Imagine a future where every business works in tandem with the planet. Today, the reality of climate change is undeniably pressing, marked by steady increases in global temperatures, ice melt, and extreme weather events. Scientific consensus underscores an urgent need for action that extends beyond governments and individuals to include the business community.  

Addressing climate change is not just about corporate responsibility for companies but about survival and adaptation. As businesses, operational decisions, strategic innovations, and ethical commitments can significantly impact the environment. Combined with growing environmental-focused regulation and public demand for corporate sustainability, environmental action should be an integral part of any business strategy. It boosts long-term business performance and provides a host of added benefits. 


Furthermore, it will continue to grow in importance over the coming decades. 195 countries signed The Paris Agreement in 2016, which sets the long-term goal of keeping global warming below 3.6 oF. Since then, more than 140 countries—including the United States — have set goals to reach net-zero emissions. Businesses make up the vast majority of these emissions, and governments will continue to target private-sector emissions to achieve these goals. 


U.S. Climate ActioN

Deepening Commitment to Climate Goals 

The U.S. has publicly set the goal of reaching a net-zero greenhouse gas economy no later than 2050. This means the country’s total emissions will balance at zero by 2050, and businesses will play a critical role in this process.


Businesses that operate within the U.S. will also likely need to be net zero for this to be achievable. However, this doesn’t mean companies can’t produce any emissions. Instead, businesses must invest in carbon-negative solutions to compensate for their unavoidable emissions. These solutions could include behavior change, investment in energy-efficient systems, or investing in renewable energy or carbon offsets.   


The U.S. government has announced several potential pathways to reaching net zero. They all target increasing renewable energy use, enhancing energy efficiency, and promoting carbon capture technologies. Efforts also focus on ecological conservation to leverage natural carbon sinks, integrating climate action with national security and economic policies to ensure a comprehensive and equitable approach. 


How U.S. Governments Are Responding 

Throughout the U.S., governments at all levels are taking action to push businesses to meet this goal. At the local level, cities and counties are developing carrot-and-stick legislation to require reporting, including demonstrated plans to reduce emissions. Colorado is one example of a state requiring building owners to report emissions and submit a plan for improvements with the penalty of a fine. Some states are going further through increasingly strict emissions policies, like carbon pricing schemes, and offering incentives for companies to invest in environmentally friendly alternatives.  


At the federal level, the Inflation Reduction Act provides significant tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades. It spans a large portion of the economy, from manufacturing to development, and is a substantial opportunity for businesses to begin decarbonizing. Plus, it’s a sign of future policy to come.  


Major Climate Actions for Businesses 

This growth in climate action-focused policy and the clear long-term business case for sustainability drive home the point that businesses should consider sustainability as part of their operations. While there are many small steps companies can take in this pursuit, more extensive long-term operational changes are critically important. Some of these long-term strategies include: 


*If you want some quick and easy options to improve your sustainability, check out our recent article, “7 Sustainable Practices Every Business Should Adopt in 2024.” 


Integrate Climate into Your Business Strategy 

Integrating climate considerations into your business strategy involves aligning your company's operations with environmentally sustainable practices. Start by setting clear, measurable sustainability goals that comply with global standards that you can track and report on regularly.


Evaluate how your business’s products, services, and processes can evolve to minimize environmental impact, such as using sustainable materials, improving water efficiency, or embracing circular economy principles to reduce waste. Engaging stakeholders and customers in these initiatives is crucial, as it fosters transparency and builds trust in your commitment to sustainability. 


A great way to help facilitate this process is to pursue sustainability certifications. B Corp certification is a good option for all types of businesses, whereas LEED and WELL certifications are good for developers and property owners. All of these options require companies to meet rigorous standards of environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. 


Build Onsite Renewable Power 

Investing in onsite renewable energy solutions like solar panels reduces a company’s carbon emissions and cuts long-term energy costs. The typical commercial solar system has a payback period of 4 to 7 years, after which energy is free, and excess electricity can often be sold back to the local utility provider. Additionally, implementing these systems can enhance energy independence and stability, safeguarding against fluctuating energy prices and disruption from weather events 


Electricity generation accounts for 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and is a major focus for national decarbonization. The U.S. government has numerous incentives to encourage such investments, including tax rebates and grants. These benefits make onsite renewables a financially attractive and environmentally responsible choice for forward-thinking businesses. 


Invest in Greener Equipment, Infrastructure, and Processes 

Upgrading to more sustainable equipment and infrastructure is essential for businesses aiming to reduce their environmental impact and enhance operational efficiency. This ranges from adopting energy-efficient technologies to improving the building envelope to reduce energy consumption and changing out production machinery to more efficient alternatives. 


Additionally, for companies that manufacture a physical product, reviewing existing production processes to identify operational inefficiencies to improve can be impactful. Investing in these areas helps achieve sustainability targets, resulting in significant cost savings over time.  


Measure and Analyze Your Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

Arguably, one of the most important yet challenging steps a business can take is measuring, tracking, and analyzing its emissions. It is necessary for all decarbonization efforts as it allows companies to identify high-emitting areas, implement programs, and see results over time. Without this data, emissions reduction claims hold little weight.  


This requires gathering baseline data from across the entire company, by location, and by emissions scope. Then, systems are set up to track, analyze, and report on the data regularly. These programs need to remain in place for the entire company's lifetime and are the base step of all emissions reduction programs. 


Leading the Charge Towards Sustainable Business Practices 

The journey towards sustainability is not just about setting targets but about embedding these goals deeply into the fabric of business operations. Addressing climate change by tracking resource use, such as emissions, and assessing progress is essential for adapting strategies and achieving tangible, measurable impacts. This approach not only enhances sustainability, but also boosts overall business resilience and competitiveness.  


Emerald Built Environments is a sustainability consultant company that specializes in guiding companies through this complex landscape, offering expert advice in developing resource tracking systems and implementing sustainability programs. Learn more about our insights and expert guidance on implementing sustainability strategies.  


Let Us Help You Set and Achieve Your Net Zero Goals