In order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, the world must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions enough to keep global average temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. WRI aims to do its part by curbing its own emissions.
As WRI’s global staff and presence has expanded in recent years, we have seen a rise in our emissions. Our Fiscal Year 2011 (Oct. 2010 – Sept. 2011) inventory indicates an 18 percent increase in GHG emissions compared to 2010 1. Due to this increase, we will now pursue a more aggressive approach and careful planning in order to ensure that we meet our 2020 absolute reduction targets (see box).
WRI’s impact is growing, creating more positive environmental and social outcomes. To achieve these, our organization has also grown, which has had a direct connection to our GHG emissions. Some examples include:
- Sub-grants to partners 2 increased by $1.4 million USD in 2011, contributing to a 37 percent rise in emissions from our partners.
- We purchased construction services and furniture (both GHG-intensive activities) to expand our offices, driving a 43 percent rise in emissions from purchased goods and services.
- We increased office space in our Beijing and Washington, DC locations, requiring more energy for everyday activities (heating, cooling, lighting, etc.) and causing a 14 percent rise in purchased electricity.
We have had some successes – for example, our employee commuting emissions have remained relatively constant over the years despite our increasing number of staff. However, as WRI continues to expand, we need to think outside the box and find ways to decouple WRI’s emissions from our growth and increasing real world outcomes.
WRI’s Plan to Reduce Emissions
The good news is that we have a three-part plan to reduce our environmental impact: reduce emissions from existing sources through efficiency and substitutions; manage future growth to eliminate or limit new emissions from the get-go; and continuously improve our data collection to inform new reduction strategies.
1) Reducing Existing Emissions:
We are taking an “avoid and shift” approach . We need to shift our business practices towards lower-carbon, high-efficiency solutions in order to reduce our existing impacts and meet our 2020 targets. Some of our strategies include:
- Purchased electricity and business travel: We’ll need to both reduce consumption and shift energy sources in order to meet our 2020 target. We are currently in the process of evaluating the different onsite and market-based purchases for renewable energy. In terms of consumption, we are challenging staff to eliminate unnecessary business travel through guidelines for booking more efficient travel, better coordinating travel schedules, and employing virtual communication. We are improving technology in our offices, developing trainings and best practice guides for staff, and working to shift travel towards less-GHG intensive options.
- “Other scope 3”: Our largest challenge will be addressing our “other scope 3” target, which is dominated by emissions associated with our sub-grants to partners and our purchased goods/ services. Simply setting a cap on sub-grants is not an effective strategy for ensuring GHG reductions, because partnering with other organizations reduces our need for physical growth (office space, staff, etc.) and enriches the impact we have on the world. Reducing our demand for the products and services we purchase while continuing to grow will also be difficult. Real impacts to our scope 3 emissions are going to come from our suppliers and partners reducing their own GHG emissions. As a first step, we are reaching out to our partners and suppliers with the largest impacts to determine if they are calculating their GHG emissions and setting targets.
2) Avoiding Future Emissions
We must avoid unnecessary additional emissions during organizational growth by being aware of how our growth impacts our emissions. While always in the back of our minds, we have not formalized a strategy to evaluate our GHG impact when expanding or opening new offices. We also need to develop guidelines for new offices space and vendors.
3) Improving Data Collection
Even though WRI has been measuring our emissions for more than 12 years, we still have data gaps to fill. We are currently working with our building managers and owner to install electricity sub-meters. This will allow us to track our actual electricity use (as opposed to taking a ratio of the total building’s use) and see the impact of our reduction strategies. Currently, all of partner and supplier data come from secondary sources. We are now working to collect primary data from partners and suppliers with the largest impact on our inventory, which will provide a better representation of WRI’s value chain activities and enable performance tracking.
Reducing Emissions Now and in the Future
Our 2011 inventory proves that we must do more to reach our goals. But with the right strategies, we are certain that we can get on track. As we focus on decoupling growth and cement our “avoid and shift” strategies, we will continue to update our annual progress and share our challenges and successes. We look to turn this emissions challenge into an opportunity for WRI to further innovate our business model and exemplify the change we want to see in the world.