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Measuring your carbon footprint and developing a carbon action plan

Piece by Lucy Walsh, Founder of B Sussed and Projects' in-house Sustainability Ambassador

Most of us have a good idea of what a carbon footprint is in general – an expression of the environmental impact of our actions in terms of equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. But perhaps less of a clear idea of how to go about measuring one, especially when it comes to considering the organisation scale rather than personal.

Here’s a quick run down of what to start thinking about on your journey towards net zero and developing a carbon action plan.

What do you measure?

The approach to Net Zero essentially considers three types of GHG emissions, as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Protocol:

Scope 1 is direct emissions resulting from on-site energy, such as gas boilers and fuel for company vehicles. Importantly, this includes all greenhouse gases, not just carbon, and so it also involves things like refrigeration equipment which can leak GHGs.

Scope 2 is indirect primary emissions, such as your purchased electricity, heat, cooling and steam.

Scopes 1 and 2 can be thought of as your overall energy use and premises.

Scope 3 is basically everything else, formally defined as any indirect emissions resulting from your supply chain. For many companies, this can account for 80-90% of overall emissions, and is therefore one of the most challenging yet important considerations for getting to Net Zero. For most companies the Scope 3 emissions to start looking at will be modes of transport used for both business transport and employee commute, quantities of waste produced and sent for recycling or landfill, water usage and products & services procured).

Carbon factors

Everything that you start to consider and gather data for as part of your calculations has an carbon emissions conversion factor, and in this country we use data sets released by the UK Government. For example, if you’re looking at your water bill, every m3 used has an equivalent amount of carbon per unit, so too does every tonne of plastic or card sent for recycling (which is much lower than every tonne sent to landfill).

Recently added is the homeworking carbon factor, so you can account for the number of working hours during which employees work from home.

Carbon calculations

To make it simpler, there are a lot of carbon calculators out there now that have taken these data sets and created easy to use online forms where you can just enter the data you’ve assembled and arrive at your carbon footprint.

The main thing to remember is that this is a moving picture and you don’t have to have absolutely all the information to get your first result. As you start measuring and collecting information, the process will become more intuitive. By understanding the process and including more details on more outputs along the way, you’ll be able to build a more reflective picture of your impacts and really start to see where your biggest outputs are.

An excellent place to start is with this free tool developed by Clean Growth UK.

Carbon accounting software

Gathering comprehensive data is a really important part of progress towards a more accurate carbon footprint covering all of your primary inputs.

Software tools like Ecologi Zero and Sage Earth have been developed to integrate with company accounting software and analyse scope 3 emissions based on expenses. This is a really powerful way to collect more detailed, real-time information on your Scope 3 emissions and focus on managing them.

Developing an action plan

Once you’ve identified the most substantial contributors to your emissions, you can start developing an action plan on how to tackle the issues and reduce them.

The first step is to identify the low hanging fruit – the emissions that are perhaps the most straightforward to address. Common themes here will be:

  • Energy consumption in the office and how to reduce it. Think about more efficient fittings, possibly installing intelligent controls, switching to a renewable energy tariff. Training everyone in the building on how it works is a really important step in both engagement with the process and encouraging energy efficient behavioral change.

  • Water consumption – can you install low use fittings, water saving devices or flow restrictors?

  • Modes of transport to work and to meetings. Carry out a survey with your employees to find out if there are barriers to sustainable transport use. Think about what you can do to encourage bike use – is there enough storage space, are there showers, changing rooms or drying space for cycle gear? Can you minimise business travel? Do you have scope to install EV charging points?

  • Waste production. Are there adequate facilities to segregate waste to encourage as much recycling as possible? Who do you use to collect waste and do they provide you with detailed reporting? What are you doing to cut down waste in the first place? Do you use refillable containers for soap or buy new each time?

  • Supply chain. What can you do to encourage your suppliers to address their emissions? Think about asking them what they do now and maybe work out a way to go on the journey together.

Employee and supply chain engagement is key to getting everyone on board and working towards your targets – involve them in the process and make sure they know why and how you’re addressing your footprint. Ask them for ideas and make sure there’s buy in from all levels in the company.

Check out the SME Climate Hub for a wide range of free resources and ideas to help you set up and develop your plan.

If you’re aiming to set an ambitious Net Zero commitment, some companies work with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to help them set clearly defined reduction goals along a pathway to reach the target within a number of years.

Can I just offset?

This is known as the process of becoming Carbon Neutral – calculating and compensating for your emissions by paying into an offsetting fund. There are many really worthwhile certified programmes out there that plant trees or fund projects around the world to compensate for carbon emissions. These are a great start and really valuable societal impacts, however as there is a long-term payback period, we need to reduce emissions along side to make more immediate benefits.

Net Zero takes this further, requiring you to reduce those emissions by up to 80%, or as far as possible, prior to offsetting any remaining emissions.

I’ll be kicking off the “Sunrise Sustainability Sessions” tomorrow on the 12th October with a more detailed look at the process of prioritising and calculating emissions to understand your organisation’s impact – come along if you’d like to learn more! Sign up here.


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