Welcome back everyone! On our previous blog post, we discussed the first two ways to quickly reduce your company’s carbon footprint—transitioning your company fleet from fossil fuel vehicles to electric vehicles and installing solar panels—today we will touch on two more ways that can quickly reduce your carbon footprint.
Like I mentioned in the previous post, getting to net zero will take everyone working together to achieve this goal. Once businesses—from small businesses to large corporations—start exhibiting these behaviors, it will be easier for their customers and competitors to follow suit.
Now, the third way to reduce your footprint is by repurposing existing office spaces. This is one of my favorites and we will dive further into this one in a future blog post.
3. Reuse Existing Office Spaces
Most people never think about what goes into creating a building from the ground up, but a vast amount of energy goes into a building creation—from extracting and processing raw materials required for construction, to hauling and disposing waste from a job site—also known as “embodied energy.” This embodied energy is projected to make up 49% of the total carbon emissions of global new construction between now and 2050, according to Architecture 2030.
Adaptive reuse instead, focuses on taking a building that’s past its prime and renovating it for new purposes in line with current technological and social needs. If we want to make our cities more sustainable, adaptive reuse is one of the best strategies that we can implement. It also bridges the gap between the old and the new to create more unique and memorable spaces.
By choosing to adaptively reuse buildings, we are actively bypassing the cost of demolition and construction while extending the lifespan of already existing resources. A Deloitte blog post states that “compared with a new construction, adaptive reuse and restoration can be 16 percent cheaper in terms of construction costs and take 19 percent less execution time.”
Climate change has made adaptive reuse a more viable option, now more than ever before. It is also a compelling one in terms of business and finance too. On top of saving costs, there are also federal tax initiatives for creating sustainable and economically valuable alternatives to new construction thanks to the Tax Reform Act of 1976.
In a report on the global status of buildings and construction, The International Energy Agency found that the building and construction sector worldwide emitted 39% of all global carbon dioxide emission in 2019. On top of that, according to ArchDaily, it could still take anywhere from 10 to 80 years to zero out the carbon costs that come from construction even if choosing to build with energy efficient technology.
Carbon emissions are not the only thing that makes construction problematic; waste from a new build is also a massive issue. For example, when a 50,000-square-foot commercial building is torn down, about 4,000 tons of material end up in the landfill. Aside from that, demolishing a building wastes its initial investment, and a building can only be considered truly sustainable if it is in use long enough to justify the resources used for its creation.
“Retrofitting existing buildings to meet high-performance standards is the most effective strategy for reducing near- and mid-term carbon emissions, the most important step in limiting climate disruption.” – Kermit Baker, American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chief Economist
In 2014, the construction and demolition industry generated 534 million tons of debris, based on Dorma Kaba’s recent research; and a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report shows that building related construction and demolition debris accounted for 26% of all non-industrial waste generated in the United States.
“As more cities each year pledge to cut carbon emissions, adaptive reuse is an essential component of sustainable development. Creative solutions to renew the buildings we already have will make the difference in the fight against climate change.” – Frank Mahan, Design Principal, Adaptive Reuse Practice Leader at SOM, an innovative architectural firm.
It’s not that it doesn’t take energy and resources to restore an existing building — but rather, that it takes far less of both compared to constructing a new building and when we shift our thinking from “new is best,” to “reuse what’s left;” we are actively considering the environmental impacts associated with demolition and building anew. So, let’s put our hard hats on and tackle this together!
4. Bank Intentionally
When thinking of how to reduce your carbon footprint, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not who you bank with; especially when looking at climate solutions and environmental justice. Oddly enough, intentional banking is one of the easiest and most effective ways each of us can quickly create positive impact.
By banking intentionally, consumers can choose a bank that favors investing in renewable energies and socially responsible businesses over businesses that are destructive to the environment, like fossil fuel companies. These banks pledge their commitment to sustainability principles and align themselves with environmentally conscious customers and investors; helping them to fund a low-carbon future.
Banks play a major role in the American economy; each year trillions of dollars flow through them to fund the growth of various industries—whether that industry or company invests in fighting climate change or worsening climate change. Where banks decide to give their loans helps determine the direction of the economy, and to some extent, the future of our societies.
In 2020 alone, natural disasters accounted for about $210 billion in damages around the world. The challenges brought about by climate change and the pandemic have led to increased calls for banks to take a greater role in addressing where money is flowing to.
Climate change has been a top agenda for several banks. A growing number of financial institutions have realized that financing fossil fuels, and other projects that harm the environment, is bad for their long-term future. An Ernst & Young report found that in 2020, 52% of banks considered climate change as a key risk to their business within the next five years. Climate change development – such as the wildfires in Australia, winter storms in central Texas, the unprecedented London heatwaves, and the historical flooding in Pakistan – have created a sense of urgency that impact the growth or business and threaten company and client assets.
Consider looking into which banks finance fossil fuel companies and instead, banking with one that supports green financing, fights climate change and aligns with your own personal values. By doing this, you are ensuring that your deposits are being put towards building the tomorrow you want to live in.
There are a few groups of banks that have come together to help align customers and investors with banks and financial institutions that are working toward a sustainable future. One of these groups is The Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). The GABV is a network of independent banks using finance to deliver sustainable economic, social, and environmental development. You can find a bank that invests in fighting climate change and aligns with your personal values by visiting their website in the link above.
Another group that has come together to help the banking and financial sector is The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI). The UNEP FI was created when six banks came together at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit with the same concerns regarding sustainability and the state of the global climate. There are now more than 450 financial institutions that are members of the UN’s largest partnership with the finance industry. In the past year, member banks have given 113 million customers access to financial services and advised over 15,000 companies on their climate strategies.
By choosing to bank with financial institutions and demanding that these institutions uphold environmental standards; you’re not only helping people and the planet, you’re also helping secure the future of financial stability. With their cooperation, banks can help to finance companies, projects, and loans that support a green economy and help reduce our carbon footprint. Their role should not be underestimated when working towards a more sustainable future.
Becoming more environmentally sustainable requires us to redesign our company’s business models and turn towards the adaptive reuse of buildings and learning to bank intentionally to forecast the future. These two ways of reducing our carbon footprint have shown that this decade is critical to the determination of the future of this planet and it’s in our hands to act now and provide a sustainable and responsible framework for other companies to follow. The last part of this blog series will be posted Monday, so make sure to check back for the final tip on reducing your company’s ecological footprint.
Note: This article was written for SUNTEX by guest writer, Kari Norvell. Please reach out directly to SUNTEX if you have any questions regarding this article, or the blog post content.