Carbon matters Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008

Global warming threatens to alter the stability required for civilization. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, many natural systems are already being harmed by climate change.

“Even under conservative scenarios, IPCC predicts that climate change will negatively impact agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, water resources, human health and industry,” says James Brusslan, head of the Environmental Services Group at Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. “In North America, cities will suffer major heat waves with potential adverse health impacts and coastal communities will be threatened.”

Smart Business asked Brusslan how companies can combat climate change by reducing their carbon footprint.

Why should companies take action to address climate change?

The IPCC has determined with virtual certainty that humans are the cause of significant global warming due to increased emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), including carbon dioxide and methane. Many scientists believe if we do not take action quickly, the impact could be catastrophic.

Also, global warming legislation may have a significant influence on how companies conduct business in the near future. As early as 1997, the international community took the first steps to reduce GHGs by negotiating the Kyoto Protocol. In the absence of federal legislation in the U.S., both courts and states are taking their own measures to regulate GHGs. Some states and regions, including Illinois, have published long-term goals to reduce their emissions. Illinois has a goal of reaching 1990 GHG levels by 2020.

Knowing that federal legislation is inevitable, several industry groups are working to endorse a reasonable version of climate change legislation. For instance, the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) is a group of businesses and organizations that have come together to call on the federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. USCAP members include BP Amoco, Shell, Caterpillar, DuPont, Ford and GM.

How can businesses respond to this issue?

Business can take several measures. Offices can reduce electricity by employing more efficient lighting, turning off lights and machinery, and occupying energy-efficient buildings. They can also lower their use of paper, plastic and other non-renewable resources, and recycle. When purchasing products, they can make sure the products are as ‘green’ as possible.

Outside the office, companies can reduce corporate travel. Manufacturers can make their production and transportation methods more efficient. And those in the construction business can focus on ‘green buildings,’ which, according to recent studies, increases expenses only 2 percent.

How should organizations begin this process?

Top management must make a commitment to reducing the company’s carbon footprint. The company should then designate one or more employees with authority to research and implement these goals. One simple way any company can begin to reduce its carbon footprint is to calculate its electricity use and corporate travel and work to both reduce such use and offset its emissions.

Many resources can assist with this objective, including The American Bar Association and The United States Green Building Council as well as trade associations.

How do companies benefit from taking initiative prior to federal legislation?

Going green is a substantial marketing tool, while at the same time addressing a real concern. Taking initiative now can also improve employee morale, result in cost savings and mitigate the disruptive impact of new legislation.

Companies interested in offsetting their carbon emissions will gain insight on the expected ‘cap and trade’ federal legislation. For instance, the Chicago Climate Exchange may be the primary market for carbon offsets. By joining CCX now, a company can influence how the market will work in the future. Companies can also gain greater insight on offset technologies, such as methane capture, reforestation and low-till farming, which presents new business opportunities.

Perhaps most importantly, even in the absence of global warming legislation, the investment world is focused on non-carbon technologies, particularly in the fields of electricity generation and transportation. As USCAP explains, this presents tremendous opportunity for innovative business solutions. Once carbon limits become mandatory, there will be huge new markets for manufacturers who have already changed their operations.

JAMES BRUSSLAN is head of the Environmental Services Group at Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. Contact him at jbrusslan@lplegal.com or (312) 476-7570.

James Brusslan
Head of the Environmental Services Group
Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC