The election results only happened last week, yet in some ways it feels like a lifetime. So much is changing in our country. However, whether we like it or not, a lot won't change around climate action unless we take a stand. Trump has stated that he wants to repeal the Paris Agreement. While an international agreement can't legally be repealed right away, it can be severely hampered.
Nevertheless, meeting the Paris Agreement goals for the US is still feasible - if the corporate and non-profit sectors lead the way, and we as individuals follow. A quick calculation shows that we could reduce U.S. emissions by about 50 percent. According to U.N. data, the U.S. accounts for close to 18 percent of global emissions - that would mean close to 10 percent of global emissions being cut. Here's how it can be achieved:
In the United States, buildings account for almost 40 percent of national carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and out-consume both the industrial and transportation sectors, according to the US Green Building Council. Transportation accounts for approximately 26 percent, according to the EPA, and power plants and industry make up the remainder. Significant emissions reductions could be accomplished by focusing on the existing building stock, without including emissions from the transportation and industry sectors. Here are three important steps the commercial sector can take, and we can support:
1. Identify and address energy inefficiencies: Energy savings equals cost savings. This is not about the environment, it is about bottom line results. According to the EPA, 30 percent of energy in buildings is used inefficiently or is not necessary. Whether you are in an owned or leased workplace, there is an opportunity to reduce your energy consumption and save money. How much money depends on a variety of factors, but suffice to say, energy prices aren't forecasted to come down so it pays to take action now. Quick back of the envelope calculation: if buildings make up 40 percent of total energy use and successfully reduce their energy by 30 percent, this would result in a 12 percent reduction in emissions in the US. This is optimistic but it's doable and doesn't require government action. Regardless of your political affiliation, it will save you money.
2. Invest in on-site solar: Renewable energy - and more specifically - solar - investments are a strategic and risk management play, in addition to an environmental one. A rise in climate-related events, an aging power grid as well as increases in population will lead to growing energy supply instability. The good news is that installing solar on your building can help you keep your doors open in case of an outage. Large corporations such as Apple, Walmart and Costco have figured this out - now it is up to organizations large and small and home owners to follow their lead. While the federal government may not offer incentives in the future, some states are likely to continue doing so, which will make solar more financially feasible for smaller organizations. According to NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), if all suitable medium and large buildings in the US installed solar on their roofs, it could account for almost 14 percent of total energy consumption. If you add small buildings, this figure goes up to 39 percent - and that's just for rooftop solar in 47 cities. If solar is not for your building, there is also the option of supporting others' efforts in your community. Check out Google's solar fund as an example.
3. Set carbon reduction goals: Incorporate carbon reduction goals into your business' or organization's sustainability strategy, and bake them into your overall strategy. Reducing carbon requires operational efficiencies - so again, this is about saving money and growing the bottom line. Depending on how advanced your organization is in its sustainability efforts, this may seem like a tall order. If so, focus on steps 1 and 2 above first, to make your case to track your carbon footprint. Again - large companies such as Verizon and Coca Cola are setting science-based targets to reduce their carbon emissions. Why? Because they believe it is in their own best interests - both for managing their future access to critical resources and for their financial bottom line.
If you add the first two steps - 12 percent energy efficiency performance improvements plus 39 percent from solar installations - this equals a whopping 51 percent reduction in emissions, well above the 26 to 28 percent reduction by 2025 called for in the Paris Agreement. This may seem wild, but it's not so far-fetched. We just have to start taking action today - and we don't need Trump's government support to do it.
It takes you and I, and others like us to take initiative and leadership in the organizations we work for and with, share these ideas and be a champion. It takes a personal commitment and courage to take action at work and at home. Every action each of us takes makes a difference - and inaction does as well, as we saw from the results of this election. If we don't act, we are setting ourselves and future generations up for failure.
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