It’s no secret most media companies across North America and Europe are re-crafting their business models to account for a changing readership and new formats of reporting and storytelling. Faced with shrinking traditional revenues, we are finding new digital revenues while cutting costs through “right sizing” wherever possible.

Now for the bad news: Just as we are getting out of the recession and stabilising, North American media companies will be looking at new business costs coming on the horizon. Those costs have little to do with our business per se and everything to do with the environment. They are called the “carbon tax.”

What is a carbon tax? In a nutshell, it’s a tax on air pollution. More precisely, it’s a tax levied on the carbon content of a power source – the cleaner the power source the lower the tax.

Generally speaking, carbon taxes focus on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released when hydrocarbons are burned from coal, natural gas, or petroleum.

The point of introducing a tax on carbon is to force people and organisations to favour cleaner power sources to diminish the emissions of CO2, which trap greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere and ultimately interfere with the planet’s natural climate cycles.

There are other ways for governments to deal with the issue of carbon emissions. Alternative policy instruments can target the actual carbon extractors, including the oil companies or the consumers of the petrol. However, the point will be essentially the same – someone will eventually have to foot the carbon bill.

Some jurisdictions have carbon taxes already in place. In Canada, the province of Quebec introduced such a tax in 2007, and the province of British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008. In the United States, the states of Colorado, California, and Maryland all have some version of a carbon tax.

Many European countries have similar taxes on fuel and power, and Australia introduced a carbon tax in July 2012. During the past five years, India, Japan, and South Korea all have introduced carbon taxes. China is considering one, as well.

How do media companies release carbon? All businesses release carbons in various ways, but here are the main ones in our industry: our use of electricity to heat and power our buildings, electronic/telephone equipment, and data centers.

This includes the digital replicas or e-papers, as well as the power needed for the production of the daily newspaper, and the fuel needed for its delivery (for those of us who still produce and deliver one).

To be clear, cutting down trees does release carbon. (We hope you are including as much recycled paper as possible for your newsprint from FSC managed forests). However, the carbon tax is most often applied on the burning of hydrocarbons.

Need help seeing the invisible? Carbon release is a colourless, odourless gas not visible to the naked eye. Here’s a video that shows the carbon emitted in New York City during one day in real time.

What can we do? Start by understanding how we release carbon as individuals and as organisations. It’s easier to figure out than most think.

Calculations already exist to tell you how much carbon is released depending on what you do, how much energy you use, the type of energy you use and so on. Hence, the establishment of a carbon tax is not that difficult for policy makers to consider and launch.

In the spring of 2013, the planet’s atmosphere recorded a CO2 count of 400 parts per million (ppm) – a climate milestone not seen since the Pliocene Epoch, 2.5 to 5 million years ago.

Building sustainable businesses means being mindful about our choices today. These choices will help us avoid large expenses in the future, as well as mitigate the impact of climate change. 

As a Danish professor once quipped: “It might not be cost-effective to save the world – but it could be a good idea anyway.” (As quoted by Hans Nillson in a blog post on energy in demand.)