In this series, we'll describe the development of our startup's Corporate Social Responsibility portfolio so that you can learn form our experience as you build your own.
For our first formal Corporate Social Responsibility project, we wanted to tackle the emissions question. Specifically, we wanted to describe our business' carbon footprint and use that information to continue to minimize and offset our environmental impact.
What is it?
Carbon tracking is about monitoring your company's greenhouse gas emissions. The unit of measurement usually seen here is CO2e, or "carbon dioxide equivalents". So while it's common to say carbon, it could be that other warming emissions like methane are being grouped under this umbrella measurement.
How to Start
Tracking emissions can become a big project. It can be easy to get deep in the details, trying to uncover and calculate emissions at every step of your business' workflows. While this is an excellent goal to have, our belief is to start simple and refine as we go along. We didn’t want to let a deep analysis postpone our efforts to reduce or offset emissions.
Instead, we took a "keep it simple" approach. We investigated those areas of our business most likely to be generating emissions.
Areas of Focus
To hone our tracking efforts, we started to think about what our company does on a daily, monthly, and annual basis. We asked ourselves:
What kind of property do we own (buildings, equipment)?
AbstractOps answer: With no physical company headquarters, we do need to worry about powering and maintaining offices. And since our company is fully remote, everyone can work from home and don’t need to worry about commuting. We do offer a stipend to team members to work from co-working spaces, but we decided to exclude this detail for two reasons. One, it is not our default mode of operations and second, using a co-working space is already an environmentally conscious option as it improve office space utilization and reduces commuting times when in central urban locations.
What does our company produce (clothes, software, food) and consume (equipment)?
AbstractOps answer: We're a SaaS company, so no supply chains and no shipping/deliveries. Producing software means we use server space to run our code and keep our product running. We also provide laptops to every employee as well as a stipend for purchasing items for their home office.
What kind of company events do we have?
AbstractOps answer: We host in-person company retreats semiannually, which means we do have times during the year with a highly concentrated amount of travel.
What AO is Tracking
After answering our self-reflection questions, we took a deeper look at each key point that uses energy:
- Office and Commuting: Not applicable
- Production (server space): AbstractOps uses Google Cloud, which runs on 100% renewable energy. Google leads other major companies in achieving its carbon reduction goals. This was an "aha moment" for us. While not every part of our business’ footprint is under our direct control, we understood that we could still be conscientious about the vendors and partners we choose to support our operations.
- Equipment: We chose to focus on the laptops since other Work From Home equipment is unique to the individual. In the case of equipment, it was again a matter of working with a company that also takes CSR seriously. We source our laptops exclusively from Apple, a company that is carbon neutral and on their way to making all of their products carbon neutral in the next decade. Our Operations team members use MacBook Airs, a model that has a 100% recycled aluminum enclosure. However, while the equipment is environmentally conscious, we still tally up some emissions when we ship the laptops to our global team.
- A deeper look at the math: Using an online carbon calculator to estimate wheel-to-wheel air freight emissions from Shenzhen, China (site of one of Apple’s manufacturing facilities) to Chicago, Illinois, USA (used as a US midpoint as most of our team is US-based), each laptop shipment generates ~9.5 kg of CO2e.
- Semiannual Retreats: We devised a plan for tracking carbon emissions during our next retreat with a focus on transportation. Using our reimbursement system and online carbon calculators for flights, regional train rides, and rideshares, we'll be able to quantify the volume and type of transportation as well as the amount of emissions per trip.
Reducing and Offsetting
We were happy to find that through a combination of being a remote-first SaaS company and working with environmentally conscious vendors for our primary business needs, our environmental impact is relatively modest. However, we are not quite carbon neutral or, for that matter, carbon negative. We know our "keep it simple" approach means that there a several areas we did not quantify. For example, how many video calls do we have a week, and how much carbon does that emit? What is the environmental impact of our collective remote office equipment purchases?
There are two approaches we are using to consciously reduce our environmental impact and account for the unknowns:
Before our next company retreat, we can be more explicit about carpooling when using rideshares, using online tools to pick environmentally friendly routes or modes of travel, and thoughtfully sourcing company meals.
We purchase monthly carbon offsets to cover miscellaneous carbon-generating business activities. In addition, we'll plan to make an additional offset purchase after running our calculations on the environmental impact of our retreats.
While calculating your company's carbon emissions can be an imperfect science, there are countless ways to be proactive about your company's environmental impact immediately. Take the process step by step. Focus on the areas where your company can reduce its impact the most, choose environmentally conscious and ethical vendors, and purchase carbon offsets.