The Crucial Role of Businesses in Saving the Planet
When you consider the grave state of the environment and the planet as a whole, solutions like recycling, carpooling and low-flow appliances might come to mind. Whether it’s using fabric bags at the supermarket or harvesting your own rainwater, most mainstream climate activism centers around individual action. Shop green and the earth will follow, right?
It seems the solution isn’t quite that simple. While lifestyle choices do matter, consumers can’t save the planet on their own because they don’t have a big enough influence on it. Ultimately, the sources that devour a disproportionate amount of resources and generate an excessive share of emissions are businesses. Consequently, American offices and corporations have a major role to play in saving the planet.
Each year, humans burn and cut down millions of hectares of forest and use millions of tons of water to manufacture pulp and produce paper. Unfortunately, the earth is already in short supply of both of these resources. Yet, U.S. offices continue to use 12.1 trillion sheets of paper annually and more than half of their waste consists of this product. Businesses have room for improvement when it comes to minimizing paper waste.
One of the simplest ways to reduce paper use in offices is to transfer documents, files and records to the cloud or another online database. Doing so will streamline communications, organize company information and make data easily accessible to employees, managers and clients. Offices might also offer recycling bins for paper products to reduce waste and keep them out of landfills.
The commercial sector accounts for 18% of America’s total energy consumption. Coal, natural gas and petroleum remain the largest generators of this energy. From lighting offices to charging smartphones, businesses rely on fossil fuels for power day in and day out. As the business sector continues to lead the U.S. in burning these fuels, it also paves the way for higher levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and lower air quality.
Yet, most companies would likely save money — and the planet — if they simply switched to renewable energy. For example, solar panels practically pay for themselves as companies sell power back to the grid, earn tax credits and avoid high electricity prices. Meanwhile, those who can’t afford to invest in renewables could cut costs and emissions by switching to LED bulbs and unplugging devices and turning off lights at the end of the day.
The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. In 2018, light-duty and medium- to heavy-duty vehicles accounted for 82% of its pollution, making commuter traffic the largest GHG generator in the sector. However, this year has shown Americans that business can go on as usual even without a daily commute.
As the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation back in March, many businesses closed their doors and employees began remote work. This mass work from home transition led to a decrease in commuter traffic, resulting in cleaner air and clearer views. Even as many offices reopen, others have decided to transition to remote work permanently, opting to meet virtually instead.
If more companies adopted this approach and transitioned to green business models, the U.S. could further reduce emissions and help mitigate global warming.
Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain
By investing in the earth now, businesses can create good jobs and a more sustainable economy in the process.
When it comes to making a profit, businesses have nothing to lose and everything to gain from pursuing green solutions. From energy savings to organized records, going green can benefit more than just the planet.
Companies making the decision to green their operations also drive consumer demand and gain many loyal, eco-conscious buyers. More than two-thirds of Americans are willing to pay more for sustainable products and repeatedly support brands whose values match their own. Thus, businesses are most likely to save the planet — and their own tails — by adopting more sustainable practices.
Bio: Emily covers topics in sustainability, conservation and green technology. You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks.