5 Steps to Reducing Your Business’ Carbon FootprintWednesday 26th February 2020
And Taking Steps Towards Being Carbon Neutral
Making your business carbon neutral is quicker and easier than you may have thought. And, with the worsening climate crisis being undoubtedly the biggest challenge faced by humankind, it is the responsibility of businesses just as much as it is that of governments and individuals to take urgent steps towards a target of net zero. But how do you do this? Where do you start?
Last autumn, Hailer dedicated half a day to a sustainability sprint. That’s all it took. Our business is small and relatively simple, but the methodology and framework that we used can be replicated by others or used as the starting point for the auditing and offsetting/synchronisation of the footprint of a more complicated business. Here’s what we did, in five simple and easy to replicate steps:
If you have control over your utilities, then switch to a renewable energy tariff or supplier as soon as you can. If you don’t have that authority but you do have a good relationship with your landlord and can exert some influence, then urge them to switch. It’s worth pointing out that by switching to renewable energy you will make a saving by no longer having to pay the Climate Change Levy on your energy bill. If you have neither control or influence and cannot switch to renewable energy, then measure and offset/synchronise. Hailer falls in that third category, however if you stood in our doorway and threw a stone you’d probably break one of the solar panels in the field next door.
All of that solar energy is routed through the yard here before feeding into the grid, and because electricity suppliers serve electricity to the closest consumers first and because Hailer is only really open during the daytime, it stands that a decent proportion of the electricity used here is renewable. BUT, I’m pretty certain that the landlord doesn’t have this place on a renewable tariff, so somebody else is probably claiming that renewable energy. Therefore, I measured it (the kWh figure on your bill, and if you’re part way through the year then you can take an average of past years) and added it to my carbon calculations.
Hailer’s average annual electricity consumption = 853kWh = ~0.40 tonnes of CO2
Internet/Digital Properties (Website and E-Mail)
Did you know that the internet has a larger carbon footprint than the entire aviation industry, and is responsible for approximately 2% of global emissions? I’ll bet not, and neither do the majority of its 3.9 billion daily users. Every click and swipe that you make creates a data transfer; the internet is basically just collections of files being sent between devices. Those files are stored on servers (dedicated computers that “serve” the data to your computer or phone), and most of those servers are sited in large data centres – air conditioned warehouses full of banks of computer cabinets. Serving data accounts for about 20% of the internet’s carbon footprint, so if you switch your business’ web hosting to a service that runs its data centres using renewable energy then your work e-mails and the impact of people visiting your website will be reduced. The easiest way to do this is to get your developer involved, or switch to a supplier that offers support for switching. Before doing anything, download your current website site files and database from your existing control panel, and download and archive all of your e-mails (to Apple Mail if you’re on a mac, where you can store them in an offline archive). Hailer’s website and e-mails are all with Ecohosting, who provide carbon neutral web hosting based entirely in the UK, powered by renewable energy. As a bonus, it is also cheaper than our previous (fossil fuel powered) hosting supplier! Another good option is Wunderism, run by the great folks at Leap, or you can check out The Green Web Foundation’s Green Hosting Directory (broken down by country). Whilst you’re on The Green Web Foundation’s site, you can also download a nice little browser extension that adds a little icon to your browser’s address bar indicating whether the site that you’re on is run on renewable energy or fossil fuels. It’s a nice reminder every time I click on Hailer’s website and the icon goes green.
Heating and Cooling
Hailer’s space is a converted warehouse; it’s reasonably well insulated (for the sort of light industrial unit that it is) but it has a concrete floor and the windows and large door are all north facing so it is naturally cool. It does need heating in the winter months to create a comfortable working environment. Hailer’s heat comes from an 8kW wood-burning stove. But, you may well ask, how is burning wood in any way alright for the environment? The answer is all to do with the type of carbon being emitted and the carbon cycle. Carbon is drawn down by trees through photosynthesis and stored in its cells, then released into the atmosphere when the tree dies and rots, or is felled and burnt, before being drawn down by trees all over again. That’s the carbon cycle and so if you source firewood from a local plantation where it is a forestry crop and the trees are replanted then you are using “green” carbon because it is staying within the carbon cycle and is not adding to the total carbon in the system. Fossil fuels are carbon that has been locked away underground for millions of years; that carbon is not active in the carbon cycle so by burning it you are adding to the amount of carbon in the active carbon cycle and throwing the whole system out of balance. Not many businesses have that option though, and are at the mercy of circumstances. Some may have forward thinking landlords who have installed biomass boilers, however most will be heating their buildings through traditional oil or gas central heating, or you might have electric radiators. If your electricity is coming from renewable sources then electric radiators aren’t adding to your footprint. If your heat is oil or gas powered, then you will need to add that consumption to your calculations to offset or synchronise.
