It’s often said that if you don’t measure, you can’t manage – and this is certainly true of your carbon footprint. Therefore, the first step in reducing your company’s emissions is to understand how much carbon you are generating in the first place.
For larger businesses, this benchmarking is typically undertaken as part of compliance obligations with the likes of the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) framework or the Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) – both of which require detailed analysis of energy consumption and its associated carbon intensity.
For smaller businesses, there are several ways to quantify the carbon associated with your operations, ranging from voluntary preparation with the likes of SECR, through to simple spreadsheet models that focus on converting kWh hours consumed into carbon emission.
Once you have a baseline, the next step is to set a reduction target – either as an absolute (e.g. we’re going to cut 100 tonnes of carbon this year) or as a weighted metric (e.g. we’re going to cut our carbon intensity per £M revenue by 10%) – and ensure that all staff are aware of the plans, and committed to making the cut a reality.
So, now you have a target, how do you turn that into an actual reduction in carbon? This is where the planning stage comes in – what actions are you going to take to help reduce emissions? Typically, this would include a range of activities (some of which are listed below) but they tend to work best if split out into two categories:
1. the quick, low/no cost wins (energy efficiency, staff training, switching to green contracts, etc.);
2. more complex, CAPEX-type investment (installing renewable technology, changing production processes, input raw materials, etc.).
Historically, switching to a green tariff was expensive – but as more and more renewable generation capacity is connected into the UK network, prices have tumbled. At the time of writing (June 2021), most suppliers will now provide fully green and REGO-backed electricity contracts for around 0.1 p/kWh more than their standard contracts.
Green gas supply contracts are possible, with many of the suppliers tapping into the growing anaerobic digestion and biogas production infrastructure. While they are certainly becoming more common, the generation capacity lags demand, meaning that availability is limited and has kept prices much higher than grid gas.
Most often the cheapest and quickest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to improve how you consume energy across your operations. Making simple changes – such as investing in modern lighting controls, upgrading to energy efficiency boilers, or conducting staff training – can reduce consumption by up to 80% with a similar reduction in carbon.
It’s also true that the cheapest form of energy is the energy you don’t use! Focusing on energy efficiency is not only good for the environment, it makes good business sense and can improve your bottom line, too.
The carbon footprint of your supply chain is difficult to tackle, but this can also be where most of your emissions originate. That means it’s important to speak to partners in your supply chain, and to customers as well, to ensure they are actively working to reduce their impact on the environment.
Remember, scope 3 emissions also include carbon associated with how your staff commute to and from work. Ask yourself, could you incentivise staff to use public transport? Or would they be willing to upgrade to an electric vehicle if you were able to provide on-site charging?
The best way to cut carbon is to optimise your consumption, but investing in on-site renewable or low-carbon technology – like solar, heat pumps, or CHP – can also help to reduce your emissions. While more complex (and, at least in the short term, more expensive) than buying REGO-backed renewable electricity, developing your own generation capacity does have its benefits.
Green washing – i.e. selling brown electricity as green – is still a concern, so investing in on-site renewables guarantees your energy demand is actually met by renewable energy. Generating your own electricity is also much cheaper than buying it from the grid – so even with the upfront CAPEX costs, most renewable installations nowadays have payback of less than 10 years (this could be quicker if you can export any excess generation back to the grid).
It can also protect your business from volatility in the supply markets by avoiding the need to contract when prices are peaking. Not to mention, having your own generation provides a buffer against shortages and other grid issues that might limit the supply of electricity to your site, and have an impact on operations.
For companies with large fleets, another option to consider would be to move to electric or hybrid vehicles. Electricity, especially when it’s generated from renewable or low carbon sources, is significantly less polluting than petrol and diesel – so electrifying your fleet can make a big difference.
But wait, there’s more!
Reducing carbon by cutting consumption or moving to green generation is the best method of minimising your impact – but sometimes this can’t deliver net-zero emissions or won’t achieve a targeted reduction quickly enough.
Carbon offsetting is therefore another option for companies looking to achieve their targets, albeit in an indirect manner, as it involves making up for the release of carbon emissions from your operations by reducing emissions elsewhere. Examples of offsetting are varied, but the most commons ones include planting trees to create carbon sinks and carbon capture projects.
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