Investing in carbon-neutral: Lessons in offsetting emissions

In helping businesses navigate changing air emissions requirements, we wanted to make our own change: Becoming carbonneutral. Here’s what we learned. 

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by Yara Alves , Tatiana Staruchova

Recent years have seen growing requirements (and therefore pressure on companies) to move towards becoming carbonneutral. This means reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide (CO2). The public has never been so concerned about and willing to act on climate change. In one survey in the EU, almost a quarter of people identified climate change as the biggest issue facing the world today. Businesses around the world are looking for ways to ‘do their part’—and Enhesa is no exception.  

Helping others kicked off our own carbon-neutral journey.

“Empowering the global business community with the insight to step up and step forward to create a more sustainable working world…” It’s not just our company’s mission and purpose – it’s truly our passion. Much of Enhesa’s work is helping client organizations to better manage their air emissions. Specifically, helping them to navigate the changing environmental regulations and guidelines, including the EU Climate law and the European Green Deal. That makes it even more important to us that we ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’. 

Experiencing some of the pain ourselves also makes us better able to guide clients in their compliance and sustainability efforts. For example, like many of our clients, we have “red lines” where we can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In some cases, it’s reliance on business travel in others an infrastructure that isn’t easily transitioned from fossil fuels, and so on. We thought that our journey could provide some new ideas and highlight alternative options.  

Our regulatory consultants are also interested in climate change issues and want to be part of the solution. That’s why many of them entered this field. It was important to us to engage with them, and make sure that we as a company demonstrated that we shared those values to both internal and external stakeholders. Most crucially, however, we wanted to be part of the solution and to contribute to global change. 

Finding a baseline: the first step toward carbon-neutral.

Before you can begin any journey, you need to know your starting point. We therefore had to assess our greenhouse gas emissions before we could think about reducing or offsetting them. Enhesa and Chemical Watch therefore joined forces with CO2logic, a Belgian-based Credible Climate Action organization. 

The first step was to audit our greenhouse gas emissions across all our offices around the world. There are 3 types: 

  • The direct emissions you make yourself, in your own offices and through your own direct activity (for example, from your office’s refrigerator, or from company vehicles used by employees) 
  • The indirect emissions related to energy consumption, for example, from electricity generation; and 
  • The indirect emissions related to other activities, such as commuting, business travel, and homeworking. 

The point was to get a complete picture of all the emissions related to Enhesa and Chemical Watch’s activity. We therefore included emissions related to contractors and consultants, as well as direct employees.  

The method of carbon calculation followed the Bilan Carbone® Standard, which is designed to allow organizations to assess the full implications of their physical existence. It uses a process to make all the emissions comparable and measurable: Multiplying the amount of each activity by the emissions that it generates, to give a figure expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). 

For us, this process was a success – even if we believe there’s still work to be done.

What’s the number to neutralize? Our business’s baseline.

Overall, Chemical Watch and Enhesa emit 288 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. Enhesa’s contribution is 1.6 tonnes CO2e per full-time employee and Chemical Watch’s is 1.0. 

In more familiar terms, our total is the equivalent of driving an average car 34 times around the world, burning 2,535 fuel tanks, or taking 150 people by airplane from Brussels to New York and back again.  

We were pleased to see that this figure is lower than the benchmark in our sector, which is 2.8 tCO2e per full-time employee. However, there are some caveats. Our figures used data from 2020—and as we all know, the world wasn’t operating “normally” that year. There was much less business travel and much less commuting than usual. To be as exhaustive as possible, we included data from other years, but we’ll also repeat this evaluation each year to make sure it remains accurate. 

Next steps towards carbon-neutral: Defining your can and can’t.

Finding your baseline, of course, is only the beginning. You then must look at what you can reduce and make a plan to do so. Where you can’t reduce, you must look at how you can offset emissions.  

Like many of our clients, we have some big non-negotiables in our emissions. For example, we’re not in a position to reduce business travel by much—and business trips make up one of our biggest areas of consumption. However, there were areas where we could make a difference to reduce emissions. 

 In our case, our consumption of energy and use of equipment (plus our generation of waste and upstream losses) together represented almost 50% of our total emissions.  