If you are self-employed and have to fill out a tax return then you will already be calculating your annual mileage and just need to add on your commute from home to work in another row. If you drive a company vehicle then ditto. If you don’t do either then you can either set up a simple spreadsheet with your commute from home to work and back (Google maps will tell you the distance) and any regular business journeys that you make on it, and then just plug in the number of days that you do those journeys. Or, find your annual mileage by looking at your past MOT certificates and include your personal/domestic mileage in your calculations. As with all of this, if you have to go one way or the other then why would you not over-compensate for your impact upon the environment? However you do it, calculate your total mileage for the year attributable to your business, and ask all colleagues to do the same. For Hailer, as well as me (Mat), Claire works from home and whilst Kim is the full digital nomad and works completely remotely, he works from wherever he is living and doesn’t travel for work. Make a note of any flights and when you add it into a carbon calculator click to include radiative forcing, which includes the impact of non-CO2 aircraft emissions at high altitude.
Hailer’s carbon footprint through travel:
Car = 3.16 tonnes
Flight (1 x Guernsey return) = 0.12 tonnes (including radiative forcing)
There will always be other small, or business specific, actions within your business or workplace that contribute to your carbon footprint or broader environmental impact.
Hailer’s workspace is a certified plastic free business, as part of Plastic Free St Agnes, and whilst removing single-use plastics doesn’t have a direct impact on the business’ carbon footprint it is certainly a positive move for the planet, and is particularly relevant to ocean-centric businesses.
Here at Hailer there’s only oat milk in the fridge rather than cow’s milk (unless anybody really wants it, which is hardly ever), but that still has an impact. Handily, Oatly have used CarbonCloud to calculate the climate footprint of their products and state that their barista oat milk has an impact of 0.44kg CO2e per kg. We worked out roughly how many cartons we get through in a year (all the empty almost-unrecyclable Tetra Paks get saved and taken to the special Terracycle bin at the local tip) and, because it’s unclear from any of Oatly’s literature whether or not they actually offset or synchronise their CO2 equivalent footprint, added that total (0.027 tonnes) to our calculations. Measuring and sharing is one thing, but it seems pretty slopey-shouldered to then pass the responsibility for offsetting on to the consumer who probably won’t; why don’t Oatly just offset it and sell zero-carbon oat milk, passing the small additional cost on to the consumer? Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent.
Back to it.
Further impact reductions can be achieved by implementing and promoting behaviour change; in the winter months when the wood-burner is lit and being used to heat the room, it can also be used to heat a stove-top kettle with zero additional energy input and therefore there’s no need for the electric kettle to be used. Furthermore, there’s a reminder on the chalkboard wall next to the electric kettle about the electricity used by overfilling the kettle. Anybody visiting sees this and it’s a great reminder.
Music is a similar story: we touched on the carbon footprint of the internet earlier, and the huge increase in uptake of music and TV/film streaming services contributes significantly. So there’s now a normal radio in here. It doesn’t get used all the time, because the right type of music is such a huge part of many people’s creative work process, but it’s there as a lower impact option.
This studio is a co-working space, and there are huge economies that can be found by sharing workspace. For every person who rents a desk for a day here, there’s one less person sat at a kitchen table with their own heating and lights on, boiling the kettle for tea and coffee, listening to the radio or streaming music. This space is being heated, the lights are on, the kettle is being boiled and the stereo is on regardless of whether there’s one person in here or ten, but reduction in environmental impact of ten people sharing a space, particularly one that synchronises and overshoots its carbon footprint, could be as much as 90%! Most of the people who co-work from Hailer are local so their travel is either minimal, or if they are driving past on the way to or from the school or nursery run then there is no increase in their car use getting here.
