How to reduce your project’s carbon footprint

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Companies are experiencing more pressure to reduce their carbon impacts and as a result, so are their projects. There are many factors that project managers can look at to reduce the carbon footprint of their projects, such as the amount of travel needed to deliver the project, the carbon impacts of suppliers and various materials, and energy use. But it’s a challenging and complicated issue that takes some serious thought.

“From a project management point of view, understanding the implications of the environmental impact of what you’re doing and being able to demonstrate you’re taking it seriously will become a more and more important aspect when speaking to clients,” says Robert Stevens, account manager for ClimateCare, which helps organisations develop solutions to minimise carbon emissions. “We see a lot more tenders for projects asking about the climate impact, your policies and your attitudes to minimising climate impacts.” 

Here’s Robert Steven’s advice on how to approach minimising your projects’ carbon footprints:

Understand your impacts

This is the first step to minimising the carbon impacts of your projects. It could be quite a simple process if your project is largely office-based. There are online carbon calculators, including ClimateCare’s, to measure your footprint. “On more complicated projects, you might need to bring in a consultant to measure the environmental impact of your project and the greenhouse gases associated with delivering it.

“In construction, for example, what is the carbon associated with the cement that you’re using? It’s possible to drill down into quite minute detail.”

Reduce your impacts

Now that you know the carbon impacts of your project, you can then make changes to the design and plan of the project in order to minimise that footprint. That could involve reducing energy use or implementing a recycling policy. It could be about finding ways to reduce the travel involved in delivering the project.

“Business travel is one of the most difficult elements of a company’s footprint to reduce,” says Robert. “You can reduce your business travel footprint by really questioning whether you need to take that flight in the first place, whether you can make an alternative arrangement through video conferencing, whether there’s a more carbon efficient way of getting to a meeting rather than flying.”

As a result, business travel is often offset. 

Offset what you can’t reduce

Everyone will have a residual carbon footprint, no matter how hard they try, so they will need to do a degree of offsetting to neutralise their emissions. This essentially involves finding other ways to reduce emissions through other activities or support for other projects. This work should be monitored and certified by an independent certification body.

“We recommend that businesses should support projects that resonate with their business in one way or another, so it might be projects that are close to their operations, or they might have other social responsibility themes that they want to tap into,” says Robert. “Look at your company’s CSR policy and see how you can link with its goals.”

Reforestation is considered critical to reducing carbon emissions across the world, and businesses are becoming more and more involved. But it takes a long time before a tree starts to sequester substantial amounts of carbon dioxide, so there’s a time gap between emitting carbon, and when it is taken out of the atmosphere.

“We would suggest a blend of reforestation and the protection of existing forests, which is much more effective in terms of immediate carbon absorption and on a global scale has much more impact around protecting biodiversity and weather.”

Engage the team and stakeholders

You’ve got to get buy-in from all stakeholders to make it work, but it might be easier than you think. Building carbon reduction into the initial planning stage of your project could result in some financial gains. “There are a lot of companies that, once they look at their carbon footprint and how they might look to reduce it, find things they can do that will either save money immediately, or will have a fairly quick return on investment. So looking at it as a way to potentially reduce the cost of the project is probably a good starting point.” 

For more information on how sustainability and climate change is affecting the project profession, check out:

Brought to you by Project journal.
Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 3rd Oct 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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