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Seth Godin doesn’t care about your company’s coffee habits, at least not as they relate to saving the planet. “What do small businesses need to do? The answer is not to switch to compostable K-cup coffee inserts,” says the best-selling author. Godin brings his marketing genius to bear on climate change in a new resource manual, The Carbon Almanac: It’s Not Too Late. “What is going to solve the problem is when small businesses lead the way in culture change, so it becomes normal to do the things that dramatically change the carbon equation.”
Slated for release June 21–the summer solstice–The Carbon Almanac packs in assiduously sourced one-page explainers, visualizations, and calls to action on climate change, produced by more than 300 volunteers from a range of disciplines and 40 countries. Godin (also a volunteer) organized the collective effort, which in itself echoes an important theme. Namely, that individual action isn’t going to get the work done. To put it simply, he says, “We cannot recycle our way out of this problem.”
That’s because the problem is just too big, of course. Yet for decades, the narrative of environmentalism has hammered the need to do less, and less, and less. Recycle, reduce, reuse. All principled actions, but when you consider one of the bracing bits of data delivered in the Almanac–that only 9 percent of plastic in the U.S. gets recycled–you see where we’ve stalled out. We have recycling bins to make us feel better as consumers, even though nearly all of what goes in them gets landfilled or, worse, incinerated. It should come as no surprise that the concept of your carbon footprint–tracking the impact of your daily activities–was created by the London marketing shop Ogilvy & Mather for British Petroleum. If you’re feeling guilty about your own carbon footprint, maybe you won’t do anything to disrupt oil and gas companies from getting back to work pulling fossil fuel out of the earth.
Great marketing. Not so great for mobilizing action to counteract climate change. The U.S. has pledged as part of our participation in the Paris Agreement to zero out carbon emissions by 2050. That means transforming our economy so that we’re removing one ton of carbon from the atmosphere for every ton we emit–net zero.
While saving the planet has been about consumers doing less, Godin observes, capitalism is about doing more. As compatible as oil and water, it would seem. Except that by reframing the discussion around getting to net zero in the language of cultural change, the Almanac‘s authors describe a moment of opportunity for entrepreneurs. In other words, if you want to kick-start deep-seated change in the way we all conduct our lives, drop the guilt trip and start a business. Because it’s only by building alternative products and services that create demand among consumers that society will transform into one that properly accounts for the cost of carbon.
“I think there’s an opportunity right here for entrepreneurs, because the whole world is going to change–more in the next 10 years than any period of our lifetime,” says Godin. “And when the world changes, it’s the nimble and small organizations that usually go in to solve problems.” And that means you.
In the meantime–or if you’ve already got your hands full running a business–here are five practical steps derived from the Almanac that your company can take today. Because, as the book reminds us, “It’s not too late.”
1. Buy Electric Vehicles for Your Company’s Fleet
Fossil-fuel powered transportation pumps more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other sector of the economy, with cars and trucks accounting for nearly 20 percent of all U.S. emissions. Electric vehicles are the antidote, as they emit nothing while operating. There are carbon costs attached to, say, mining the minerals for the batteries and manufacturing the vehicles, but even accounting for such life cycle carbon costs, EVs cut emissions by 60 percent over cars and trucks powered by fossil fuels. Greening the grid would give EVs even more of an advantage.
2. Install Solar Panels at HQ
To give you an idea of the benefit, a solar farm requires four square acres to generate approximately one megawatt of electricity. We could power the entire United States with eight million square acres of solar panels, according to the Almanac, which is an area smaller than the Mojave Desert. So it stands to reason that covering your company’s roof would be a good start. Grab your utility bill and plug in the address of your building to Google’s Project Sunroof to see if solar makes sense for your location.
3. Don’t Build New–Move Into Existing Office Space
The building and construction sector contributes 38 percent of global CO2 emissions, nearly three quarters of which are related to energy use. So the best strategy for an expanding business to have a positive impact is to improve the energy efficiency of an existing building and use that space. What about green building tech? The U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation found that even if you build new with energy-efficient technologies, it takes somewhere between 10 and 80 years to zero out the carbon costs from construction.
4. Bank Intentionally
The top four banks account for 36 percent of the financing for fossil-fuel companies, and as the Almanac points out, “Trillions of dollars makes a difference.” So look twice before opening accounts with those institutions that finance the fossil-fuel industry–or, better yet, pull your existing business if you discover that they do. To find one that invests in fighting climate change, visit the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. Money talks.
5. Fund an ERG on Green Practices
In the forward to The Carbon Almanac, Godin lays out the mission: “And if this book inspires you enough to share a copy with a friend, it will have been worth it. If it causes you and your friend to organize a circle of 10 people, it will have made a difference. And if your 10 people coordinate with 10 other groups to cause organizational and cultural change to happen, it will be a success.” You can use your company as a platform for anything. Why not this?