How to Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
There are a number of different carbon footprint calculators online. The following are two of the best:
Once you have all of your figures you can plug them in to a calculator (remembering to include radiative forcing for any flights) to give you a total, or use two different calculators to compare and contrast and ensure accuracy. Then you have to decide how to offset/synchronise/overshoot.
Hailer’s total for 2018 was 3.707 tonnes of CO2
Carbon Offsetting, Carbon Synchronisation, Carbon Mitigation and Carbon Interest. What?
Having worked out the carbon footprint, the first thing that you need to do is to look at your workings and find ways to reduce it moving forwards. This is the most important thing. Nothing meaningful will be achieved unless we can all find ways to absolutely minimise the impact of our businesses and personal lives. At this stage though you will almost certainly have a footprint of residual emissions that you need to account for. Many experts view the word “offsetting” as a bit of a dirty word – many offsetting schemes have been proven to be ineffective or not fast enough, and at worst it promotes a culture of not addressing the problem but simply paying it off. By purchasing carbon offsets, you’re not taking any carbon out of the atmosphere, you’re just buying somebody else’s allocation (usually in a developing nation by supporting a green energy scheme or clean-cook stove programme). It’s a western luxury. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do it, it’s just that shouldn’t be the only thing that you do. Reduce, mitigate (offset) and synchronise or overshoot. “Carbon Synching”, a term coined by Tom Greenwood of Wholegrain Digital, is the concept of taking carbon out of the atmosphere at the same volume and rate at which it is being emitted. Whilst most carbon capture technology is still in developmental stages, this can be achieved through tree planting. His suggestion is that because a tree sequesters carbon over its lifetime in an S-shaped curve, rather than taking credit for the lifetime carbon sequestration of a tree upfront we should divide it over its approximately 30 year lifetime and only claim 1/30th. It means planting 30x more trees which has a considerable cost implication, but also means that if your businesses footprint doesn’t grow then you’ve done your carbon synchronisation for the next 30 years in a single hit. And if you can’t afford it, then he suggests implementing a carbon interest rate. It’s not simple, nor an exact science, but it is a great idea. And it’s a lead that we’re attempting to follow here at Hailer.
There are plenty of tree planting or tree protection schemes out there, some of which will certify carbon credits (hmm?), some that protect areas of existing forest and woodland, some that plant trees in school playing fields and others that are re-wilding previously forested areas.
Taking a conservative figure that a small tree absorbs 250kg of carbon over the first 30 years of its life, Hailer would need to plant 15 trees to start removing a year’s worth of carbon from the atmosphere, or 445 trees to synchronise our activities over the next 30 years. Financially, full synchronisation was a stretch so we settled for one year and “carbon interest’ next year.
(Trees For Life image by Jody Daunton)
In the interest of broader environmental benefits those trees have been planted by Trees for Life, a conservation charity rewilding the Scottish Highlands and restoring the Caledonian Forest, creating a rich habitat that will support wildlife such as red squirrel, black grouse, capercaillie, pine marten and golden eagle. Hailer has a “corporate grove”, which in tech terms would probably be called “cloud trees”; the trees in this grove will be carefully planted in protected sites in the Scottish Highlands where they will create homes for wildlife and forests for the future.
Hailer has planted 15 trees to account for an additional 3.707 tonnes
Through this combination of traditional “offsetting” and tree planting, Hailer is accounting for more carbon than is generated by the business annually, by a factor of two, making us a climate neutral, planet positive business and workplace. But the work is never done; there is more to do and improvements to make. Spotted an error or know of a way that Hailer can improve in its efforts to move towards net zero? Please let me know.
Hopefully this in some way inspires and helps another business to take steps towards measuring, reducing and accounting for their impact in these times of climate crisis. Every little helps, but we all need to do a lot.
*Huge thanks to Ian Farrel for his advice, “soundboarding” and assistance in smoothly transferring Hailer’s digital properties to Ecohosting, and to Matt Hocking at eco-design agency Leap for all of his advice surrounding this topic.