In an era marked by the growing awareness of the importance of environmental sustainability, companies are becoming increasingly aware of the role they can play in limiting emissions and minimizing the impact of their activities on the planet. Reducing the carbon footprint is now a commitment that organizations cannot avoid making, not only because national and international regulations are setting stringent rules, but also as a matter of reputation: companies must provide a substantive response to the pressures exerted collectively by consumers who are sensitive to the issue. This is why companies are gradually planning initiatives with high decarbonization potential while, at the same time, beginning to make a concrete commitment to social responsibility issues. This proactive approach aligns with an increasingly popular set of ethical principles and also offers companies the opportunity to create a privileged channel of communication with customers on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

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Companies’ efforts to reduce their carbon footprint: where do we stand?

Many of today’s largest global businesses are engaged in a “net zero” program, which promotes and encourages corporate actions that aim, ideally, to eliminate emissions (direct emissions from sources owned or controlled, from purchased power generation or produced within a company’s value chain).

According to a recent report by Accenture, while more than one-third (34%) of the world’s largest organizations participate in the program, nearly all (93%) will fail to meet their targets by 2030 if they do not double the pace of emissions reduction.

Analyzing the actions by which the 2,000 largest public and private companies around the world are limiting their emissions, Accelerating Global Companies to Net Zero by 2050 finds that rising energy price inflation and supply insecurity are negatively affecting the likelihood of success of carbon footprint reduction initiatives. All of this is in the face of a commitment that, by contrast, is becoming more solid every day: more companies are setting clear and publicly visible decarbonization targets. The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) has seen a record increase in the number of validated corporate targets.

Sustainable practices for eliminating carbon-intensive operations

To combat climate change by actively reducing their carbon footprint, more companies today are implementing policies focused on ESG principles by implementing sustainable practices and phasing out carbon intensive operations.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy

Energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy sources can reduce dependence on fossil fuels and carbon emissions. The amount of funding for clean energy creation has steadily increased over the past two decades. According to Statista reports, investment in clean energy worldwide, which amounted to $32 billion in 2004, has grown to a peak of $495 billion in 2022, a 17% increase over the previous year. This is a significant increase that indicates that the market has matured considerably due to a number of factors, from political support for a fast-growing industry to the emergence of publicly traded companies with renewable energy assets.

Supply chain optimization

Carbon emissions are also present throughout the supply chain, especially associated with transportation and distribution. Working with suppliers to adopt sustainable practices and optimize logistics can lead to more than positive results over time. In this context, digitization and in particular, open data, analytics, and artificial intelligence, all play a key role. Artificial intelligence, specifically, can optimize the supply chain and increase its transparency by accelerating and refining the development of customer profiling strategies based on their carbon output. Artificial intelligence contributes to more accurate forecasting and in this sense improves processes throughout the supply chain, and it also can support renewable energy production.

It’s also true, however, that AI itself emits carbon because its operation requires energy-consuming hardware. Therefore, while AI can be part of the solution, its carbon footprint must still be considered in the overall evaluation of initiatives that are aimed at decarbonizing business processes. By providing essential information to calculate the carbon footprint of different suppliers’ productions, open data can help organizations make more informed decisions and identify the most environmentally friendly players. In general, by harnessing the power of data, companies can have a comprehensive and real-time view of their supply chains and identify early opportunities for reducing emissions.

Green packaging and product design 

Companies are reevaluating their packaging and product design strategies to avoid waste and minimize carbon-intensive materials. By embracing sustainable materials and promoting their recycling, companies can limit carbon emissions associated with production and disposal, achieving a positive impact in terms of reducing their carbon footprint.

The path from raw materials extraction through the production and transportation of packaging materials and their use in product packaging to delivery to the end customer creates serious environmental consequences, primarily the release of considerable volumes of greenhouse gases. To mitigate this impact, companies can choose to adopt a circular economy approach, even for packaging. Companies can significantly reduce their environmental impact by choosing sustainable materials that are derived from renewable sources (which require less energy in their life cycle and are reusable or compostable).

Consider the e-commerce sector, where packaging plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety of products during transport. Here, flexible packaging made from recycled paper can lead to a 74% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to using virgin paper. And that’s not all: by choosing to implement these practices, companies are helping gain greater control over the plastic waste that is flooding the planet. Implementing circular economy strategies in the case of aluminum, for example, could result in as much as a 95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to using virgin aluminum.

Moreover, this approach aligns perfectly with the growing demand for customized packaging solutions that are not only functional and aesthetically pleasing, but also environmentally friendly. One example? The use of recycled cotton in packaging, a practice that blends sustainability with the powerful imagery of natural materials.

There are many processes that need to be transformed to reduce their impact on the environment. We will focus on two in particular that are essential for companies of all industries and sizes because they concern document management: printing and delivery.

Focus on printing and delivery: how to manage them to reduce your carbon footprint

In addition to the practices we have just described, companies need to become aware of the environmental impact of processes such as printing and document delivery—activities that are an integral part of the production routines of virtually any organization—and look for alternative ways.

