Can Your Business Be Carbon Neutral?

If you open the fridge at most offices, you’ll find a couple of plastic containers which require CDC clearance to open, an assortment of soda, and a few bottles of water. Bottled water has taken a beating lately, with reports that the quality is no better than tap-water, and that the plastic bottles contribute millions of tonnes of land-fill waste every year.

When you think of Iceland you probably think of the unpronounceable volcanic eruption earlier this year that grounded flights across nothern Europe for days. You may think of Bjork, or Vikings. You probably don’t think about a carbon neutral certified bottled water company, or that 96 percent of all of Iceland’s post-consumer cans, plastics and glass bottles are recycled.
Jon Olafsson is Chairman of Icelandic Glacial water, the company he founded with his son, Kristjan, in 2004. “When we started this it was very clear in our mind that we should build the company, from day one, as a carbon neutral company.” Olafsson said.
Easier said than done. To be carbon neutral certified, you need to know how big your carbon footoprint is, how much you need to offset, and where there are projects that will support your goal. And there’s a company, The Carbon Neutral Company who do can help you find that exact information.
“In Iceland it’s probably easier than in most other countries,” Olafsson admits, “because 72 percent of energy used in Iceland is renewable.” Which leaves the burden of carbon neutrality not on the manufacturing process, but on the supply chain and distribution networks.
Olafsson takes things a step further, though, in his quest to be carbon neutral. “We decided that we would offset the carbon footprint of our employees from the time they leave home to the time they come to work.” He said, “Whenever we travel around the world, whenever we ship raw materials to our factory, or when we ship finished goods to our end users, we offset that [fuel consumption] by investing in renewable energy projects around the world.”
Sadly, the efforts made by Icelandic Glacial and other companies only get them as far as the supermarket shelves. When it comes to post-consumer waste, the environmental organization, Clean Air, claim that Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. That’s almost 16 billion recyclable bottles going onto landfills every year. The trouble isn’t that people are lazy, it’s that local governments are not addressing the problem. And the problem is that most local governments do not offer convenient, low-cost recycling programs, and some are even proposing to ban plastic bottles.
But there is a bright side to this. The economic downturn has prompted many people to grow their own fruits and vegetables, and many are doing so without the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Green thinking is the silver lining to the credit crunch cloud.
When asked what small businesses could do, Olafsson said, “Small businesses can direct their purchases to companies who are carbon neutral, or who have a program in place to reduce their carbon footprint. When Icelandic Glacial have the choice of two suppliers, we always go to the one which is green.” It’s a simple philosophy, founded as much in long-term capitalism as it is in environmentalism. Making those choices might be more expensive now, but without industry support, carbon neutral companies will go out of business, which reduces competition. And competition is good for the consumer.
As focus turns to environmental issues, some businesses will buy carbon off-sets because it fits their ideals and corporate culture, others will feel forced to buy off-sets to remain competitive as the economy focuses on the environment and sustainability. Ultimately, it’s uncertain whether carbon neutrality is going to be something every business can afford to do, but it looks set to become an unavoidable cost of doing business in the next decade.
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