The Carb-Unloading Initiative: Progress So Far
When we began the Carb-Unloading initiative to reduce HMFH’s carbon footprint, we knew that traveling to client meetings and project sites was a significant part of HMFH’s footprint.
Using the HMFH Creative Process to Tackle our Carbon Footprint
We believe that carb-unloading needs to be more than “doing better” in a general sense or setting impossible, all-or-nothing goals. We want to focus on concrete steps with measurable outcomes and use our talent for creative problem solving to tackle to complex challenges of climate change.
A small group of HMFHers focused on the transportation sector of Carb-Unloading got together to think about reducing our carbon footprint. Our approach to creative problem solving starts with understanding the data and holding a collaborative brainstorming session. Regardless of the challenge, all ideas are on the table, so the possibilities of innovation increase and we can see the barriers to change.
We started by gathering data to help us make decisions about the way forward. As a firm, we produced approximately 16.13 metric tons of CO2 for project-related travel around New England in 2018, spread over more than 93% of our business days. On 66% of those days, we used two or more vehicles. Obviously, the alternatives for commuting―mass transit, bicycling, or walking―are not feasible for this kind of business travel. It was time to study our options beyond conventional internal combustion.
Travel Commuting – How HMFH Can Reduce its Carbon Footprint
The quickest and least expensive solution to lowering our carbon footprint is to increase something we’re already doing― video and web-based conferencing. Designing large projects requires intensive collaboration across dozens of firms meeting on a weekly basis. Connecting with our consultants electronically can save hundreds of miles of driving each week. Newer modes of conferencing allow us to present, discuss, and modify designs on the fly, replicating the fluid and interactive work session that previously required face-to-face meeting.
We rent cars for business travel three to four days a week, but our local car rental office has only one hybrid vehicle in its fleet, and they charge $10 a day more for a hybrid. We’re encouraging them to look at increasing that ratio or even offer electric vehicles (EVs). Using hybrids would reduce our CO2 production from 16 tons a year to 11 tons; an EV would drop the number even more—to around 7.5 tons. It’s a hard sell, though. Large corporations aren’t always interested in customizing their operations for one customer, even though we’re a major user at the local branch. Another possibility is to find a rental company that uses more hybrids.
Buying Electric Vehicles
With few low carbon rental options, we are considering the purchase of one or two company EVs. The cars would need to fulfill our specific criteria of a 200-mile range, capacity for a team of four, and fast charging capability. Cost is an issue, of course, but our analysis showed that owning EVs is cost neutral when compared to renting or driving personal cars. The bigger hurdles are logistics and changing the way we do things:
Where will we charge the EVs and how long will charging take?
- We’ve been talking to our landlord about installing a few charging stations in the building’s parking lot. There’s a ready source of power (the lamp post) and the Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles (MOR-EV) program will pay for half the cost of installation.
- Not all charging stations are equal. A level 1 station, the least expensive type to purchase, takes 10 to 12 hours to fully charge an EV, while a level 2 station takes only a few hours.
- Charging stations can be found at parking garages, highway rest stops, and on-street parking spots. And we are adding charging stations at all of our new building projects.
What about maintenance?
- EVs are not worry free, but they are significantly less costly to maintain than vehicles with internal combustion engines. Fewer moving parts means fewer things that can break, plus you never have to change the oil or replace worn belts.
Dealing with project-related travel to lower HMFH’s carbon footprint is a work in progress. As a small business, we need to think carefully about the economic, administrative, and technical issues involved in altering―and in the case of EVs, radically altering―our way of doing business. Even so, we understand the time for action is now and gathering the facts has helped inform our way forward. As we continue along this path, we’ll update you on our challenges and progress toward a greener future.