Healthy Planet: Good Business

By Leipold, Bob | American Forests, Autumn 2000 | Go to article overview

Healthy Planet: Good Business


Leipold, Bob, American Forests


Tree planting offers companies a creative way to offset their carbon emissions.

Every year, the United States pumps more than 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to a coming change in the planet's climate and threatening to unleash a global environmental disaster. Of the U.S. total, one-third comes from individual households, while just over half results from business operations such as deliveries, manufacturing processes, and specialty chemicals.

Fortunately, many people--and more importantly, many businesses--are reducing their use of fossil fuels, the best long-term solution to the problem. At the same time, they are addressing the issue with creative, simple programs that offset the remaining amount of carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere.

Public-private partnerships, such as AMERICAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf Forests tree-planting projects, allow businesses to both lessen their impact and help restore healthy ecosystems, proving profits and nonprofits can work together to benefit both nature and the bottom line.

CREATIVE APPROACHES

No one yet knows exactly how the buildup of greenhouse gases will affect the earth's climate; even the best computer models sometimes disagree, particularly with regard to local effects. Regardless, some corporations have begun efforts such as setting up in-house trading systems to encourage subsidiaries to lower their greenhouse gas emissions or sponsoring offset projects like reforestation to ease their climate change impact.

Tree planting resonates with companies because trees offer a positive environmental impact--cleaner air and water and more wildlife habitat, for example--and therefore a "no regrets" approach to climate change. We all still benefit even if the climate doesn't change.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc planted trees this summer with AMERICAN FORESTS to offset all emissions related to the biennial meeting of its environment, health, and safety (EH&S) professionals.

"Pfizer has a comprehensive program to eliminate greenhouse gases associated with its manufacturing operations, but we decided to do something extra last year," says Chuck Reaves, manager for information and training. "By using AMERICAN FORESTS' carbon-debt calculator, we were able to offset all the [CO.sub.2] produced by each individual's travel and participation in our EH&S meeting, whether they came from New York or Beijing.

"It was a wonderful way to demonstrate to the participants that we can act as individuals as well as a corporation to help protect our environment and public health. Conference participants took this message back to their facilities and communities around the world.

"Also, as a global corporation, we were happy to learn that AMERICAN FORESTS could plant trees on Pfizer's behalf around the world."

HELP FROM NONPROFITS

For many companies though, the problem has been one of resources. The size and complexity of global climate change, and the science behind it, can seem overwhelming. Few guidelines are available to help those businesses find solutions, especially solutions that don't drain resources from their core operations.

"The small to mid-size companies we work with want to be out front on green issues, and the biggest issue of all is global climate change," says Sylvia Tawse of The Fresh Ideas Group, a Boulder, Colorado, public relations firm.

"They're looking for programs that can help them reduce their impact, but they can't spend a lot of time on it--they need to be nimble, efficient with their dollars, and run their businesses."

Turning to the nonprofit world for answers and advice on environmental issues such as climate change can allow these businesses to do just that.

For more than five years AMERICAN FORESTS has worked with large and small companies on the issue of climate change. …

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