Piloting our USB carbon roadmap: A Q&A with Executive Assistant Evelyn Hennessy
Last year, Skanska Group announced a long-term target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. To accompany this goal, one of the strategic assignments of our USA 2024 Business Plans is a climate roadmap for all our business units. When USA Building (USB) launched their climate roadmap earlier this year, one of the first steps the organization took was reducing the carbon footprint of our offices. Our Durham, North Carolina office was chosen to pilot this initiative.
Over the past three months, Evelyn Hennessy, office manager based out of our Durham office, was tasked with determining the Durham office’s carbon footprint and the steps they can take to reduce it even further. In this Q&A, Evelyn shares how she accomplished this and a few simple things that other offices can do to reduce their carbon footprints.
What is our carbon roadmap and what role does it play in our 2024 USB Business Plan?
Our carbon roadmap is a living document that was created by our sustainability team in collaboration with Skanska employees across the country representing many departments and impact levels. The roadmap includes tiered carbon strategies that can be tackled on projects, in offices and in our corporate policies programs. Those tiers vary from Foundational to Accelerating to Leadership. There are many options that reflect the variety of client interests, magnitude of reduction potential and market availability, because carbon reduction is not one-size-fits-all. Our roadmap and business plan are tied together because they support each other. The choices we make to improve our business outcomes can also impact our carbon emissions, and the ways in which we change course to reduce carbon will likely have an impact on our business’ success.
How did the Durham, NC office get chosen as the pilot office for our climate roadmap?
I was a member of our national carbon roadmap committee. Senior Sustainability Director Myrrh Caplan approached me about calculating the carbon footprint of our Durham office, so we put a calculator together that other offices can use. We then took it a step further by purchasing the offsets needed to make our Durham office our very first Skanska office to have achieved carbon neutrality based on our 2019 numbers. This is a big deal, mainly because the Durham office has already done so much to reduce our footprint and then we took that additional step to offset what was left. With that, we made a commitment to look for further reductions too.
Our offices may not emit as much carbon as the construction of a building, but it’s the space where we have the most authority to make good change for ourselves and Skanska’s direct carbon footprint.
Can you explain what it means to purchase carbon offsets?
Purchasing carbon offsets means investing in renewable energy projects, such as wind or solar farms, or in others such as geothermal, low impact hydropower and even some fuel cell options. The investment itself is based on how many tons of CO2 or how many kWhs we need to get to zero.
What has been your role during this process?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, I was asked to figure out our office’s carbon footprint and compile a list of sustainability metrics from 2019, which took about three months. I reached out to our local employees and conducted a Microsoft Teams survey that asked them about their commute times and types of cars they drive. From there, I calculated the approximate mileage for every employee. I investigated the types of products we’re ordering through Staples and other stores. I also looked more closely at our vendors, like how much food we have delivered into the office. We’re prioritizing products that are only shipped within the U.S.
We don’t track our electricity, but our building property manager does. They sent me the bills for the entire building and after determining our office’s square footage, I divided that number by the number of employees in our office.
I’m also collecting the invoices of everything we order so that when we measure our carbon footprint again, all the information will be in one place.
What steps has your office taken to reduce your carbon footprint?
Our office has been focused on sustainability for a while—we’ve been composting and recycling for the past eight to ten years. We also have permanent-use utensils, plates and cups in our kitchen. We replaced our Styrofoam coffee cups, which were 92 percent compostable, with paper cups so they can be composted. We don’t run the dishwasher everyday—we only run it when it’s full.
What progress has been made in your office since launching this initiative?
Some of these steps were taken after I completed our carbon footprint, like the introduction of paper cups in our office. We’re also now looking into recycled paper and where our office products are being shipped from, because we realized that’s a big part of our carbon footprint. We prioritize products that are recycled and shipped locally.
What are some easy wins that other offices can do to reduce their carbon footprint?
I encourage our employees in other offices to think about easy things they can replace, whether that’s paper, coffee cups or plates. As far as shipping impacts, Staples will now tell you where your products are manufactured. Your supplies are the best place to start.
Skanska aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045 within our own operations and across our entire value chain. How will this office initiative move Skanska closer towards our carbon neutrality goals?
Taking baby steps, like starting with reducing the footprint of our offices, will be the easiest way to move us towards our carbon reduction goals. When you’re working towards a big goal, such as our 2045 carbon neutrality goal, you have to start small because otherwise you’ll overwhelm people.
It’s also about just doing the right thing. We only have one Earth and it’s our responsibility to take care of it. We have to get out of the mindset that it’s somebody else’s job. Taking steps towards being more sustainable is something we need to do for ourselves, families and loved ones. There are over 7 billion people in the world. If we each took one small step, we could change the world.