Taking action in 2024
2024 is an important year for carbon emissions reduction action because after this year, we have just five years left to the 2030 Net Zero Carbon target of 50% reduction in carbon emissions, per the Science Based Targets Initiative’s standard to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Thiis means that, by the end of this year, any new 5-year office tenancies, 5-year procurement frameworks, fossil-fuel powered equipment lasting more than 5 years or other decisions with a five-year (or more) lock-in will need to be at the 50% lower emissions level to achieve the 2030 Net Zero Carbon requirement.
And a lower carbon economy leads to a range of other cost, environmental and social benefits as noted below.
The four pillars of the Low-Carbon Economy (the CARE framework)
Underpinning the low-carbon economy are four pillars, easily remembered by the appropriate acronym CARE:
The Circular Economy is about using existing products many times, thereby reducing cost, raw material extraction (and associated biodiversity loss), waste and carbon emissions.
The range of Circular Economy options includes:
Reuse extends the usage of a product without doing more than repairing and cleaning. This has a very small environmental footprint, but an involve compromising on aesthetics if the product shows wear and tear.
Remanufacturing brings products back to as-new condition in both appearance and performance, with a warranty. Modern quality and resurfacing processes are enabling very high-quality remanufacturing of most durable products (from vehicles to photocopiers to furniture). Remanufacturing is noted to have an 80% reduction in carbon emissions ad waste compared to making from virgin resources.
Remanufacturing is best done locally to avoid the cost and carbon emissions of transport, so remanufacturing creates local jobs. And because remanufacturing involves the disassembly, checking, repair/replacement of parts and reassembly, it requires twice the amount of labour than is used to assemble the product in the first place. That is, twice as many jobs for local communities – which is a significant social benefit.
Recycling ensures that materials stay in use and therefore avoids raw material extraction and landfill (or worse – e.g. ocean plastics). However, compared to reuse and remanufacturing it is expensive economically and environmentally to collect, reduce to molecules, recombine, cast and then finish the materials. Carbon emissions are lower than virgin materials but higher than reuse and remanufacturing. Costs can be higher than using virgin materials (although not if environmental costs are internalised). However, for some products reuse or remanufacturing are not an option, and for these recycling is the best approach.
Carbon dioxide is key part of the cycle of life and is absorbed by vegetation and oceans. Of course, our current production of carbon dioxide exceeds the natural absorbative capacity of the earth and hence our rising temperatures, but this mechanism for decarbonizing remains as a tool. Trees and seaweed have a wide range of uses and very few negative side-effects.
These natural solutions involve no toxic consequences and therefore support community health.
We are not including carbon capture and storage as part of the low carbon economy, at least for the moment. It is unproven, expensive and comes with a range of potential catastrophic risks (such as storage rupture and the fatal consequences of CO2 asphyxiation).
With wind, solar and hydro now lower cost than fossil fuel generated electricity, and readily available from most electricity retailers at no extra cost, renewable electricity is an easy step that most organisations and individuals can take. Of course, to benefit fully from renewable energy, all systems (and vehicles) need to be electric.
While popular focus has been on renewable energy, we can think more broadly about other renewable resources. Examples include timber as a building material, paper for packaging, wool for upholstery, and a vast range of exciting nature-based products that are now emerging.
Renewable solutions are often distributed, creating local employment to implement and maintain. Their nature-based origin avoids negative health consequences.
The final pillar is about deploying resources as efficiently as possible and includes solutions of energy efficiency, production efficiency, additive manufacturing (like 3D printing), modular flooring and many more.
Beyond the obvious benefits of avoiding unnecessary resource use and the cost and environmental impacts of doing so, efficiency creates skilled jobs designing and implementing improvements. It is also cost-effective, noting that it can involve an up-front cost that is more than paid back through savings.
In summary, the low-carbon economy is about making the most of existing resources (through the Circular Economy and efficiency) and choosing what additional resources we use carefully (renewable resources that can be absorbed back into the ecosystem without negative consequences).
All four options are available now, are cost-effective and create a range of benefits from avoiding waste to improving health to creating local employment.
Why aren’t we doing them? That is for you to answer, because it is your everyday decisions that move us towards, or away from, a hotter and more chaotic world.
Making a start
An easy place to start is your office, where your actions will help your organisation towards its carbon reduction target, save money, engage staff, share your values with visitors and attract new recruits.
Signing up for renewable grid electricity is a rapid first step. With furniture responsible for the most carbon emissions over the lifetime of a building at 30%, switching to remanufactured furniture is a logical second step. Reinvesting that savings from remanufactured furniture in energy efficient lighting, heating and equipment makes good sense after that.
Let us know if we can help – low carbon offices are our world. We are at contact@RypeOffice.com
 Giuntini, R., Gaudette, K. Remanufacturing: The next great opportunity for boosting US productivity, Business Horizons, Nov-Dec 2003, p. 44.