Digital transformation and paperless initiatives

Shifting to digital documentation, electronic signatures and electronic communication platforms minimize carbon emissions associated with printing, and they also improve efficiency and reduce costs. Perhaps one of the most tangible examples of digitization that has a positive impact on the environment while also providing important business performance benefits is the “paperless office,” a valuable environmental practice where paper use is minimized.

There are several good reasons for companies to implement paperless office principles: 

  • Paper is expensive and will become increasingly unnecessary as digital technologies become more widespread and easier to use
  • From an environmental point of view, reducing paper use conserves trees and saves energy (that which is no longer used to produce and transport paper)

Paper production releases sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide, which contribute to acid rain, greenhouse gases, and water contamination. According to The World Counts, around 26% of waste in landfills is paper and cardboard. In addition, when paper rots, it creates methane gas, which is 25 times more toxic than carbon dioxide.

If in eliminating paper the environmental benefits are obvious, the business benefits are equally compelling. By introducing paperless document management into the workflow, a company can save money on several fronts:

  • Paper takes up physical space, which can translate to rent costs 
  • Digital documents are easier to manage and much more secure (paper documents are easier to lose and more difficult to retrieve than digitally stored documents)

From converting existing paper documents into electronic documents to using PDF to create digital forms and contracts: by phasing out paper, businesses around the world are trying to become more digital. In this sense, digital transformation both helps protect the environment and speeds up business interactions and processing.

Sustainable transportation and delivery

The expansion of e-commerce and online shopping in recent years has placed enormous strategic importance on “last mile delivery.” The increase in online shopping and home delivery, the use of conventional delivery techniques, and the emissions from vehicles used to transport products and documents largely impact society, the economy, and the environment. In this case, to reduce the carbon footprint (including that resulting from packing slips and the delivery of mailed paper documents) without damaging profitability, companies can adopt sustainable delivery solutions, such as the use of bicycles and electric bikes, renewable energy sources, route optimization, and recyclable and biodegradable packaging materials.

In particular, digitization can help reduce the number of vehicles on the road, fuel consumption, and emissions by providing the information needed to plan delivery routes using tools such as GPS, route optimization software, and real-time traffic data.

Companies are also exploring environmentally friendly transportation options, including electric vehicles. Adopting alternative fuel sources and investing in green logistics—the environmentally sustainable management of procurement, purchasing, and sales—not only reduces carbon emissions, but also presents an opportunity to improve the brand image by showing an organization’s commitment to the environment through direct actions.

The implementation of digital tools, such as online publishing platforms, the design of digital workflows, and the implementation of electronic document management systems can eliminate the need for both physical printing and transportation (by eliminating the need for delivery of printed documents, paper waste and carbon emissions are reduced). In addition, digitization enables remote collaboration, effectively limiting the need for travel, which helps reduce carbon emissions.

Thus, we can say that digitizing paper documents (converting them to electronic format through scanning operations and creating them digitally) offers companies significant opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint in the distribution and delivery process.

By adopting digital solutions, organizations can streamline their operations, optimize efficiency, and minimize the consumption of unnecessary resources. If through the adoption of digital technologies, organizations are able to substantially reduce their carbon footprint, fostering sustainability and environmental responsibility, they can also effectively communicate their position on issues related to social responsibility and ESG.

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Social responsibility and communication on ESG issues

Alongside environmental sustainability, companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of addressing social responsibility issues directly and transparently, addressing both their stakeholders and consumers. By integrating these concerns into their business practices, organizations can foster positive change. By connecting through new communication channels with their customers at a deeper level, they can convey their ESG values extensively and widely.

Social responsibility: transparency and ethical sourcing

Companies are increasingly transparent about their sourcing practices and work to ensure their suppliers adhere to the ethical standards they champion. By supporting ethical sourcing, companies aim to build trust in consumers who are increasingly aware of the social impact of their purchases. Similarly, organizations tend to actively promote diversity and inclusion within their workforce and in leadership positions. With a more diverse range of perspectives and experiences, companies not only create an inclusive environment, but can draw on a large talent pool, resulting in a better understanding of the needs of different customer segments.

Building customer loyalty through communication about ESG criteria

As public interest and demand for sustainable and socially responsible products and services increases, companies will need to establish privileged communication channels with their customers on ESG issues. By proactively sharing their sustainability initiatives and their progress, companies have additional opportunities to engage with their audiences, build brand loyalty, and differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

To share their efforts, showcase success stories, and engage in meaningful conversations with their target audience, they can leverage social media platforms and dedicated sections on their websites. By collaborating with environmental and social organizations, they can amplify their efforts and create high-impact initiatives that resonate more deeply with their customers’ sensibilities. 

Interactive tools that create and distribute personalized communications can establish a direct dialog while accommodating feedback and suggestions, contributing to a perceived authenticity and trustworthiness that fuels feelings of trust.

In the face of growing awareness of environmental sustainability, companies are taking proactive steps to minimize emissions, significantly limit their carbon footprint, and embrace issues of social responsibility. By adopting sustainable practices, optimizing carbon-intensive operations, and engaging in privileged communication channels with customers, companies can make a positive impact while building strong relationships with their audiences. This commitment to environmental and social responsibility is not only in line with ethical principles, but also serves as a competitive advantage in a market of increasingly attentive and engaged consumers.