5 Sustainability Metrics to Pay Close Attention to

These days, most businesses and institutions recognize sustainability is important. Now more than ever people are aware of how everyday actions like heating a room or taking a shower are impacting the world around them.

Organizations across the board are taking steps to be more eco-friendly and often consider sustainability to be one of their core values.

However, when all’s said and done there is minimal awareness about how sustainability is actually measured. Many workplaces say they engage in green business practices, but few of them have concrete data to back up their efforts.

Often, this is unintentional, as people simply don’t know how to quantify how green they are. In order to really make a difference in energy conservation, though, we all need to use sustainability metrics to measure our impact on the environment. Here are five sustainability metrics every business should know about — and implement — in the future.

1. Material Intensity

Material intensity refers to the amount of material wasted during the creation of a new product. The metric is important because any material wasted causes us to create more of it later on and is ultimately unsustainable.

This metric, like the other four, is expressed as a ratio and is found by subtracting the mass of the finished product and usable byproducts from the mass of the original material. Water and air are generally not included in the calculations unless they form part of the product.

Say, for example, an auto plant is manufacturing a car. To find the material intensity, you subtract the mass of the finished car from the total mass of all parts used in designing the car. If the vehicle’s mass was 500 pounds less than the mass of the raw materials used to make it, the material density would be 1 to 500.

2. Energy Intensity

Energy intensity measures the amount of fuel used to provide energy for manufacturing. It is measured as Btus per unit of energy. Energy intensity is important to measure because businesses should aim to use as little energy as possible. To find energy intensity, you must first measure the amount of fuel used to provide the energy.

The fuel may be steam, electricity, oil or natural gas and may be measured in kilowatts, pounds or another unit. The energy intensity is found simply be dividing Btus by the fuel measurement. It is given as number of Btus per fuel unit. For example, it may be expressed as 750 Btus to one kilowatt.

3. Water Consumption

Water consumption is more or less what it sounds like — this metric is just the number of gallons of fresh water used during to create energy or manufacture a product. Water consumption should ideally be as low as possible, as filtered, clean water is a valuable resource.

You can find water consumption by figuring how much water is wasted for every unit created. Rainwater is not considered when calculating this metric; however, installing a standing seam metal roof can help catch and collect a usable amount. Rather, water consumption takes into account water lost from evaporation and processes such as waste treatment.

4. Toxic Emissions

Toxic emission refers to the amount of toxic matter released during a process. Toxin emissions are given as the amount of toxins per unit created. Measuring the toxins and other harmful materials is obviously important because these chemicals can destroy the world around us. For the purposes of this metric, a substance is considered toxic if it is designated as such by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the Clean Air Act. To find the toxic emissions of a process, you must divide the amount of toxins released by number of outputs.

5. Pollutant Emissions

Pollutant emissions are the pollutants given off during the creation of a product or energy. Similar to other metrics, pollutant emission is expressed as the amount of pollution released per unit output. To calculate this metric, you first must discover all pollutants released during manufacture. Phosphates, acids, air pollutants and freshwater saline are examples of pollutants. To find the metric, the total emission is added up and divided by the total products or units of energy.