How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint in a Large Company

By Brion Hurley, Rockwell Collins


As I became more aware of environmental problems and climate change, I became more aware of how I directly impacted carbon emissions. I wanted to make a difference. The best way to make a difference is to get involved in your community or at your work. Since I worked for a global company with about 20,000 employees, I felt my workplace was the best place to get started.

I found out that a team was already working on gathering the baseline carbon emission data. The motivation was coming from our customer, who asked us to participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

Obtain baseline data

I was not involved in the data gathering phase, but the effort was quite extensive. In fact, the effort uncovered some bills being paid on facilities that were no longer owned by the company. Some quick cost savings with little effort. Often times, there is a large amount of effort needed to clean up the data system, especially if it’s something not monitored on a regular basis. In the past, there were various reports generated around carbon emissions, but they were often sporadic, not comprehensive of the full picture of the company (both domestically and internationally), and were not consistently calculated from location to location.

Our company decided to go with a software solution, instead of continuing the manual data gathering effort. It may depend on the size of your company, but don’t avoid taking action because you don’t have a system to manage the data. In fact, it is usually better if you get familiar with your data before it automatically loads into a database.

Once you’ve converted all your utilities into carbon emissions (if applicable), quantify the carbon emissions and total cost to the company.  The total energy cost was over $20 million per year, which was much higher than most employees and leaders realized. The cost helped gain additional support for the initiatives and activities for energy reduction.  Financial data is critical before launching any initiative, especially carbon reduction. More importantly, this information helped justify a budget of $500,000 per year to invest in projects.

Develop a steering committee

The timing for setting up a formal steering committee can vary, but a small team is needed to get the data gathered initially. Once the support for making improvements has been made, a cross-functional team should be established in order to get different perspectives, and help communicate the progress of the initiative. Ideally, the team should include all organizations within a company, but initially we focused on key roles across multiple locations, such as Facilities, Environment Safety and Health (ES&H), Finance, and Purchasing. In the future, Human Resources, Engineering, Information Technology (IT) and other support services will be added.

Set a goal

One of the major drivers of our energy reduction goal was CDP. After a few years of submitting data, they challenged us to set a goal. We probably would have arrived at a goal eventually, but this request helped speed up the process. We benchmarked other companies, and saw goals as low as 5%, and as high as 30%. We didn’t have any strong analysis to tell us what was achievable, so we picked 15% reduction within five years (about 3% per year), which was somewhere in the middle of other company goals. There was some pushback on this goal, as some leaders felt we were being too aggressive.

Prioritize opportunities

As we were getting the database setup, we had enough preliminary data to get started with improvements.  We created a Pareto chart of the top facilities by emissions. Our corporate headquarters was the largest contributor to carbon by far, and 80% of the carbon came from electricity. The mission was clear, reduce electricity at headquarters. To help achieve the goal, a project manager was hired to coordinate all the efforts and track the savings.

Assign targeted teams to each opportunity

We launched a project to accomplish a 5% reduction in electricity at headquarters, using the Six Sigma DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) approach for conducting projects. The project identified an air handler setback opportunity using employee input, statistical analysis, and observations. The project was very successful, saving over $200,000 in electricity and reducing around four million kilowatt hours (kWh), which equates to 2,800 metric tons of carbon emissions. Details on the project can be found here:

Track savings and communicate success

If someone isn’t tracking savings (not just calculating estimated savings), there is not sufficient feedback on how well the projects are performing, and it is difficult to justify additional funding. Energy usage can naturally vary greatly by season, time of year, business changes and other factors. If leaders are only looking at the top level numbers, your improvements may get lost in the noise, and you might not get credit for some of your improvements.

Set new goal or look for next opportunities

If you achieve your goal, time to set another goal. You’re not done until you achieve zero carbon emissions. If you didn’t achieve the goal, review your Pareto chart for the next area to focus on.

Although the Pareto chart top-down approach works well, it can only identify certain opportunities, such as infrastructure and capital investments. A bottoms-up approach is essential for finding the other opportunities, especially projects with little to no investment. A method was documented for engaging every employee in the identification of energy waste in their areas, called an Energy Treasure Hunt, which is modeled after General Electric (GE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The event gathers employees from a specific area, and directs them to walk around the area looking for energy being wasted at various times of day. This includes the weekends, evenings, during the normal workday, and during shift changes. They make observations of energy being wasted, and the overall list is compiled to determine which ideas are the best ones to pursue.  More details on treasure hunts here:

I encourage you to consider this approach we took, if you are just getting started with carbon reduction. You may not take the exact same approach, but there should be many similarities. Make sure you align your program with existing initiatives (continuous improvement, ethics, employee empowerment, etc), along with terminology already present within your company. Don’t wait for someone else to get it started, take the lead yourself.


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