From companies to countries, everyone has a view on carbon footprints. Either you’re a business that has spent a lot of time and money tracking every molecule that your company emits and subsequently offsets, or you’re quietly avoiding the topic and hoping the conversation will change so that you can stop feeling guilty about the fact you don’t know what your footprint is and wouldn’t know where to start.
But what is a carbon footprint and why should we be worrying about ours? In essence, your footprint is the sum total of how much carbon dioxide is released by all of your actions, which then contributes to the warming of the planet. However, that’s where definitions start to diverge. It’s not just the CO2 emissions from your car journey to the office, it’s the emissions produced to run your air con, to operate your supply chains, to make your laptop, and even to grow the salad that you serve in the canteen.
Where you choose to draw the line between your direct emissions and emissions that you believe you are unaccountable for is up for debate. Most large corporations would rather leave the grey salad-bar areas out of their reports. In short, carbon footprint compensation is not a topic that is going to inspire pride or full transparency.
However, if we take a step back, we can see that the well-meaning purpose behind carbon footprinting is to raise awareness of the damaging contribution from individuals, companies, and countries. Once awareness is there, responsibility for that footprint will follow and people will make efforts to try and reduce or even negate it. It’s also been used to hold big emitters accountable and encourage them to change. Good in the grand scheme of things.
So why is it problematic?
First of all, the complexity of accurately calculating your carbon footprint means that it costs a lot of time and money to do properly. The difficulty of doing so means many small businesses understandably shy away from doing the maths. Big firms have a view on what their emissions are, but even then the cost of paying a consultancy to accurately report the minutiae could surely be better spent elsewhere. The guilt-trip nature of footprinting is off-putting and uninspiring.
What’s more, the current approach of ring-fencing your carbon footprint doesn’t work in practice. All of our impacts are inextricably interlinked. For example, how do you divvy up the responsibility for the carbon emissions of an avocado sandwich? Does the bakery that produces the bread have the responsibility to own and offset them, or the avocado grower? What about the courier that transports the bread or avocados, or the business that sells the sandwich, or the consumer that buys and eats it? With so many variables, we need to be thinking collectively about our responsibility, not individually. So although carbon footprinting may be a useful method of holding companies accountable, a company that offsets its emissions is never technically ‘carbon neutral’, it is only contributing to less carbon emissions (and maybe in a distant future global neutrality).
Ok, so what should I fixate on then?
Focusing on how your company can ‘be less bad’ and counteract its emissions is like trying to swat a fly when your house is on fire. There are 200 years of problematic emissions to counteract and we can do much more than just negating our impact. If you’re a small to medium sized business with a limited budget, your time and money is much better spent looking at how you can leave behind a positive handprint through regeneration.
For starters, every cent you spend will go towards making the world a better place as opposed to into the hands of middle men charging you to audit your business and make recommendations on how to effectively offset your carbon footprint.
Secondly, you don’t have to focus on balancing your carbon books, or stop when you finally break even. Instead, you can go on investing in the planet and leave it a better place thanks to your existence. Regenerative projects help improve the planet’s resilience to the changing climates. They also help communities, making it more tangible for you to see the change you are having on the environments and people around you.
Finally, focusing on your handprint allows you to build a connection with your impact. It allows you to track your efforts and see how your work is exponentially improving the world around you. You can grow a handprint together with your customers, making them co-owners of the positive impact you are creating. It is much harder to do something similar with a footprint.
If you’re done with negation and interested in finding out more about how you can start to build your positive handprint, get in touch here.