Blog & Company News

Jun 18, 2012

Even Small Businesses Benefit By Tracking Their Company’s Carbon Footprint

Keeping track of how much energy you are using in various facets of your operation is the first step to energy savings. It might even become mandatory at some point to track those numbers, if you want to do work for the Federal government. So 47 small business owners embarked on a Government Services Administration (GSA) project 18 months ago to learn how to inventory their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The program, specifically for small businesses, provided training and templates where the companies plug in their data. In the templates a formula performs calculations from, for instance, kilowatt hours of electricity to metric tons of CO2 and similar conversions to track five other gases: CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF6. For the first year, the companies assembled data for their emissions baseline. Data is input annually. In 2013, the final year of the program, they have a goal to meet. One company, a manufacturer that does machining and plastic injection molding, is looking for 2 percent savings. Others have different reduction goals. Every one of them must reduce emissions. Getting Started Any company can begin a tracking project and use the template on the EPA site. A webinar providing help on the project is available at the EPA site too. A couple of tips from Federal Supplier Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Pilot Tip Sheet include: • Rely on information already being collected. If someone in the company is already gathering usage data from utility bills, no need to duplicate or reinvent the process. • As you would with any project, form a team, prepare a project schedule, establish regular check-ins and set internal deadlines. You’ll want to track your electricity usage, heating fuel consumption, gasoline consumption, propane consumption, and the refrigerants that are emitted as gases from on-site refrigerators. If your company has forklifts that run on propane, you keep track of how many tanks of propane you buy and how far you drive the forklifts over the course of a year, and the formula calculates which gases are emitted. Online help on using the EPA tools is available (no one-on-one technical assistance, however). There was a slight learning curve, according to Michael LaBuda, operations manager for Dolphin Blue, Inc., an online retailer of office products made in the USA of post-consumer recycled content. The company’s biggest GHG usage was for heating and cooling the building (electricity and natural gas) and travel (making deliveries and the employee commutes—there are under 10 on staff). Because Dolphin Blue was already working on its carbon footprint, it may have less room for improvement than some of the others in the pilot program, but its tracking efforts are still turning up areas for improvement. The company’s office space is one large suite. Windows can be opened, so the space is cooled without air conditioning on any day when the outdoor temperature allows for that. “Weekends, we watch very carefully,” LaBuda said in an interview. They don’t want to run the HVAC on high to catch up Monday for a false savings on the weekend. Employee commutes are easily tracked, using the template. LaBuda looked for a better commuting route for himself and “was able to shave seven miles off.” Passes on DART, Dallas’ rapid transit system, are a way for employees to shave GHGs and save. Some can now park their cars closer to home and take a commuter train to the station across the street from Dolphin Blue’s headquarters. The company provides free passes. Changing Old Ways Donna Hirschbiel, office manager for Grauch Enterprises, Inc., a manufacturer with seven employees in rural Pennsylvania, says that her company made an energy savings by plugging holes in the walls and windows of its drafty old building. Grauch had been investigating putting up a windmill and using some geothermal energy before it learned about the GSA pilot program. As Grauch was “already moving in that direction,” she said, they signed up for the program. Kenneth Canty, president and CEO of Freedland Construction Company, Charleston, SC, has done three big things to reduce GHG output since embarking on this program. Employees had been working out of their homes, “which is inefficient,” so he moved Freedland into office space in a business incubator that was created by the city of Charleston to help small businesses. There, the utilities are “spread out across everybody in one big building.” Second, the company switched its vehicles from V8s to Ford EcoBoost V6s, “which gives you the power of a V8,” he said. And the third thing the company did was to switch to an Apple computing system, a renegade move for a construction company, but one that gives them an app, FaceTime, that lets them stream video from an iPhone 4 (or iPod touch or another Mac) at a job site back to the office Mac. Canty doesn’t have to “leave my office and get in my truck and drive 15 miles or 20 miles or 40 miles to look at a problem.” Travel is a big, reducible item in the GHG data for the 10-person company, so Canty says he has started using the train as much as possible to go to business appointments. “Instead of getting in the car and going someplace, you get in a train and go with 300 other people. It’s much more efficient” at spreading out the carbon footprint among many users. But Canty has a big problem: His company is growing fast—at a 300 percent rate last year. So he is concerned about how he might show a reduction in his greenhouses gases from the base year. And if that type of growth continues, it will become more difficult each year to make his commitment to savings. The solution that he says his GSA contact recommended is to buy carbon footprint credits. One resource for this is The official word from the EPA is, “Companies in the pilot program are expected to achieve their reduction goals without the use of offsets.”