I care about the future of this planet – I’m sure, as you’re reading this, you care too.
The clock is ticking. The time to act on the climate crisis is now.
With rising sea levels, extreme weather events, increased risk of resource scarcity, and other looming environmental disasters, sustainability has become an integral part of any responsible business model. Organization leaders must take responsibility for their company’s environmental impact and equip their teams with the tools they need to make sustainability a priority.
The sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Penal on Climate Change (IPCC), published in March 2023, makes it clear that achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions is essential to limit human-made global warming. Some damage is unavoidable or has already occurred and is irreversible. To mitigate the devasting impact, it is imperative that swift and decisive action is taken to significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
In the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world leaders agreed to limit global warming to between 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial levels. However, projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure would already exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C (IPCC AR6 SYR SPM, 2023).
Limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C – 2°C depends heavily on two key factors: the total carbon emissions released by the time net-zero CO2 emissions are achieved, and the extent of greenhouse gas emission reductions in the current decade.
At Apheris, sustainability is at the core of our DNA. From day one, we measured our emissions and aim to reduce them as much as possible. For anything that we can’t reduce, we purchase carbon removal offsets to limit our negative impact. In addition to focusing on our own emissions and our upstream Scope 3 emissions (from products and services that we procure) we also want to have a direct impact on our downstream Scope 3 emissions – i.e., with our customers that use our product. Here we are targeting use cases of our customers that help them to reduce their emissions by using our product to collaborate on data, e.g. by helping them leverage the data generated along the supply chain that is distributed amongst multiple organizations in a privacy preserving manner. With this I want to ensure that we contribute to the overall reduction of emissions in the operations of our customers, beyond Apheris being net-zero in its core operations.
Let’s look at some of the things organizations can do to understand their impact and what they can do to address environmental impact.
Measuring Carbon Footprint
Measuring a company’s carbon footprint is an important first step in understanding how to reduce its environmental impact. Different sectors and activities contribute very differently as the following graphic from Our World in Data based on data from the World Resources Institute (2020) shows:
The exercise of measuring an organization’s carbon footprint can look very different depending on the sector in which it operates.
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced directly and indirectly by an organization in one year. CO2 is the most common greenhouse gas, but other gases such as methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases are also included in this category, which is why often the emissions are expressed as CO2 equivalent (CO2e) by normalizing the greenhouse gas effects of these other greenhouse gases to that of CO2.
To obtain an accurate measurement of the CO2e emissions, it is necessary to calculate emissions from all possible sources, including but not limited to:
Energy that is consumed to build and maintain the company’s product(s)
Energy consumption in offices or homes (for example, in the case of home office arrangements) – heating and electricity
Transportation and business travel
Purchases of products and services used by the company – e.g., equipment like computers or tools and any raw materials used in production processes
Emissions from food production if the company provides food to its employees
Waste disposal methods used by the company
Water consumption by employees or customers at sites owned or operated by the company
Several companies offer carbon footprint measurement services and tools to organizations, each with its own unique approach. When choosing a provider, it's important to consider factors such as their level of expertise and accreditation, the accuracy and transparency of their measurement methodology, and the comprehensiveness of their services. The supplier’s approach to sustainability and commitment to social and environmental responsibility should also be considered.
At Apheris we calculate our CO2 emissions ourselves and offset them, using different offsetting providers, such as Supercritical. When calculating our carbon footprint, we need to consider our Scope 3 emissions too, i.e., especially that of our suppliers. So, we look very closely at where our suppliers stand on sustainability and focus on working with those who take the issue very seriously.
Reducing Carbon Footprint
Encouraging sustainable habits among employees and customers is an invaluable way to reduce an organization’s carbon footprint. By providing resources, incentives, and tools to help individuals incorporate eco-friendly practices into their daily lives, companies can significantly reduce their environmental impact. I strongly encourage organization leaders to look at their carbon footprint tracking list and consider whether some expansions are necessary at all or can be replaced with an eco-friendly alternative.
Some examples are:
Implementing remote working policies to reduce the need for commuting, a major contributor to carbon emissions.
For home-office arrangements, offer incentives to switch to renewable energy providers to encourage individuals to choose greener options where available.
If you can’t avoid commuting, subsidise the use of public transport.
Focus on green compute: work with, for example, data center providers that use renewable energy sources to power their facilities.
Additionally, organizations should look at how they can use their products and services to help their customers to reduce their emissions. Offering energy efficient alternatives with lower emissions than traditional methods are great examples of how a company’s product range can be used to promote sustainability goals both internally and externally.
