Addressing Refrigerants Makes Companies Leaders in the Climate Fight

Nick Cade

Refrigerants are central to many business activities: air conditioners cool office buildings, refrigerators and walk-in coolers chill food in supermarkets, and refrigerated trucks keep medicines safe during transport. In fact, most enterprise have large volumes of refrigerant deployed throughout their operations.

While refrigerants serve valuable purposes in commercial and industrial settings, many companies are unaware that they are harmful, potent greenhouse gases (GHG) and some are also ozone depleting substances (ODS). Businesses that care about the environment and seek to reduce emissions often overlook refrigerant when auditing their facilities, calculating emissions, or setting sustainability goals.

This will need to change if we want to make a dent in the fight against catastrophic climate change. The good news is that addressing refrigerants is not only environmentally responsible—it can also be a smart business decision for companies. A sustainability plan that includes responsible refrigerant management will help businesses convert equipment in a way that anticipates new changes to refrigerant regulation and avoids the resulting escalation in refrigerant prices.

What is the scale of the refrigerant management problem?

According to recent research from MIT, harmful old chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants in use or stockpiled around the world equal roughly 9 billion tons of CO2.  If released, that is greater than the annual emissions of the United States, which totaled 6.6 billion metric tons of CO2e in 2019.

While new production of these refrigerants has been banned, large volumes still exist in older systems and pose an immediate threat to our environment. Preventing the release of these harmful refrigerants has been ranked as one of the single most effective actions we can take to mitigate catastrophic climate change. And without affirmative action, these gases will find their way into the atmosphere.

Where do companies find refrigerant?

Companies that maintain climate-controlled spaces or run operations that require cooling or industrial refrigeration are obvious owners of large amounts of refrigerant. The more buildings or facilities that you own and operate, the more refrigerant you are likely to have under management. Even simply maintaining a fleet of vehicles that have air conditioning systems will put a business in control of significant volumes of potential refrigerant emissions.

Yet no environmental regulatory bodies currently require companies to publish data on all refrigerant types that may be housed in their facilities. This means that many businesses do not maintain a complete inventory of their refrigerants. As such, they are often unaware of the acute climate risk posed by their own refrigerants – a risk squarely under their control.

How can organizations address refrigerants?

Businesses looking to be leaders in the fight against catastrophic climate change should embrace refrigerant management as a key component of their sustainability approach.

This is where we can help. Tradewater’s Catalytic Coalition is made up of leading businesses that are taking responsible action to mitigate the risk posed by their refrigerants. Our Coalition is supported by a highly experienced team of strategists, technicians, and engineers. Our team partners with businesses to develop customized and cost-effective plans to responsibly manage their refrigerants.

These plans begin with an actual inventory of all the refrigerants that an enterprise owns, identifying not just the total volume of refrigerant in their possession but also the potential emissions associated with different refrigerant types. We then create strategies to manage those refrigerants, accelerate conversions to alternatives with lower global warming potentials, and identify responsible end-of-life solutions for used or old refrigerants.

Ultimately, addressing refrigerants is good for the environment and smart business. Moreover, as industry leaders, participating companies have the opportunity to catalyze broader awareness of the climate threat posed by refrigerants by demonstrating their commitment to responsible refrigerant management.

To hear about the collective impact we can have through the Catalytic Coalition, you can view our recent with Project Drawdown, MIT, and Intuit. To learn more about whether the Catalytic Coalition might be right for your business, please contact program director Nick Cade.