How a Fortune 500 can become the world’s first carbon-neutral company?

The next generation of Fortune 500 employees and customers care deeply about climate change. On September 20th, 2019, over 4 million youth took to the streets in 2,500 cities across 163 countries to catalyze positive actions to mitigate climate change.

If we take the example of the aviation industry, aeronautics companies are unlikely leaders in the fight against climate change. On average, airplanes create 53 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per air mile traveled — no small source of impact. The opportunity for innovation and leadership is enormous. I believe in a future where air travel creates a net positive in the fight against climate change. I also consider that this goal can be reached (incrementally) while growing new business opportunities.

Demonstrating innovation and corporate leadership to address climate change is good for business:

  • Attracting and retaining top staff: Increasingly, millennials prioritize working for companies that share their values. According to a 2018 Gallup Poll, 70% of Americans between the ages of 18–34 are very concerned about climate change (note that the United States ranks below most other countries in terms of climate change concern). As the importance of climate change escalates, so too will the value that tomorrow’s employees place on fighting to mitigate the climate crisis.
  • Building a community of supporters and clients: Airlines’ future passengers and direct clients will have values that mirror those of aeronautics companies’ future staff. Demonstrating innovative solutions and measurable, incremental changes that address the climate crisis will allow aeronautics companies to build cohesive and compelling brand stories to share with direct clients and passengers.
  • Corporate Leadership and Stewardship: As a multinational organization with a wide-reaching supply chain and durable purchasing power, aeronautics companies are uniquely positioned to redefine how materials and component products are manufactured and distributed. Eventual (long, long term), closed-loop manufacturing cycles can be cheaper, at scale, than conventional manufacturing and sourcing practices.

How can a Fortune 500 company implement the strategy?

This bold vision for a carbon-neutral cannot be achieved in a single step. Several incremental steps are needed to accomplish this audacious plan. Strategically, each step provides an opportunity for the company to engage staff, stakeholders, and partners to share its progress towards the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality.

Step 1: Quantify the company’s carbon footprint

The company must first calculate its existing carbon footprint.

Step 2: Chart a Carbon Neutrality timeline with partners and stakeholders

After quantifying the total carbon footprint, it’s time to set goals and deadlines to reach carbon neutrality. The goals and timelines we collectively establish should be shared publicly. Marketing campaigns can begin to engage top-down (clients) and bottom-up (communities).

Step 3: Achieve Carbon Neutrality thru offsets

Carbon Neutrality is achievable today. Carbon offsets can be purchased to compensate for any carbon footprint. While there is a price to pay, the marketing value of being the world’s first carbon-neutral for a Fortune 500 company could very well be worth it. Carbon offsets also offer an opportunity to invest in crucial infrastructure that our supply chain can leverage: clean energy, reforestation, Etc. Skeptics will undoubtedly challenge this approach — messaging needs to be clear that the end goal is to reach carbon neutrality operationally, not only thru offsets. Still, offsets are available at any time and would enable the company to claim the title of “world’s first carbon-neutral Fortune 500 company” at any time.

Step 4: Engage the Supply Chain

Reaching carbon neutrality through optimized operations will require engagement and innovation from the entire supply chain. Collaborating with vendors and suppliers to share the vision and collectively optimize production processes is imperative to reducing supply-side carbon while increasing the necessary knowledge and support for scalable change.

Step 5: Achieve Carbon Neutrality thru optimizations and smaller offsets

As supply chains and operational processes are optimized and move towards clean energy, the carbon footprint will continue to shrink. As it does, progress is celebration-worthy. Carbon offsets will also shrink in parallel with the carbon footprint as optimizations are made.

Step 6: Keep raising the bar

Becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral Fortune 500 company will require gutsy leadership throughout the company. The company should also be sure to continue to differentiate itself to continually remain as the benchmark for innovative environmental and regenerative solutions.

The Fortune 500 company will be well-positioned to lead additional related global innovation:

  • Develop and advise on Carbon Tax and/or Cap and Trade Mechanisms;
  • Track operational data and sell additional value-added analytics services to clients (new revenue opportunities);
  • Establish and maintain supply-chain standards of best practice;
  • Etc — the possibilities are endless.

Sources:

Biomimicry Institute (https://biomimicry.org/) — This organization provides inspirational and practical insights to design in collaboration with nature and natural limits.

Carbon Leadership Forum (http://www.carbonleadershipforum.org/) — global leader in carbon research and reporting.

Sustainability Consultants (many) — provide support and expertise for specific challenges.