How Your Organisation Can Lessen Its Carbon Footprint

  • Christina Yardley
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Carbon Footprint – The planet is warming at an alarming rate and scientists are now 95% certain that humans are the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s*. But why is the planet warming, how much does this warming really matter and what can organisations and employees do to slow this trend?

To understand why climate change is happening we need to look at the Greenhouse Effect. Solar radiation powers the planets’ climate system; about half of solar radiation is absorbed by the Earth’s surface, effectively warming it. Infrared radiation is emitted from the Earth’s surface, and whilst some of this infrared radiation passes through the atmosphere, most is absorbed and re-emitted in all directions by greenhouse gas molecules and clouds. As the level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has been rising consistently for decades, extra heat is being trapped near to the Earth’s surface, causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.

So what is the current situation and what is being done on a global scale?

The average global temperature has increased by 1.2 degree Celsius with sea levels rising by 20cm since 1901 and Arctic ice 65% thinner than it was in 1975. It is widely accepted that climate change is happening, and at a rate that could cause irreversible damage if we fail to slow this rate down. Countries across the globe have come together to make pledges that will address this climate crisis. In December 2015, the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, was adopted by 196 parties. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5, compared to pre-industrial levels. The Climate Change Act was passed in the UK in 2008 and commits to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. However this target was made more ambitious in 2019 when the UK committed to a NetZero target by 2050.

How is the UK government driving a NetZero agenda?

In October 2021 the UK government set out the Net Zero Strategy, an economy-wide plan for how businesses and consumers will be supported in making the transition to clean energy and green technology. The new strategy included:

  • Supporting the electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains with plans to put thousands more zero emission vehicles onto UK roads through a zero emission vehicle mandate.
  • A boost to the Nature for Climate fund
  • Investment towards innovation projects to develop green technologies
  • Kick-starting the commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel
  • Introduction of an Industrial and Hydrogen Revenue Support scheme
  • Funding for decarbonising heat and buildings
  • The development of nuclear projects.

In addition, in September 2021 the Procurement Policy Note 06/21 came into effect. This requires all suppliers who bid for Government contracts, with a total value exceeding £5m, to demonstrate that they are taking action to reduce their carbon emissions in line with UK 2050 NetZero targets.

What does a country-wide drive for Net Zero mean in a practical sense for most UK businesses?

Large companies must report their energy use and carbon emissions every year. Large companies are defined as meeting 2 of the following criteria:

  • A gross income of £36million or more
  • Balance sheet assets of £18million or more
  • 250 employees or more.

There are currently no requirements for small businesses to declare their carbon emissions and energy use. However, in the future, possible changes in law could include:

  • Compulsory emissions reporting for all organisations
  • Carbon labelling
  • A carbon tax
  • Increased regulation

Businesses of all sizes within the UK are being encouraged to take more action to support the drive to Net Zero. An obvious starting point is to create an organisation-wide Carbon Reduction Plan. A Carbon Reduction Plan involves identifying the activities that you can engage in to positively impact the planet, calculating by how much this will reduce your carbon emissions, and pledging a target date for completion. Organisations such as Positive Planet can help all businesses to calculate their carbon footprint and better understand the impact that a range of initiatives could have on their carbon footprint.

A business’ Carbon Reduction Plan might include the following:

  • Understanding your energy use and identifying focus areas
  • Making your business fleet more sustainable by selecting electric vehicles
  • Investing in driver training to help drivers drive in a more carbon-mindful way
  • Lessening business travel
  • Encouraging working from home
  • Improving compressed air systems
  • Reviewing lighting and moving to low energy solutions
  • Matching organisation heating to working hours
  • Moving away from fossil fuels
  • Streamlining processes to reduce energy use
  • Purchasing high performance IT equipment that is more energy efficient
  • Going paperless
  • Encouraging virtual meetings where feasible
  • Adopting ‘switch-off policies’
  • Educating employees regarding their carbon footprint and empowering them to make changes.

An important action for all businesses is to look wider than their current organisation and aim to decarbonise their supply chain. This can be achieved through actions such as supplier incentives, knowledge sharing of the impact of climate change, producing procurement standards relating to greenhouse gas emissions and ranking supplier programmes. If your organisation does not have the skills to implement an effective supply chain decarbonisation strategy, procurement consultancies can provide invaluable support.

Finally, organisations should consider their sphere of influence. Educating employees, suppliers, customers and the wider community will encourage carbon reduction actions and increase a business’ ‘carbon handprint’.

Benefits to the business in focusing on carbon reduction

The benefits to the planet in driving towards Net Zero have already been outlined, but there are substantial benefits that will have a direct impact upon an organisation too. Reputational benefits to brand are significant, as is the ability to attract and retain talent in the organisation. It is widely documented that GenZ in particular, consider the ethics of an organisation when applying for roles. In addition, the act of reviewing processes often leads to improved efficiencies and a knock-on positive impact on the cost base of an organisation, plus diversifying energy provision can help to manage risk.

How can employees play their part in Net Zero?

As we have become more aware of the impact we have on our Earth we have seen reductions in carbon emissions in the UK, from 1000 million tonnes in 2004 to 650 million tonnes CO2e today. A study by Mike Berners-Lee of Lancaster University showed that an average UK person’s Greenhouse Gas footprint is 12.7 tonnes CO2e per year, and that this could be broken down into 25% home and accommodation, 27% travel, 25% food and 23% for ‘everything else’ (non-food shopping, services, health and education etc).

So what more can employees do to address their Greenhouse Gas footprint?

  • Increase the energy efficiency of homes by insulating energy release hotspots and replacing inefficient heating systems
  • Lower the house thermostat by 1 or 2 degrees
  • Avoid leaving electrical items on standby
  • Turn lights off or use timers
  • Lower the boiler temperature by 1 or 2 degrees
  • Source energy from renewable energy providers.
  • Work from home more frequently
  • Use public transport
  • Walk and cycle more
  • Switch to an electric vehicle
  • Car share when going to the workplace
  • Fly less – consider if an in-person meeting is necessary or whether an online meeting could drive the same result.
  • Eat local
  • Meal plan
  • Use up leftovers
  • Buy in season
  • Eat less meat and dairy
  • Eat less processed foods.
  • Buy ethical
  • Upcycle
  • Make do and mend
  • Buy second hand
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle

Conclusion

We stand at a point in time where changes have to be made now to avoid a climate catastrophe. Organisations and the people within them need to be empowered to make decisions that will positively impact our planet. Education is key to driving that change. There are changes that all employees can make, from choosing to work from home on a more regular basis to lowering the thermostat in our houses. These changes may seem small, insignificant perhaps, but the cumulative impact of individual change across the UK and global population will contribute to a slowing of the Earth’s temperature rise.

Organisations have an ethical responsibility to consider the impact they have on this planet. Changes in legislation could mean that in time a carbon neutral focus is forced upon them. Those organisations that are achieving a carbon neutral status in 2022 are not only positively impacting the planet, but they are also future-proofing their organisation, lessening risk and attracting the very best talent into their business. It’s a win-win situation for all. So what are you waiting for? Educate, empower, act.

*All statistics have been taken from Carbon Literacy Training delivered by Positive Planet, November 2022

We are certified as a Carbon Neutral company

Author: Christina Yardley
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