How we offset our carbon emissions By Sam Walker

At the beginning of last year we published our Carbon Footprint, capturing the scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions we generated as a company for the year of 2020. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been following this same process, collecting the data required to allow us to work out our carbon footprint for 2021.

Following a couple of weeks of calculations we can reveal that our 2021 Carbon Footprint amounted to 26 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)!

But how did we get to that figure? And what does it mean?

You may remember in our blog from earlier this year that we outlined the method that we use to calculate our carbon footprint and the data that we had to collect to get to this figure. We’ve been using this method since we started calculating our carbon emissions in 2017, due to it’s reliability, and so adopted this same method again for 2021, collecting data on activities such as: electricity use, water consumed, and waste produced.

We then used DEFRA’s updated GHG conversion factors (2021 full set) to calculate the associated carbon emissions from our activities. To begin with, we reviewed the aspects of our business that use energy and categorised these by scope:

  • Scope 1:
    • Office gas
  • Scope 2:
    • Office electricity
  • Scope 3:
    • Office waste and water
    • Employee travel to events and meetings
    • Delegate travel to events
    • Staff commute
    • Courier use
    • Hotel stays
    • Venue use for training
    • Well-to-tank emissions
    • Employee home electricity and heating (working from home)

During the process to identify which categories we should include, we also identified those that are outside of the boundaries of our organisation and thus, not included in our carbon footprint. For Action Sustainability, this included delegate travel to consultancy meetings as these took place very sporadically, on an ad-hoc basis and were outside of the control of our organisation, making it difficult to try and capture in our overall carbon footprint.

Once we knew what emissions were relevant to us, we began collecting the data. We used the same methodology that we used for previous years – you can read more about this here – by using the DEFRA GHG conversion factors to calculate our carbon emissions. This multiplies the raw data we’d collected by the specific carbon conversion factor, calculating the carbon emissions produced. However, there were a couple of changes that we needed to account for this year.

The first change was that the landlord for the building where our office is based changed halfway through the year, as did the way in which they collected data. As a result, we had to work with both landlords – the old and the new – to collect the data that we needed, to ensure that we could retrieve accurate data that accounted for the whole year.

The second change we made this year was the way in which we accounted for emissions associated with working from home. For 2020, we used the BULB methodology to work out emissions from working for home. In 2021, DEFRA released their own methodology and conversion factors to allow emissions from working from home to be measured, for the first time.

We use DEFRA conversion factors to calculate all other emissions, so to be consistent we swapped from the BULB methodology to the DEFRA methodology. We also went back to our 2020 carbon footprint and re-calculated this with the DEFRA methodology, to allow for an annual comparison of our carbon footprint to be made with increased accuracy.

A key aspect of our business is delivering training through the Supply Chain Sustainability School. With lockdowns and working from home continuing to dominate 2021 we kept all of our training and events online. This meant we had no emissions from delegate travel to events or venue use.

Our total carbon footprint for 2021 was 26 tCO2e. When we broke this figure down by scope, we can see that 84% of our total footprint can be accounted to sources in scope 3, in our value chain. In particular, working from home heating dominated a large proportion of this.

When we compared this to 2020 we could see that our overall carbon footprint had decreased by 5 tCO2e. This was due to no events being held in-person and working from home becoming more common, meaning emissions from delegate travel (to events and training workshops), staff travel (to events and training workshops) and staff commute (to and from the office) all declined. As a result of this decrease in emissions, we’re making the decision to remain virtual where possible and only deliver face-to-face training where there is added value. Employees are also continuing to work in a hybrid setting, a combination of working from the office and from home.

Having worked out our 2021 carbon footprint, the last step we took was to offset our emissions*. To do this, we used the Gold Standard as they provide a credible, robust and high-quality means to offset emissions. For 2021, our employees chose a reforestation programme in Nicaragua, The Nicaforest High Impact Reforestation Programme in which 490 hectares of land are being reforested and protected with the help and support of the local community. We bought the same number of credits in the programme as tCO2e that we produced in the year, allowing us to offset our 2021 carbon footprint. This now means that we have acted carbon-neutral in 2021, as we have balanced out the total carbon emissions.

Moving forward, we aim to continue to reduce our carbon emissions, in line with our Science Based Targets and then use offsetting where we can’t reduce, as a last resort**. And just like that, we’ve worked out our emissions for another year!

Of course, the work doesn’t stop there and as an organisation we’re continually trying to identify opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible. We’re also continually evaluating which categories we should be measuring and exploring new categories that maybe relevant to us, so the next time we measure our carbon footprint we can gain a more accurate picture of the emissions we produce.

Resources to support you to measure your Carbon Footprint

If you’re looking to calculate your own emissions, take a look at our Carbon Calculator.

If you’re confused and need advice on how to begin working out your carbon emission, feel free to reach out to me to see how we can help.

* A carbon offset is a way to compensate for emissions produced by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. We asked all of our employees which schemes they were most interested in offsetting.

**We aligned our targets with the Science Based Targets Initiative, committing to reduce our absolute scope 1 and scope 2 GHG emissions 46% by 2030 from our 2019 base year, and to measure and reduce our scope 3 emissions in alignment with a 1.5°C target. We have also made a Pledge to Net Zero, which is the environmental industry’s commitment to tackling GHG emissions.

For more information

Sam Walker
Consultant Researcher

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