How the American Red Cross is Reducing Impact on the Planet

Among the first humanitarian non-profits to publish an ESG report, American Red Cross is tackling CO2 emissions, water and waste, says CSO Noel Anderson

When it comes to doing good in the world, few can argue with the credentials of the American Red Cross.

As a non-profit organisation helping Americans for the last 140 years, American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters – as well as supplying around 40% of the nation’s blood, teaching skills that save lives, distributing international humanitarian aid, and supporting veterans, military members and their families.

Among the top 20 largest charities in the US, the Red Cross has more than 30,000 employees and half a million volunteers, the majority of which are women.

While being good to people and planet is its core mission, the Red Cross is aware that it can always do better – and is one of the first humanitarian non-profits to publish an ESG report.

Following its inaugural report for FY22, the American Red Cross recently released its FY23 ESG Report, revealing the non-profit’s progress towards delivering its mission in a way that increasingly benefits the communities it serves, its workforce and the planet.

“When it comes to the urgent challenges that families and communities are facing, the Red Cross has both the opportunity and the responsibility to act,” says Noel Anderson, Chief Sustainability Officer at the American Red Cross.

Anderson, who has an 18-year career at the Red Cross, says such a report is critical – not only in reflecting the non-profit’s pledge to make a meaningful and lasting impact but in its commitment to transparency.

Delivering Humanitarian Relief Without Contributing to Environmental Harm

This second report comes at a crucial time, following the hottest year on record, with the US experiencing a record 15 billion-dollar disasters in the first half of 2023 alone – and the Red Cross responding to nearly twice as many large disasters in the US as it did a decade ago.

Such is the crisis that in August 2023, the Red Cross unveiled an ambitious plan earmarking US$1 billion spend on its climate crisis work over the next few years – from disaster relief to preparedness programmes, to sustainability efforts to minimise its own environmental footprint.

For the organisation, it’s not just about delivering its humanitarian mission in response to disaster and the climate crisis but delivering it in a way that doesn’t contribute to environmental harm.

Which is where the report comes in.

As well as detailing the organisation’s priorities and goals, the report reveals progress made towards those goals in the last year.

“We’re focused on three things: reducing our carbon emissions, reducing our water, and reducing our waste,” says Anderson.

Over the next several years, the goal is to transition more than 80% of its facilities across the country to use renewable energy sources, to reduce waste by 30%, increase the rate of recycling by 50% and lower water consumption by at least 50%.

So how will the Red Cross achieve this and what goals has it met so far?

How is the Red Cross Reducing Carbon Emissions?

Focused on reducing carbon emissions in three areas – facilities, fleet and supplies – the Red Cross successfully slashed emissions by 8% in FY23.

In its facilities’ emissions, this is being achieved via energy efficiency and renewables.

After conducting assessments at 28 of its largest facilities, the Red Cross identified efficiency improvements with solutions including efficient HVAC systems and smart thermostats.

At its Biomedical facility in North Carolina, building automation systems were installed to help reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by 15%.

Plans over the next year include installing 1,300 smart thermostats in over 350 facilities to provide greater control and visibility over consumption.

What’s more, the organisation has procured renewable energy in 169 of its facilities across 16 states already – and in the upcoming years, the goal is to have 80% of facilities using renewable energy.

With its fleet, the Red Cross is looking to reduce the environmental impact of around 4,300 vehicles by replacing gas-powered vehicles with hybrids and switching to EVs.

“Right now, we’re piloting EV to identify the opportunities where [they] will work for us in our operations without compromising our ability to deliver our services,” explains Anderson. “We’re also making significant investments to expand our use of hybrid vehicles. Last year, we had 16 hybrid vehicles across our entire fleet, and now, we’re up to 135 hybrid vehicles. Our goal is to add more than that next year.”

A further 160 hybrid or EV models will be added to the fleet in FY2024.

And finally, in supplies, the organisation is estimating the scale of carbon emissions associated with its supply chain – and has successfully reduced emissions by 24% since 2019.

The Red Cross is Spending U$1 Billion on its Climate Crisis Work Over the Next Few Years

How is the Red Cross Reducing Waste?

In its own facilities and supply chain, the aim is to decrease waste footprint by 25% through reduction and reuse and increase recycling by 50% by FY27.

In addition to installing water refill stations in its facilities to cut down on single-use plastic water bottles and plastic waste, the organisation is has identified sustainable alternatives for some of the most popular products in its Red Cross store.

Among initiatives on the supply side, the organisation is testing new packaging for wipes it uses in blood collections that can reduce plastic consumption in the product line by 80% – as well as investing in compostable feeding supplies for disaster relief operations, so teams can eliminate Styrofoam and plastic.

How is the Red Cross Reducing Water Consumption?

Committed to reducing water consumption by at least 20% in the next four years, the Red Cross first focued on the top eight sites that used the most water – and through various measures have reduced consumption by 42% across these sites.

“Going forward, we’re focused on implementing xeriscaping solutions in water-stressed areas,” says Anderson, explaining that Xeriscaping is going to replace landscaping plants with more drought-tolerant species to reduce or eliminate irrigation.

“We’re also upgrading older fixtures and restrooms and kitchens in favor of low-flow fixtures or aerators that are going to identify the facilities that use the most water to identify and implement interventions such as installing leak detectors or rain sensors. And all those efforts are going to get us to that overall goal of reducing our water consumption by 20% by 2027.”

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