It is around five years that I have been involved in projects related to Carbon Footprint and measuring environmental impacts of companies. Compared to maybe 10 years ago, public awareness about being "Green" has increased dramatically, but sometimes I wonder whether the actions and measures that we are taking now are the right ones. In search for some counterintuitive ideas I came across a book that I am busy reading, called "Green illusions", with some insights that makes you at least think more before you accept the facts about some sustainability related initiatives. 

I like one of Einstein's quotes very much saying "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it". I think it basically says you do not know what you do not know and it is only possible to react to the facts when they become known. Nevertheless, I think it is possible to some extent one actively searches for the "unknown" and try to shake the foundations of his "known" facts to find out the weakest points and be prepared for the stronger shocks. That is why I am always inspired by triggers that help me see more than what is just in front of me. 

One of these "problematic" areas that needs a higher level of consciousness to resolve is "sustainability". From my experience most companies act passively against measuring their Carbon Footprint and depending on who pushes harder from regulatory authorities, customers or being busy coming out of the economic crisis, there are clear ebbs and tides in the level of concern. Even for companies, with genuine initiatives in the beginning, it is not very hard to lose sight of their initial visions and for instance measuring carbon footprint becomes a routine rather than a means for supporting decisions. 

From most of the "green" initiatives that I see happening around me, I miss enough depth in the scope of the project and that's why the initiatives do not last long or get inclined towards wrong directions. Let me give some examples to make myself clearer:

  •  We all know electric hybrid cars are supposedly more fuel efficient (I drive one since 2011) and my current average fuel consumption is 5.6 liters per 100 kilometers. My first car was from 1993 and driving on the same route I had an average of 6 liters per 100 kilometers. There is almost a gap of 20 years in technology and I paid almost 20 times more for my new car, but I am not driving 20 times more environmental friendly. And I am sure if I extend the scope of analysis and calculate total environmental impacts for sure my new hybrid car is more energy intensive when I include the production and recycling of the parts in the end. So it is a mystery why I have to pay less road tax for my new car. 
  • Some companies measure their carbon footprint simply because they have to. If they want to stay in the business they have to comply with rules imposed by regulatory parties or (some of) their customers. I think measuring carbon footprint is only positive in a sense that it gives a benchmarking point. But there are so many assumptions involved that it is almost impossible to come to an exact number for total emissions. Thus, I think it is a wrong incentive to measure carbon footprint for reporting purposes, because the output is simply incorrect. Even lower levels of carbon footprint, is not a positive sign per se. If the economy goes down and you are doing less of what you were used to, your emissions will go down as well! To me, a meaningful carbon footprint is just a relative comparison with actively managed emission factors. Companies should compare their former activity levels with current activity levels and their respective emission factors. For instance, increasing filling rate of trucks will reduce the emission per unit of transported "tonne.kilometer" of freight. This will reduce total emissions for the same amount of freight transportation. 

Most people involved in making regulations or executing project know "WHAT" they are doing, but they hardly know the true "WHY" behind the initiatives. If it is clear "WHY" we should behave in a certain way, then it is not hard to come up with incremental changes that make all of us better off compared to the current situation. 

In the end, although we might not know the exact consequences of our actions, we know to some extent what is wrong and what is right. We might not be able to measure our exact carbon footprint, but we are all able to slightly change our consumption habits and reduce our waste. Don't you agree?

Here is one example how a simple idea can save time and energy. It's funny in a way and it shows a maybe unexpected approach contradicting with the company's goals: Great Marketing! But again by not looking only at the spot light I do not know what the exact effect is taking into account the production of plastic balloons and filling the gas.