4 Ways Industries Are Reducing Their Carbon Footprints
Decarbonization is an ambitious goal, but many industries have already taken steps toward achieving it.
Human activities have raised carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to a level that is approximately 50% higher than the natural rate of CO2 emissions found before the Industrial Revolution. These emissions, along with other greenhouse gases (GHGs), have had a significant impact on the climate.
In an effort to rein in their effects, 196 nations have signed onto the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since its adoption in December 1995, low-carbon solutions and carbon neutrality targets have become more prevalent.
More than two decades later, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) of November 2021 led to the Glasgow Climate Pact, which reaffirmed the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. One of Pact's targets is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to 45% (relative to 2010 levels) by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions around 2050.
Moreover, in light of the standards issued by the European Commission's Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, we are likely to see numerous additional requirements and regulations aimed at curtailing emissions. Additionally, the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) is preparing its set of standards through the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), including IFRS S2, which mainly focuses on reducing greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.
Decarbonization is an important aspect of this goal. It involves transitioning to low-carbon solutions and reducing the use of fossil fuels, among other actions. By doing so, companies can achieve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) objectives while contributing to the preservation of clean air, drinking water, and other environmental benefits.
What Is Decarbonization?
Decarbonization is the process of reducing carbon emissions through various measures, strategies, and processes implemented by organizations and countries to achieve zero carbon emissions. It is achieved by replacing current energy consumption, particularly fossil fuels, with clean, renewable sources of energy.
GHG emissions are categorized into three scopes:
- Scope 1: Direct emissions from activities like heating and transportation
- Scope 2: Indirect emissions related to energy consumption
- Scope 3: Other indirect emissions from the company’s value chain
When tracking a company’s carbon footprint, all of these scopes are analyzed together. As such, a comprehensive decarbonization strategy must target all three.
How Industries Are Reducing Their Carbon Footprints
Despite falling short of the goals set by the Paris Agreement, we still have an opportunity to achieve the targets set at the COP 26 meeting. Multiple strategies have already been put in place to bring us closer to carbon neutrality, including the European Green Deal, Pathways to 2050, Accelerating Decarbonization of the US Energy System, and the United Nations Climate Action Plan. International standards like ISO 14064 can also aid governments, organizations, and companies in calculating, monitoring, and reporting GHG emissions and removal efforts.
Green technologies and sustainable practices can also help us mitigate carbonization. Here are some examples of decarbonization strategies from different industries:
- Energy and Electricity: Replacing fossil fuels with energy derived from renewable resources can significantly reduce carbon emissions. For example, the biogas generated through methanogenesis can be used as a source of heat and wind and solar power can generate electricity without generating air pollution. Hydrogen can also be used to produce furnace steam, while waste incineration can double as a source of electricity through steam power.
- Buildings: The cement industry is one of the most significant emitters of carbon dioxide. Using 3D printed building materials as a substitute for cement products can considerably reduce those emissions. Green building design can also help conserve natural resources and green roofs can capture CO2 from the atmosphere. Strategically placed trees and vegetation can also provide considerable shade, thereby cooling the interior of buildings without the use of air conditioning.
- Transportation: This industry is one of the biggest polluters globally. However, the rising popularity of electric vehicles has the potential to drastically reduce harmful emissions.
- Carbon Capture: In industries where decarbonization is difficult, carbon capture and storage as well as hydrogen utilization can help us move toward climate neutrality. Life cycle assessment can also help companies estimate the carbon footprint of each product or service, allowing them to focus their efforts and search for ways to shrink this footprint.
(Find out Why EHS Is Vital to Your ESG Program)
Carbon Footprint in a Digital World
Digital technology is a valuable tool in reducing energy consumption and carbon footprints. Decarbonization efforts can be helped along by monitoring and measuring emission levels, energy consumption, and energy production. However, doing this without the right digital solutions can be a challenging task.
Digitalization makes the process more efficient by pooling real-time data from connected devices and sensors into a centralized platform. Business intelligence and statistical tools can then provide you with dynamic dashboards that make it simple to monitor your carbon footprint and the progress of your internal strategies.
No matter how you do it and which strategies you use, the important thing is to take steps and make serious progress on this goal. The cost of decarbonization can be significant, but failing to reduce carbon emissions will be far costlier due to increased healthcare expenses, extreme weather events, and other major hazards and production interruptions.
Decarbonization may be ambitious, but by implementing a carbon-reduction strategy and getting the tools you need to enact it, you can do your part to meet this essential goal.