Acting on Climate Change | What you can do

February 24, 2020

It’s easy to feel burned out (no pun intended) as headline after headline highlights the negative impact of climate change on weather, people, and economies all over the world. With such a large-scale issue, it can also be hard to feel like anything we do will make a difference. However, as we start off this new decade, perhaps now is the time to revisit our habits, activities, and plans to see if small changes we make at home and at work might contribute to a greater good.

Focus on transportation: According to the EPA, the transportation sector, which includes planes, trains, buses, and cars, generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions – nearly 30% of the U.S. total. Companies that incentivize carpooling, biking, bussing, or train commuting – especially for shorter trips – can cut down on the fossil fuel their employees use. When possible, offering a subsidy or employee rewards program for lower carbon emissions may help make the switch more appealing.

Shifting to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and bioenergy can be done at a corporate or personal scale. The EPA notes that over 60% of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas, and that heat is also a primary producer of carbon emissions from residential areas. While companies are better positioned to use biomass to produce electricity at a large scale, households can install solar panels or use wood, wood pellets, or charcoal as sources of heat to replace petroleum sources. The U.S. Energy Information Administration classifies biomass as a carbon-neutral source of energy, since “plants that are the source of biomass for energy capture almost the same amount of CO2 through photosynthesis while growing as is released when biomass is burned.”

For Boise Paper, continuously reducing the energy needed to make paper is a primary sustainability goal. At our Jackson, Alabama, mill, 66% of the fuel used is renewable, plant-based biomass. This number is 72% at our mill in International Falls, Minnesota.

Remote working arrangements are on the rise as a way to recruit and keep top talent, but they have the added bonus of helping reduce commute-related carbon emissions. As the New York Times notes, a “Skype call or Google Hangout produces very little carbon dioxide.” Employers who are able to offer remote workdays or remote staff positions reduce the number of cars on the road and boost morale, productivity, retention, recruitment, and more.

Reducing food waste is incredibly scalable. A recent article in PLOS ONE journal estimated that up to 40% of American food is wasted by private consumers alone, a fact echoed by Feeding America, the nation’s leading anti-hunger organization. The New York Times notes that “food waste occupies a significant chunk of our landfills, adding methane to the atmosphere as it decomposes. Even more important, wasted food adds to the amount of food that needs to be produced, which is already a big part of our carbon load.” Buying less food at the grocery store or when catering events, donating scraps and other table waste to local farms, and composting services are all examples of ways you can reduce food waste.

Last but not least, plant a tree, or three! As trees grow, they use water, carbon dioxide, and solar energy to make their own food. This process removes carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the wood, which has huge potential for helping address climate change. For example, in urban areas, planting trees along streets absorbs emissions from cars before the carbon reaches the atmosphere.

More trees growing equals more carbon stored, but that’s only half of the equation. Wood products like paper, lumber, and furniture keep that carbon stored and locked away (potentially for a VERY long time, as verified by the recent archaeological discovery of the wooden foundations of a 2,000-year-old building in Rome!).

The forest sector is a tremendous steward of both sides of the carbon equation: delivering sustainably manufactured products that keep carbon out of the atmosphere and constantly replanting trees to ensure we can meet the demand for today and tomorrow.

Shifting to carpooling, offering remote work days, reducing food waste, or sponsoring a tree planting day can add up. We believe the collective impact of the actions that companies and individuals take will make a difference. Think of it as crowdsourcing for climate – every little bit counts! For the new year, make it your resolution to be part of the solution.

Sources: “Climate change: Three ways to market the science to reach the skeptics” Psy.Org; “Climate impacts,” Union of Concerned Scientists; “Climate kids: How to help,” NASA; “What you can do about climate change,” New York Times; “The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions,” IOPScience; “Ten simple ways to act on climate change,” BBC; “Climate change: How 1.5C degrees of global warming could change the world,” BBC; “What is climate change?” BBC; “Fighting food waste with food rescue,” Feeding America; “The progressive increase of food waste in America and its environmental impact,” PLOS ONE; “Tree planting ‘has mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisis,” The Guardian; “Examining the viability of planting trees to help mitigate climate change,” NASA; “Fast facts | Trees + transportation,” ForestProud; “The global tree restoration potential,” Science Magazine; “Muddy find shows how foreign timber helped build ancient Rome,” Inside Science;  “Greenhouse gases equivalencies calculator – Calculations and references,” EPA; “Sources of greenhouse gas emissions” EPA; Biomass explained” U.S. Energy Information Administration

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