Measuring and understanding an organisation’s carbon footprint is a vital tool in undertaking informed and meaningful environmental change. A reliable baseline ensures any future improvement can be targeted, addressing areas material to each business’s operation.
However, there remain important questions to answer and hurdles to navigate to ensure carbon footprint calculations facilitate sustainable change. In this piece, we share our key thoughts and ‘lessons learned’ which emerged during our process. In doing so, we hope to spark conversation and action towards a more robust carbon footprint process and to help other organisations continue on a path of best practice.
As companies increasingly make Net Zero pledges, it is still not clear what this looks like in reality. Can a company claim to have reached net zero if it is heavily reliant on carbon offsets, with limited success in reducing its own emissions? Do we have all the data? What categories of scope 3 have been omitted?
Questions of this kind highlight the importance of being transparent when it comes to making net zero claims. The Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) has developed a Net-Zero Standard, which requires deep emission cuts, near and long-term targets, and no ability to claim ‘net zero’ until these long-term targets are achieved. However, whilst these are strong standards, many companies still interpret net zero in different ways, often making claims heavily dependent on carbon offsets. The lack of consistency between many net zero definitions and subsequent claims contributes to a varied reporting landscape.
For transparency, any reporting must reference the Net Zero definition being applied, ideally the SBTi one.
In 2022 the UK government GHG conversion factors for company reporting were updated to include an emission factor specifically for homeworking. Including emissions related to both office equipment and heating. Previously we ran a staff survey to best estimate the use of appliances and heating of employee work from home patterns. This led to a lot of worst-case scenario assumptions to ensure we were erring on the side of caution.
In 2022, we adopted the new conversion factor which led to a significant reduction in our homeworking impact and overall footprint. This highlights the importance of regular methodology reviews and the potential for incremental improvements over time. The impact associated with our homeworking emissions remains a top priority area for reduction regardless of the reductions gained from changing methodology.
Temple’s carbon footprint calculation was carried out by internal employees with experience in carbon accounting and our data collection, approach, and methodology were internally verified. Data collection, carbon conversion, and presentation were done accurately and with the best available information. However, we are conscious that this may not be possible for every organisation, due to time, expertise, or financial constraints.
This makes it worthwhile to think about the value of external verification in the carbon footprint process. Presently, there is no requirement for an organisation to undergo external verification, despite the fact it will certainly build robustness into any sustainability strategy. Receiving external assurance can help increase stakeholder confidence, accuracy, and completeness of the data, but carries associated costs. The are many organisations that can carry out this assessment, but the current absence of a controlling system could limit the incentives for companies to stick to their carbon reduction plans. We would support the expansion of carbon footprint verification.
The complexity of footprinting creates a significant workload to complete an accurate footprint, using valuable resources. How do we strike the right balance to keep resources focused on emission elimination?
Tackling climate change calls for various solutions. The priority always needs to be given to direct reductions over offsetting, and preferably investment in local schemes because of the critical role they play in accelerating net zero efforts while maximizing the impact we have in the community, through the improvement of people’s health, jobs, and housing.
Going forward, carbon insetting provides an exciting opportunity for greater impact. Carbon insetting is in essence a carbon project that happens within a company’s supply chain or in local communities where they or their suppliers operate. For example, instead of funding an afforestation scheme (offsetting), you grow the forest (insetting). The solution for investing locally lies in the recognition of the value and verification of smaller-scale local projects. This type of approach is relatively new and brings its own challenges.
These lessons learned and challenges raised, provide continued learning and improvements in driving and embedding sustainable change. Our lessons this year are:
Consider the gains that carbon footprint verification can provide your organisation, Remember the balance between calculation and elimination. More effort should be spent on eliminating emissions.