So we called a companywide survey and brainstorm for ideas on how to reduce our emissions within these topics. Combining them with other ideas from the report given by CO2logic, we then ranked the list of actions by impact and feasibility, and classified them as “already in place”, “to be put in place” or “not for the moment”. 

Then, we started putting the actions into place. To ensure consistency across our teams, we included a series of guidelines for specific activities, such as decreasing consumption, rethinking materials, and recycling. 

We’re investing in technologies and materials that are more durable and efficient (such as LED lights and certified cleaning products). And we look further up the supply chain, buying from companies that have their own actions, such as the Fruitful office, which plants one tree per fruit basket delivered to our Brussels headquarters.. Moving forward, we plan to continuously mind the matter and make sure that we are always trying to do better than the day before. 

After making a plan to reduce emissions where we could we explored opportunities to offset the remaining margin.  

Paying it back to make the biggest impact.

To compensate for our total emissions, we would need to plant 51 hectares—or 70 football fields—of trees. However, as they say, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. We wanted our investment to have a big impact now, not just 2 decades from now. We also wanted to invest in projects that would offset our carbon emissions effectively while empowering others’ progress. After much careful consideration, we chose 2 inspiring projects that we’re proud to support: 

Forestry Kenya: reforestation, sustainable agriculture, and land management in Kisumu and Kitale  

This project provides local farmers with tools, information, and methods to help them make their agriculture more sustainable and more effective, so that they get a higher crop yield. The program aims to help them use their land better and therefore decrease deforestation. It involves 28,000 farmers, several thousand hectares of land, and 31,000 tonnes of CO2 

Winding Up in India: installation of wind turbines in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu

This project builds wind turbines, providing the power grid with clean, renewable energy and stimulates the transition to a low carbon economy. The installation of the wind turbines also generates a positive social and economic impact on the local population. The 223 wind turbines are permanently generating energy for industry and the locals with a total capacity of 223.1 MW.

The end result: carbon-neutral certification.

We are pleased and proud to be able to say that Enhesa has now been certified as a carbon-neutral company. For us, this process was a success – even if we believe there’s still work to be done. We’ve been able to make some reductions in emissions, and we’ve invested in some great projects designed to reduce the impact of people on the environment.  

It’s the end result, but not the end of our journey. We plan to continue to explore and expand this program, building on what we’ve learned on our way to get here. And hopefully making more steps to bring further change in the future. 

Lessons learned from our carbon-neutral journey.

What, then, would we say that we have learned from our journey? There are probably a few key lessons: 

  • It’s important to audit your emissions as a starting point. You can’t do anything until you know your current position. And on that note, we recommend partnering with someone who really knows what they’re doing and ensuring that your data is accurate – so that you have a clear picture of your situation.
  • You need to be fully honest about your activities and their impact. We could have produced a lower figure for our emissions had we used all 2020 data—but it wouldn’t have been accurate. And therefore, wouldn’t have helped us our goal to be truly carbon-neutral. We could also have excluded contractors and consultants, on the grounds that they’re employed by someone else. However, that would also have underestimated our impact.
  • You can still take action on climate change, even if you’re tied to legacy infrastructure. We’d like to be fully carbon-neutral in our offices, but we recognize that has to be a long-term plan, if it’s even possible. In the meantime, we have still been able to take some effective action and we plan to keep moving forward. 
  • It feels good to be walking the walk, as well as talking the talk. We have put a lot of effort into helping our clients to comply with evolving environmental legislation. Especially mounting requirements for air emissions management. It feels good to be taking formal steps to reduce our own environmental impact—and to have that recognized by an organization like CO2logic and Vinçotte.
  • It was essential to involve the entire team in choosing the offsetting projects. We saw this as part of building the culture that will help us to go beyond mere compliance and instead connect us through a common goal. When everyone sees why it matters, more will be on board to help make it happen.  

For us, our carbon-neutral certification is only the start.

We’re of course pleased with our carbon-neutral progress to date, but we also don’t want to overstate it. Our offices and operations are in no way zero-carbon. No matter how much we’d like them to be. However, we see this certification as an important part of our role in enabling other companies to be responsible corporate citizens. We hope that our experience will help others to see how they might make a similar journey—and particularly how you can still make progress even when your hands are tied by your infrastructure. 

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