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Important steps to reducing a carbon footprint; Business in the Community in association with Royal Mail.

ONE of the biggest current issues in the arena of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is carbon off-setting. It's rarely out of the news, but it's not just about rock stars planting trees to offset the air mile emissions they've notched up during world tours.

For businesses looking to offset their carbon emissions, it is a complex area that needs proper management to get right.

Durham Business School has embarked on a programme of going carbon neutral.

Like other large organisations, its international and national activities involve considerable travel, and the school is keen to give something back to the environment to address its consumption of fossil fuels.

Using its in-house expertise and following best practice, it is looking at the most efficient way to reduce and off-set its carbon use.

The keys to a credible carbon management plan are:

The support of staff, particularly senior management;

To acknowledge that off-setting is a last resort, after action has been taken to reduce emissions;

To use high quality off-sets.

Any scheme that doesn't include plans to reduce emissions, or involves the purchase of unverified or non-genuine off-sets, could be open to the accusation that it is actually leading to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The first step in the process is the identification of 'year zero' - an organisation's baseline year - and the measurement of its emissions for that year.

Once the size of the problem is known, organisations can set about considering ways to reduce emissions.

This is best done in consultation with staff - those who know the organisation's habits and likely future activities best of all - and will ultimately include ideas ranging from the simple (energy-efficient light bulbs) to the slightly more complicated (video conferencing and web cams) to the complex (waste management).

After an assessment of all measures, based on cost, effectiveness and ease of implementation, an implementation plan will be created, showing which measures can be implemented, and when.

Springing from this will be a series of annual emissions targets, showing a continuous reduction on the baseline year.

Once in operation, this aspect of the carbon management plan will require regular monitoring and an annual measurement to assess success against targets and measure the off-set need.

The benefits to organisations of this approach to carbon management is that it can be self-financing, as the things that emit greenhouse gases, like travel and energy, cost money, and a reduction in emissions means a reduction in cost.

The decision about what type of off-set to use is also important, and may be driven by an organisation's marketing and branding needs as much as anything.

Carbon credits turn carbon emissions into a tradable commodity, like any other, and provide a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by allowing the credits to be bought and sold. If an organisation finds it too expensive, or impossible, to reduce its emissions, it can pay another business to make the reduction for it.

The vital thing is that carbon credits are verified by a third party, and are 'additional'.

This latter is a Kyoto technical term meaning the project generating the off-set credits - for example, a wind farm replacing power supplied by coal fired electricity - could not have existed without the sale of carbon credits.

If the wind farm would have gone ahead anyway then there is actually environmental harm in buying those off-sets.

The area of carbon management and off-setting is new and evolving fast, and organisations aspiring to practise their CSR principles are well advised to seek advice.

The rewards of a good plan are there for all to see - from climate change mitigation through to the added benefits of bio-diversity, from native woodland regeneration or accelerated development arising from technology transfer to least developed countries - and organisations of all sizes have a definite role to play.

The school is keen to give something back to the environment to address its consumption of fossil fuels.


ACTION FOR THE FUTURE: Steve Prior, director of operations and business development at Durham Business School.
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 4, 2007
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