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Practical Ways to Reduce Our Carbon Footprint

The Home Depot enhances its sustainability and corporate responsibility efforts each year by helping customers, suppliers, and business partners minimize their negative environmental impact.
By Fernando Icaza

By Fernando Icaza

The Home Depot enhances its sustainability and corporate responsibility efforts each year by helping customers, suppliers, and business partners minimize their negative environmental impact. In the supply chain and facilities sector, Home Depot reduces carbon emissions through utilization of renewable energy sources, alternative packing materials, water conservation efforts, and avoidance of harmful chemicals.

Having participated in Dr. Kim Cobb’s Carbon Reduction Challenge in EAS 3110 last semester, I had exposure to identifying “the low-hanging fruit”—that is, carbon reduction ideas that can make an impact with relatively easy changes. Early this summer, my team and I met with Mark Schleier, manager of Environmental Sustainability at The Home Depot. He invited us join a Sustainability Council meeting where we met Krissa Glassgow, Sr. Manager of Sustainability, and Ron Jarvis, VP of Sustainability.

They told us about some remarkable experiences that led to implementing new systems and partnerships with a new focus on sustainability. For instance, just a few years ago, they were challenged with tracing the origin of all wood products Home Depot imports and distributes around the world. Similarly, through breakthroughs in research and technology, they influenced companies that produce paint and various chemicals to ban the use of carcinogens and allergens from their products.

While a corporation the size of The Home Depot has a high degree of structure and bureaucracy, the internship taught me how to navigate the waters and bring something new to the table. Having to deal with international distributors, regulations, and various governments, it was not surprising to learn that most decisions must be taken into consideration with the PR impact in mind. Based on these constraints, we were forced to think outside the box, ask lots of questions, and not be afraid to speak.

We learned the importance of being proactive. In an ideal world, my team would have generated new practices or systems to be implemented in Home Depot’s 2,000+ retail stores; however, a project of this scope was not feasible for the short duration of a summer internship. Our team focused on researching and assessing where our work could provide the highest impact; thus, we settled on identifying potential savings and reduction of the carbon footprint at the Home Depot headquarters building, the Store Support Center (SSC) located in the Vinings area of Atlanta, in Cobb County.

This facility has over 6,100 employees and 128 restrooms. In the restrooms are 384+ standard faucets, each of which flows over 2.2 gallons of water per minute. Toilets number 256+, and these have an average use of 1.57 gallons per flush (gpf). Estimating that each employee uses the bathroom two times per day, this adds up to over 19,100 gallons of water per day! Additionally, irrigation adds approximately 275 gallons per month, or 3,300 gallons per year.

With these findings, we proposed an upgrade to SSC’s faucets and toilets with EPA-approved WaterSense® labels. These labels provide a standard identification for water-efficient plumbing fixtures. New faucets utilize from 1.2 to 1.5 gallons per minute, with 38% reduction in water flow. The average expected return is in the neighborhood of 30% of potable water conserved. Restrooms at this facility consume about 700,000 gallons of water each month. At a non-residential Cobb County water rate of $4.22 per thousand gallons, this yields an average fee of $2950 per month. Upgrading traditional faucets for automated ones (at a price of about $100 each) will require an investment of $38,400. New water-efficient toilets for The Home Depot will cost approximately $100 each, or a total of $25,600. Before labor and installation, this total investment will cost over $64,000.

By reducing water usage by 30%, the Home Depot will be saving around $880 each month; at this pace, the full return of investment will occur in approximately 6½ years. According to research, the estimated footprint of each gallon of water is about 1.128 grams of CO2 equivalents. The Home Depot’s facilities will produce nearly 237,000 fewer pounds of CO2 each month from this upgrade. After a 20-year period, they will have preserved more than 50 million gallons of water and sequestered 57,000,000 lbs. of CO2.

As an Industrial Engineering student, adding the Carbon Reduction Challenge to my resume proved to be not only an outstanding opportunity but also a way to make a positive impact on the environment. By implementing this project, The Home Depot will save money and significantly reduce water waste. Our project is a win-win for all stakeholders. As the impact of global warming becomes more evident, we must take proactive and often radical approaches to increase our efficiencies and discover innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint. 

The Challenge is funded by a grant from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation's NextGen Committee and the Scheller College Dean's Innovation Fund, and is an affiliated project of the Georgia Tech Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain.

Fernando Icaza is studying Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech's H. Milton Stewart School.

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