commute to work using their private vehicles
  • Waste production
  • Water consumption, as it requires a lot of energy for water to be treated, pumped and delivered

2. Taking action to reduce fossil fuels use

The most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the workplace is to use as little carbon-emitting energies as possible, that is, improve energy use. Energy efficiency of the workplace can be improved using the following guidelines:

  • Ensure that the workplace is properly insulated and draught-proof; this also reduces energy bills
  • Install and use equipment with automatic power reducing features, such as sensor lights and timers
  • Use low energy bulbs
  • Avoid artificial lighting in the daytime if it is not needed
  • Heat or cool areas as needed
  • Ensure that heat or ventilation sources are not blocked
  • Consult workers before purchasing equipment and computers to avoid misuse, as well as to minimize waste
  • Train staff on using equipment in an eco-friendly way
  • Purchase equipment and computers with energy saver modes
  • Encourage workers who drive to and from work to switch to lower carbon-emitting alternatives, such as public transport, biking or carpooling
  • Provide workers with incentives for low-carbon transport, such as bus passes or flexible working hours

With regards to waste production and water consumption:

  • Reduce the use of resources and non-recyclable waste
  • Recycle as much materials as possible, such as paper, cans, plastic and glass
  • Consider purchasing recycled products, for example, printing paper
  • Ensure that water-saving measures are in place

3. Raising awareness among workers

Raising awareness is the most effective way reduce carbon footprint because it is effective in bringing about positive changes in the workplace. Raising awareness among workers as it relates to reducing their carbon footprint can be achieved by:

  • Sharing and spreading information: Brief workers on climate change and the potential impacts that it may have on their health and well-being
  • Organizing training sessions: Train workers on the best practices for reducing their carbon footprints in the workplace. Workers are more likely to take action if they understand the social and economical impacts of carbon emissions in the workplace
  • Inviting workers to take action: Encourage workers to measure their carbon emissions, then implement strategies to reduce these emissions. Get workers involved in the process so that can feel like their opinions are of value to the well-being of the organization. Additionally, workers can be encouraged to adopt carbon-lowering measures at home

A Step in the Right Direction

The increase in greenhouse gases combined with the greenhouse effect, results in drastic changes to the climate, which has have several negative impacts on the labour force. Therefore, reducing your carbon footprint by employing energy saving strategies at work is important because more carbon dioxide is emitted at the workplace than in the home. As such, companies must try to reduce their carbon footprint (emissions) by at least 10 percent in order to facilitate positive impacts.