In our last post, we explored the definition of sustainability according to ecological economist Herman Daly. When measured against his comprehensive definition of sustainability, very few businesses or products have yet to achieve true sustainability.
If your lifestyle or your business (or any of its critical supply chain) is powered by fossil fuels, its foundation is built upon a nonrenewable resource. And of course, it is. Worldwide, energy is the foundation of our economic system. In the US, fossil fuels supply 88% of energy consumption. As we know, those fossil fuels are not only finite, but dwindling. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers projects oil supply to dwindle to 20% of current consumption within 25 years. Few natural resources upon which we rely so heavily have such a narrow window left.
The upshot of this is that any business which has not accounted for its fossil fuel reliance in its sustainability plans is not, ultimately, sustainable. It has, at best, a 25 year lifespan. Depending on your retirement date that may be ‘good enough’ for any individual – but planning for demise within 25 years is clearly insane for any organization.
Some may argue that our energy supply is out of our control – we are at the mercy of the energy companies that power our buildings and vehicles. Consequently they may conclude that our endeavors should not be accountable for sustainable energy supply. However, accounting for the entire product chain, even those aspects outside of our direct control, is at the very center of sustainability. Assessment standards like Cradle to Cradle for products or LEED certification for buildings.
The only way we can be fully aware of our lifestyle, business, or product’s consumption of fossil fuels is to conduct a carbon footprint assessment. Conducting a detailed carbon footprint assessment will calculate all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from raw material to end user. In addition to determining your business or product’s total contribution to GHG emissions and climate change, that calculation will help you understand the level of reliance your business currently has on our dwindling fossil fuel resources. Because a carbon footprint must take into account all activities of a business or product, it is the single most comprehensive measurement defining your long-term sustainability.
Armed with this information, your business can begin to explore ways of reducing your carbon footprint – your level of reliance on key nonrenewable resources. You can also offset your carbon footprint through third party certified carbon offsets and achieve a carbon neutral status. These offsets are micro investments in renewable energy sources and infrastructure and they address head-on Howard Daly’s third aspect of sustainability. By becoming Certified Carbon Neutral, a business or product is helping to secure its long-term future by investing in expanding renewable energy.
As more businesses and individuals take responsibility for their contribution to fossil fuel depletion through renewable energy offsets, the more stable our long-term energy, economic, and environmental future become. Through our collective actions the availability of non-fossil fuel energy sources will continue to increase, improving the availability of renewable resource choices for our businesses in the future.
More than being a good ethical choice, selecting Certified Carbon Neutral is a choice for long-term economic and environmental sustainability.