Environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting has become an expectation for companies. According to a McKinsey report from 2022, more people want to work for sustainable companies, and more consumers expect companies to offer sustainable products and services. McKinsey says investors take ESG and sustainability into consideration, as well.
Improving sustainability has been a goal for Fresno, California-based ERI since its inception, and the company has aimed to achieve zero-waste status for the past decade.
Last year, ERI wanted to improve the sustainability of its operations by achieving carbon-neutral status by having net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. ERI partnered with New York-based Time CO2 and its CO2.com platform to work toward achieving carbon-neutral status. CO2 provides its customers with a team of climate experts from the World Economic Forum, Conservation International, The World Bank, Salesforce, Twitter, Amazon, Yelp and Time. In the fall, ERI worked with CO2 to finalize a diversified, high-impact climate action portfolio to ensure its carbon offset efforts went to like-minded, vetted climate projects.
ERI has announced that it has achieved 100 percent carbon neutrality for its operational emissions in the United States. According to ERI, CO2 helped the company reduce its carbon footprint in three main areas—CO2 removal, emissions reduction and protection of high-value carbon stores.
“We’re incredibly proud to have voluntarily taken this critical next step in our ongoing mission to protect the planet,” ERI Chairman and CEO John Shegerian says. “As a company that has had waste and emissions reduction in its very DNA since our start, and as ERI assists other organizations to achieve their ESG and sustainability goals through responsible recycling of e-waste, we felt it was essential for us to undergo the process of achieving official carbon neutrality to further enhance our own operational environmental impact.”
Developing a sustainability service
Simon Mulcahy, CEO of New York-based Time CO2 and president of sustainability at Time, says Time CO2 launched in September 2022 to provide companies with curated climate action portfolios to help them offset their carbon emissions and to fund climate-friendly activities.
“We went into COVID [and] realized every company really came face to face with realities about how they needed to operate to be effective,” Mulcahy says. “First, of course, everyone has to be more digital than they thought. … But it also became very, very clear every company also had to be much more focused on science’s biggest problems and that the world was judging them on whether they were or weren’t doing that.”
He adds the “chief priority is climate.”
“Every business had to focus on the digital and the sustainability side. There’s a lot of help on the digital side, but no help on the sustainability side,” Mulcahy says. “That was the launching vision for CO2.com.”
While large corporations might be able hire a team of sustainability experts to work in-house to help achieve ESG goals, Mulcahy says that’s less feasible for smaller companies that want to reduce their carbon footprint. “So, CO2.com’s job was let’s go find things that are hard to do but are imperatives for those companies and make it easy for them to do that and do so with a high order of confidence.”
CO2.com helps companies find ways to offset their carbon emissions, but Mulcahy says carbon offsets are more than just buying carbon credits by planting trees.
“The cheap way [to offset carbon emissions] is to find the cheapest offsets possible—you go to carbon markets and find the cheapest tons of carbon that you can buy,” he says. “Typically, what you’re doing there is investing in very low-quality climate action projects that are difficult to ascertain. We [at CO2.com] look at thousands of those projects every day.”
He says CO2.com evaluates climate action projects that its customers can invest in and develops a portfolio of projects that fits well for each of its customers. The company then provides customers with a climate impact dashboard with metrics on how the projects are performing.
“We make sure. So, when you talk about it in an annual report and to investors and employees or customers, you can guarantee you are doing the best you can to have the greatest impact of every dollar spent on climate,” Mulcahy says.
To date, Time CO2 has worked with about a dozen companies in the U.S. and Europe across multiple sectors to make sure its new platform works and aligns with the needs of the organizations that it serves, Mulcahy says. He adds that ERI is one of the first companies it worked with.
Shegerian featured Mulcahy on his Impact Podcast last fall. Shortly after recording that episode, Mulcahy says Shegerian connected with him about partnering with CO2.He says he and Shegerian continued conversations after recording the episode and ultimately decided to partner to help ERI achieve carbon-neutral status.
Steps toward carbon neutrality
Although ERI recycles electronic scrap has been working to reduce its operational emissions since it started, Shegerian says talking with Mulcahy on his podcast convinced him of ways ERI could be doing more to reach carbon-neutral status.
“Just because we’re doing what we feel is a noble thing and have a great mission of recycling electronics, there’s so much more we can be doing to get to carbon neutral to make the world a better and greener place,” Shegerian says.
He adds that ERI had been focused on performing self-assessments on its sustainability efforts over the last few years, as well. ERI worked with the United Kingdom-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation and its Circulytics tool to rate the company’s progress toward a circular economy. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s website, Circulytics measures a company’s entire circularity, not just products and material flows, and highlights strengths and areas where it could improve.
Shegerian says ERI received an “A-” grade on the Circulytics’ scorecard in 2021. He says ERI evaluated ways it could improve energy efficiency by consuming less electricity in its offices and working with more energy-efficient vendors. In 2022, he says ERI had achieved an “A” grade on its Circulytics scorecard.
Shegerian says ERI is continuing to evaluate its efficiencies by regularly analyzing its logistics, lighting, water usage and even the cars that employees drive. He adds that ERI plans to install solar panels on roofs of its facilities in California as another way to reduce its carbon footprint.
Shegerian says, “At ERI, our emissions are coming mostly from our shredders and our trucks, so while we made improvements on lighting and forklifts and more, the biggest improvements we’ve made have been our efforts to locate facilities as close to our clients as possible and maximize the amount we fit on trucks so that we’re reducing truck traffic and our efforts to shift shredding operations to off-peak hours. Moving forward, those continue to be areas we focus on heavily.”
In addition to evaluating its efficiencies, Shegerian says ERI is working with CO2.com to fill in the gaps and to provide carbon credits toward climate action projects that help bring ERI’s carbon footprint to zero. “[CO2.com figures] out what your missions are, and then they go out to the marketplace and they find the projects and they buy the projects that offset those emissions,” Shegerian says.
Although ERI achieved carbon-neutral status, Shegerian says retaining it will be an ongoing process.
“There’s no finish line in the journey. This is a process,” he says. “We’re proud of our achievements, but we’re not done. We know we can continue to do more at our facilities to be even better. We’re looking at expanding the electrification of our fleet, facility renewables and more efficiency projects. As we continue to grow as an organization, we want to keep our climate impact from growing with us.”
Shegerian adds that he hopes that ERI’s work toward meeting its carbon neutrality goals might inspire other environmental services companies. He says he advises companies to look internally before finding partners to reduce their carbon footprint.
“Hopefully, we can inspire others in environmental services to do more where they are, as well, because we all are sharing this planet together,” Shegerian says. “And if we all do our part, it’s a clean place for all of us, our kids and our grandkids. And that’s what we’re here for—to be servants to our families and to the planet. We’re going to keep on this journey culturally, financially and, secondarily, we’re going to keep reporting on it publicly.”