We recently held a workshop at Apheris with the whole team to go through the basic climate science, the consequences under different global warming scenarios and the recently published IPCC report, highlighting the actions that should be taken. To get more ideas on how to further reduce our carbon footprint, we gathered ideas from the whole team. I believe it’s essential to involve employees because they are the experts on their day-to-day lives and are best placed to find ways to reduce their own individual carbon footprints and the company footprint as a whole. And because sustainable behavior isn’t something that can be imposed, it’s essential that people buy into the measures. People must embrace it for it to work.
Offsetting Carbon Emission
While reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be the primary focus as this has an immediate impact, there are certain types of emissions that are naturally hard to bring to zero immediately. It is key to have a long-term plan on how these can be brought to zero as well. However, for those emissions that can’t be reduced, carbon offsetting is a viable option for companies and individuals to compensate for emissions that they have produced. Offsetting is a process by which organizations or individuals can essentially pay for the reduction or removal of greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, by paying for projects that eliminate more greenhouse gases than what they are producing. Also the IPCC found in their latest 2023 report that the removal of (already emitted) carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is necessary to achieve net-negative CO2 emissions. Thus, offsetting carbon emissions has become increasingly popular in recent years as businesses strive to meet sustainability goals and comply with government-led climate change initiatives.
Choosing the right offset program for your organization’s needs can be challenging due to the variety of options available. Carbon offsetting programs vary widely in cost, scope, and effectiveness, so it is important for companies to do their research before committing funds to a particular program. Some key factors to consider when selecting an appropriate offsetting strategy include the type of carbon offsetting that is offered in the projects (are emissions just avoided elsewhere, or is carbon actually removed from the atmosphere, and the permanence of the removal) as well as verifiability standards. For a great overview on carbon removal, which focuses on actually removing historic carbon emissions from the atmosphere, and the different technologies that are pursued here I recommend this article.
When selecting an offset provider, it is important to check their offset projects and how the carbon removal offsets are calculated. Recent investigations into Verra, which claims to “set the world's leading standards for climate action and sustainable development”, reveals that it’s unfortunately not enough to trust accredited providers. With more than 90% of Verra’s rainforest credits being “phantom credits” and not real carbon reductions, many major companies, including Disney, Gucci, Volkswagen, Netflix and Shell are having to recalibrate their net zero strategies after a public loss of face.
Overall one has to be very careful with any offsets based on “avoided deforestation” as Verra promotes them, as these are at least dubious if not hazardous. Hence overall I believe that if a company purchases offsets, they should focus on offset that actually remove existing emissions from the atmosphere, to really have net zero emissions. Just avoiding emissions (by avoiding deforestation) is not enough, as it doesn’t reduce the carbon already in the atmosphere, just avoids that new carbon is added.
To give you an idea of the types of offsets in which we invested in in the past via Supercritical, here some examples:
Enhanced Weathering – uses the naturally occurring rock weathering process to have CO2 found in rainwater bind with rocks and seals it in a carbonate form of long-term carbon storage.
Duration of impact: 10.000 years
Biochar – a technology that takes the form of a charcoal-like substance produced by heating organic materials in the absence of oxygen, a process known as pyrolysis. Biochar takes unutilized biomass and organic waste as a resource for binding CO2, creating clean energy, and making fertile soil for plants.
Duration of impact: 800 years
Direct Air Capture – an active CO2 capturing system, which uses fans to direct air through filters that bind with CO2. Once captured, these filters are heated to release the captured CO2 into water. This water is then pumped underground, so it can be mineralized with rock and permanently stored.
Duration of impact: 10.000 years
If you want to learn more about our offsetting strategy and projects, take a look at this blog discussing our first carbon removal purchases.
Building a Sustainable Culture
To me, a sustainable culture is one that works to reduce the environmental impact of its operations and products, while ensuring the well-being of employees and external stakeholders alike. To create such an environment, organizations must first understand their current practices and identify how they can make improvements in areas such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, water conservation, responsible sourcing, ethical business practices, and more. Building such a culture requires commitment at all levels of the organization. It’s vital that everyone understands their role in creating a sustainable future and how their efforts will contribute to achieving the organization’s sustainability goals.
Creating a successful sustainable culture means developing effective strategies that are specifically aligned with your company’s vision for the future while also considering employee value systems. Before implementing any change initiative, it is important to clearly articulate what sustainability means to everyone involved. Team members have to have a shared understanding of why changes are important to them individually and collectively as an organization.
As the climate crisis continues to be one of the most pressing issues of our time, it is imperative that companies take responsibility by implementing solutions that will help mitigate their negative impact on the planet for future generations. Including employees is crucial as without their buy-in nothing will change. Opening-up discussions and aligning on a common goal in a collaborative manner is, in my view, the only way forward.
We don’t have much time left – the time to act is now.