How to cut your company's carbon footprint (and energy costs)

BT's consulting service shares techniques to reduce environmental impact while saving money

Energy is expensive. It is costing individuals and corporations increasing amounts of money, both directly in the price of gasoline and electricity and indirectly in the form of rising prices for energy-dependent goods and services ranging from vehicles to food. And it's expensive in terms of environmental impact, as the scientific evidence linking the "carbon footprint" of human activities -- the amount of carbon dioxide humans worldwide pump into the atmosphere to generate power -- to global warming and climate change has become conclusive.

With those issues in mind, BT Group has launched a new consulting service in the U.S. and Great Britain to help organizations reduce their carbon footprints and in the process save on their energy costs, based on BT's own experience.

"Our carbon footprint is 0.6 million [metric] tons. That's reduced by 60% since 1996," says Kevin Moss, head of corporate social responsibility for BT Americas, the North American division of the telecommunications giant. "We have a commitment to reduce it by 80% by 2016. That is very doable. I shouldn't say that that implies it is easy -- it is not." And, he said, this was accomplished while BT grew its business steadily throughout the decade.

Moss emphasizes that while many of the recommendations BT makes to its customers involve telecommunications services, the consultancy is separate from its main telecommunications business and isn't a sales arm for BT services. And its strategies don't involve exotic technologies such as replacing the corporate truck fleet with hybrid vehicles or covering the data center roof with solar cells.

Instead it focuses on applying mainstream technologies rigorously in ways that reduce energy use. Only after that's done, Moss says, should organizations start looking at more exotic approaches, such as moving to green energy sources.

"A megawatt not used always has a greater impact than a megawatt used from green energy," he says. And it saves the organization more money. Looking into carbon trading should be a final step to account for the carbon footprint that remains after the organization has leaned out its energy use. Carbon trading is more popular in Europe, where companies might be allotted a certain unit of carbon emissions and they can then trade or buy those units as they use less or more of their allotment.

The standard corporate carbon footprint, he says, includes:

  • Traveling for business.
  • Traveling to commute.
  • Logistical operations such as a vehicle fleet, materials control or warehouse operations.
  • An office infrastructure.
  • A data and network infrastructure
  • Other industry-specific items (e.g., oil and gas has pipelines and platforms, the electrical industry has generating stations and a power grid).

Each of these need to be examined for ways to reduce the energy costs associated with them. Some of those are obvious. For example, organizations can reduce the energy cost of business travel by substituting audio- or videoconferencing whenever possible.

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