After these steps have been defined, a rigorous process begins to help the company or organization better understand its environmental impact and then devise a plan to do something about it. To apply these concepts to digital products and services you might answer the preceding questions as follows:. Goal and scope definition.
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Define the environmental impact of our online properties and implement a plan for mitigating that impact. Inventory analysis. Impact assessment. How much CO2e is generated by these properties? Is there other waste, as well? It is important with any complex project to set specific goals, timeline, budget, scope of work, and so on. It is important to note that building iteration and collaboration into the process of any project is often a more sustainable approach that bears better results than those that require extensive scoping up front with little room for flexibility after a project is in process.
If, for example, the focus of your efforts is solely on greenhouse gases, your scope might look like this :.
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Set boundaries. Power use for designer workstations, for example, would fall under the scope of a traditional LCA, but if applying this to digital, are you including website or social media, too? If it is in the cloud, is it your problem? How much do you care about frontend, user-driven electricity during product use? Define scope. Does the scope include both physical and virtual properties? The details you define here will drive the level of effort required. Choose quantification approach. Depending on the data available and the purposes of the inventory, define how you will approach collecting data and where it will come from.
In a traditional LCA, this might be identifying a source for emissions factors EFs and a formula for measuring them. Set a baseline. When choosing a baseline — the point that marks the beginning of your measurement efforts — to benchmark progress going forward, consider the following:. Engage stakeholders. Bring stakeholders into the inventory development process early on to provide valuable input on establishing a baseline.
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If a specific department or position will be affected by the data derived from this process, it will help to have them on board from the beginning. Consider certification. This will ensure quality and that your inventory is complete, consistent, and transparent. This is where data collection happens. Life cycle inventories LCIs can be complex affairs. Analysts track all of the inputs and outputs to a business system, including but not limited to raw materials; energy use; emissions to air, water, and soil tracked by substance ; and so on.
In Internet parlance, this would be what is commonly referred to as analytics. A popular tool like Google Analytics, for example, offers you all the things you can measure — with the notable exception of electricity use. In the name of efficiency, it is up to you to take an inventory of the metrics you should measure.
For reference, common components of standard i. For each of these components, consider the following questions:.
What are the materials used to make the product? Where are they sourced from? How much energy is used in that process? How much emissions are produced in both sourcing and creating the materials? How can they be made or sourced in a more sustainable manner? How much energy does the manufacturing process use?
How much waste does it produce? Where can you reduce emissions in the process? Does the product use soy-based inks or compostable materials, for example, versus a less sustainable equivalent? How much energy is used in the packaging process? What about waste? Can that be reduced at all?
How much energy is used in the process of distributing the product? Does it need to be shipped in a cargo container from China or can it be walked down the street to the store where it is sold? How much waste or emissions are produced when distributing the product? Does the product require energy when being used?
Is waste produced? How can product usage be more efficient in energy consumption?
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How can it produce less waste? When the product is disposed, can its materials be reused? Are there ways in which it can produce no waste at the end of its life cycle? In other words, a certain manufacturing process might require a specific amount of oil or natural gas, something that is typically included as part of the inventory that we just discussed.
The impact assessment will decipher the environmental effect of that process. Finally, all that data needs to be interpreted and a plan of action put into place to decrease environmental impact. Product life cycle emissions are all the emissions associated with the production and use of a specific product, from cradle to grave, including emissions from raw materials, manufacture, transport, storage, sale, use, and disposal.
The Greenhouse Gas Protocol can help organizations do the following :. It is also important to note that the GHG Protocol only focuses on greenhouse gases.
Because electricity powers everything on the Internet, its biggest source of waste is GHG emissions, but the hardware used to create, serve, and interact with web content produces other forms of waste, too. Although the Greenhouse Gas Protocol is currently the gold standard, it is also worth noting that the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board SASB has a mission to devise sustainability standards for different industries based on accounting standards but for environmental, social, and governance ESG issues as opposed to financial performance.
It should be noted, too, that an important component of sustainability in business is benchmarking improvement. It is important that companies dedicate resources to these endeavors in amounts appropriate for the organization. Otherwise, initial efforts are wasted and improvement is minimal. Which brings us to our next section. Some companies pursue sustainability initiatives to meet marketing objectives or to appease shareholders, customers, suppliers, and so on.
Coca-Cola, Air France, BP, and many others have come under fire from environmentalists for touting their commitment to the planet while also polluting or putting people and communities at risk. Even a company that makes the most responsible products can still have significant environmental impact.
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