Ten Steps to making your business carbon neutral

Without a doubt global warming is one of the biggest issues facing the planet today. While there may be no single solution to the problem, there is one relatively easy, yet effective way that people can take responsibility for global warming and help mitigate the effects of human activities on planet earth. It's called "carbon neutral".

Carbon neutral refers to neutralizing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, methane, and fluorinated gases that are released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, gas, driving cars, and numerous manufacturing and industrial processes. The good news is that "going carbon neutral", as it's commonly referred to, is something everyone can do—businesses included. In fact, businesses in every industry are going carbon neutral these days including MTV, Silverjet, HSBC, Dell, and even the World Bank.

If you're a business owner who's ready to jump on the carbon neutral bandwagon, here's what you can do to make your business carbon neutral and do your part to help save the planet.

1. Determine baseline CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions.

The first step in going carbon neutral is to figure out your carbon footprint and calculate emissions rates. Specific formulas are available on the Internet to help you with this or you can hire a consultant that specializes in this field. Once the carbon footprint is determined, costs are assigned to emission rates;they can be offset, typically through making your business as energy efficient (i.e. conserving resources) as possible and then purchasing renewable energy credits and planting trees.

2. Develop a phased plan.

It's almost impossible for a business to become carbon neutral overnight. It takes planning. Therefore smart companies implement what's known as a phased plan to implement the steps needed to become 100% carbon neutral within a set timeframe. Going carbon neutral can take as little as a few months or as many as 5 years, depending on the size of your business.

3. Perform an energy audit.

An energy audit is beneficial to the planet and your bottom line. Generally performed by an energy consultant or even a local utility company, an energy audit examines heating and cooling systems, building insulation, lighting, air leaks in windows, and myriad smaller items to ensure optimal energy efficiency in a building. After a careful analysis, recommendations for increased energy efficiency are made and implemented. Conserving energy or generating your own electricity via onsite wind generators and solar panels for example means that far fewer emissions are generated.

4. Recycle paper.

It may seem like a no-brainer but recycling paper is one of the easiest and most effective methods a business can use to help it become carbon neutral. If it's not already mandatory in your community, make it mandatory at your company.

5. Use web-based communications.

In today's technology savvy world, web-based communications such as video and teleconferencing, which takes place right in your own office instead of flying or driving to business meetings and conferences, saves time, energy, resources, and money and results in fewer emissions.

6. Reduce air travel.

Business travel, particularly air travel can play a large role in the amount of emissions generated by a business. If possible, reduce the number of flights by using video and teleconferencing or fly on airlines like Canada's WestJet or the UK-based Silverjet that offer carbon offsets for each ticket purchased. For shorter flights between major cities consider traveling by train.

7. Give company vehicles a tune-up.

If your business maintains company vehicles--whether it's one vehicle or a whole fleet of them-- keeping them tuned up and in tip-top condition will go a long way toward reducing emissions. For instance, keeping tires properly inflated can prevent 250 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every year. If you're thinking of buying a company vehicle or two consider a hybrid such as the Toyota Prius.

8. Encourage telecommuting.

Offering a telecommuting option to employees can go a long way toward enabling your business to become carbon neutral, especially in regions where mass transit and carpooling is not an option or widely used and employees must drive long distances to get to work.

9. Reduce the amount of lawn area on corporate campuses.

While there's nothing like a carpet of lush green grass, lawns consume inordinate amounts of non-renewable resources such as water and petroleum (think lawn mowers) products used by lawn maintenance crews. Take the opportunity to plant native trees and groundcovers, which are low maintenance, self-sustaining landscapes.

10. Purchase renewable energy credits or carbon offsets.

After you have taken steps to make your business as energy efficient as possible, it's more than likely that you will still need to offset emissions. This is accomplished through what's called carbon offsets and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Carbon offsets are credits that are purchased from a company that sells wind power for instance. Purchasing carbon offsets or credits allows your business to mitigate emissions from major sources such as the use of corporate vehicles or air travel or both. Renewable Energy Certificates are used to offset emissions generated from the use of electricity and is similar to buying renewable energy.