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Lots of big companies are making grand pledges to go carbon-neutral (or even carbon-zero, removing historical emissions). It is feasible for a smaller company (that is, businesses that’d never be described as “enterprise”)? Is it worth it? Why do it? How do you do it?

If you're on this path -- or tried to be -- tell me about your journey. What did you do, and what was the outcome? What advice would you offer to other small and medium sized businesses that want to accomplish this feat?

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  • I'm a customer of Riverford Organics which has an excellent Sustainability Report -- it doesn't explicitly commit to carbon neutrality, but it sets out some broad aims. It depends a lot on the business, for them the priorities include a transition to electric delivery vehicles, avoiding use of air freight, and avoiding fossil fuel heated greenhouses. – M Juckes Oct 16 '20 at 6:58
  • Whether you're a big company or a small one there isn't a single industry that doesn't use carbon. – LazyReader Oct 18 '20 at 17:51
  • I've been receiving newsletters from the company I buy toilet paper from. They've gone carbon neutral and have shared all their research along the journey. Enjoy :) blog.whogivesacrap.org/home/goodnews/why-carbon-neutral – Sarah Finn Nov 2 '20 at 12:38
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Lots of big companies are making grand pledges to go carbon-neutral (or even carbon-zero, removing historical emissions). It is feasible for a smaller company (that is, businesses that’d never be described as “enterprise”)? Is it worth it? Why do it? How do you do it?

The important thing here is to realize that carbon-neutrality is all about risk management.

If you don't know exactly how large is the carbon impact of your company, you aren't prepared for a risk: that the price of carbon dioxide emissions will skyrocket to let's say 500 USD / tonne, and your company was dependent on the price of carbon dioxide being continuously low. This skyrocketing emission price can and will cause companies to go bankrupt.

Sure, there are companies that claim to be carbon neutral. Usually it's just greenwashing. If you have a company that uses 1 GWh of electricity per year, and decide to purchase 1 GWh of "green" electricity (wind / solar) per year, you are carbon neutral, right?

Wrong.

Firstly, this ignores the fact renewables (wind / solar) produce electricity only intermittently. If your company doesn't stop using electricity when the winds cease and the sun sets, the company is in fact using fossil fueled electricity despite the fact it uses 1 GWh of electricity and buys 1 GWh of "green" electricity.

Sure, you could buy some sort of energy storage, right? Buy enough Tesla PowerWalls. However, the price of battery based electricity storage is sky-high and won't be enough to supply electricity for a two-week long calm period (little wind electricity) in the winter (little sunshine and thus little solar power). To actually implement this small-scale plan of storing electricity, the costs will be so high that your company will go bankrupt just because its costs. None of your competitors is doing this silly plan of buying huge numbers of Tesla PowerWalls. They are financially in a better position.

To actually implement a green energy system that provides just the right amount of green zero-carbon electricity whenever we need it, we need large-scale cheap energy storage facilities. The best of these involve storing hydrogen underground, or alternatively storing both methane and carbon dioxide underground. No battery based system can compete with the sheer low costs of storing huge amounts of combustible fuel gases. A small company can do little to accelerate the transition to such a green energy system.

There are also other forms of hidden risks that could materialize:

  • Your company uses only green electricity, heat and cooling so it has no carbon risk, right? Well, not so simple. If the employees of the company live far away from the office and commute by car, it could be that an increase of carbon dioxide emission price would mean the employees simply can no longer afford to commute.
  • Your company is situated in a rental office in the middle of a city and every one of its employees live in the middle of a city. Surely your company is now protected against carbon risk, right? Well, wrong. If the price of carbon dioxide emissions increases, soon everyone wants to live and work in the middle of a city. It could be the case that the office rent goes so high that your company won't afford to keep its office there anymore, and it could be the case that the rents of employees go so high that they can no longer afford to live close enough to the office anymore.
  • Your company is situated in a rental office in the middle of a city, while owning the office, and you have a policy of only hiring homeowners who happen to live near the office and firing immediately anyone who dares to move further away. Surely your company is now protected against carbon risk, right? Well, not so simple. It could be the case that the office building is connected to district heating which can no longer be produced economically while alternative heating systems built by underfloor heating powered by geothermal heat pumps start to gain market share. So the office building can lose its value, at the same time your competitors that are not in the business of owning real estate are not in an equally difficult situation. Not only that, but the policy of hiring only homeowners is discriminatory and will get you into trouble with law enforcement, exactly like the policy of firing anyone who dares to move further away.

So, as you can see, risk management is never easy.

So there is little you can do except to have a good climate risk management plan.

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The electric utility might be able to sell renewable electricity to the business. In other words how much renewable electricity the utility sells then relates to how much they buy. To the customer it's just a more expensive bill. Then possibly combine an electric furnace with a ground-source heat-pump.

I didn't mention solar panels because I live in a city that has trees. But I could put two solar panels on a 16' high 304L tube that has a 6" diameter and a wall thickness of 0.120". The 304L tube would sit 4' in a wet-pour concrete footing in the ground. The 304L tube could be positioned exactly where it needs to be positioned. I have priced the 20' long tube, but in standard finish instead of brushed finish, at $2600. I would use the solar panels to charge AGM batteries that run a refrigerator.

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    Ehm, are you sure you answered the right question? – Erik Oct 19 '20 at 6:56
  • I eliminated a building's use of fossil fuels and that's a reduction in expended carbon for the business. – S Spring Oct 19 '20 at 11:12

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