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How to calculate your business's carbon footprint

Have you ever done an online quiz to calculate your carbon footprint?

The ones where you realise that if you walked to the shop instead of driving as you always mean to do, or remembered to turn your appliances off instead of constantly leaving them on stand-by, then you could feel less guilty about your own contribution to the climate emergency.

They’re interesting to do and can highlight areas where you could be a little kinder to the planet.

But have you ever thought about calculating the carbon footprint of your business?

The climate challenge is a hot topic right now. Scotland has set the ambitious target of becoming net zero by 2045, five years ahead of the rest of the UK. If, collectively, we are going to succeed in that ambition, the onus falls on every business to do its bit.

Why should I measure my business’s carbon footprint?

Customers are becoming more eco-savvy and there is a growing number of consumers who look at green credentials before they buy. A survey conducted by GlobalData last year revealed that around 45% of shoppers want to buy products that are better for the environment and it is an upward trend.

Demonstrating that you are playing your part in the battle against climate change could give you a competitive edge and attract these customers to your business.

Depending on the sector you operate in, knowing (and reporting on) your carbon footprint could be a regulatory requirement. And for those sectors where it isn’t yet regulatory, the closer we get to 2045, the chances of regulations being introduced become more likely.

A big plus for any business working out its carbon footprint is the chance to identify cost and carbon-saving opportunities. Maybe it has never occurred to you just how much money is spent on lighting and heating, but when you go through the steps below, you will start to realise there are areas to cut costs. When Zero Waste Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Business Support Service works with customers, we typically find that a business can cut their energy use by 24% with relatively easy and quick payback projects.

Regardless of the savings, the regulations and the chance to attract new customers, there is also the argument that it’s the right thing to do.

And if we are all going to try to cut our emissions, we need a starting point, a benchmark that we can use going forward to see if our changes have made a difference.

What do I need to count in my carbon footprint calculations?

The term ‘carbon footprint’ is common parlance and you’ll often hear the climate specialists talking about carbon neutral, but carbon dioxide isn’t the only emission that needs to be looked at.

There are seven gases included in the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to lower all greenhouse gas emissions. Aside from CO2, there are methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). To make life easier for everyone, these are all converted to CO2 equivalent or CO2(e) to produce a carbon footprint.

In addition, there are three different sets of emissions you can count – these are called scopes and look like this:

  • Scope 1 - these are your own direct emissions, including those from your processes and your vehicles. Things to consider are your on-site energy use, either for heating or powering machinery, and the emissions from petrol fleet vehicles.
  • Scope 2 - these are indirect emissions that come from your purchased electricity, heating, cooling and steam that you use in running your business.
  • Scope 3 - these are also indirect emissions that come from your supply chain, employees’ waste, water use, use of business travel including flights, distribution of products, consumers using your products…essentially everything that isn’t included in one and two. 

How do I work out my carbon footprint?

This is where the fun starts as you start to collect the data and set up a spreadsheet. We would advise looking at a full 12 months of data so that if you have peaks and troughs throughout the year, these will all be considered.

For many businesses, the main contributing factors will be:

  • Energy, whether that is gas/electricity/oil or other sources.
  • Water
  • Waste disposal and recycling.
  • Travel - for business and staff commuting.

Collecting your data:

  • Look at your energy bills for your total usage in kilowatt hours.
  • Water use will be measured in cubic metres and the totals will again be on your bills.
  • Fuel for vehicles – how many litres have been bought/used. You will need to look at your petrol/diesel receipts to get this figure.
  • Waste – how many tonnes have you sent to landfill. Your waste management service provider should provide you waste transfer notes.

Now it is time to start doing the sums. The equation you need is:

Emissions = Total energy consumption (fuel, electricity) x Emission Factors (fuel, electricity)

You can find all the emission conversion factors on the UK Government’s website here.

How does this work in practice?

Jackie Taylor runs JT PR, a marketing and communications company in Edinburgh. She heats her offices with natural gas and is still using traditional lighting. Despite her best efforts, she still hasn’t managed to create a paper-less office which means she has a lot of waste paper to recycle along with the rest of the rubbish that ends up going to landfill.

Her company car is a diesel Peugeot that she drives to London and back for meetings around 20 times a year.

She has realised that her business isn’t very energy efficient and having heard all the talk about COP26, she has decided she should assess her energy use and see if there are any areas where she could making savings and reducing her carbon emissions.

She gathers all her annual bills for electricity, gas, water and waste, and the diesel receipts to cover her trips to London.

She finds that over the 12-month period, the business used:

  • 15,000kWh of electricity from their electricity supplier
  • 20,000kWh of natural gas for their heating
  • 500m3 of mains water for toilets, washing hands and drinks

She also:

  • Recycled 3 tonnes of paper and card
  • Landfilled 3 tonnes of general waste to landfill (non-recyclable packaging)
  • Drove from Edinburgh to London and back 20 times in the small diesel company car

With the help of emission conversion factors, she uses her calculator to work out the following:

  • For electricity, the calculation will be 15,000kWh x 0.21233kgCO2e ÷ 1,000 = 3.2tCO2e
  • For natural gas, the calculation will be 20,000kWh x 0.18316kgCO2e ÷ 1,000 = 3.7tCO2e
  • For the supply of water, the calculation will be 500m3 x 0.149kgCO2e ÷ 1,000 = 0.1tCO2e
  • For waste-water, and assuming 95% of the 500m3 goes down the drain/is flushed away, the calculation will be 0.95 x 500m3 x 0.272kgCO2e ÷ 1,000 = 0.1t
  • For the 3 tonnes of recycled paper and card, the calculation will be 3 x 21.294kgCO2e ÷ 1,000 = 0.1tCO2e
  • For the 3 tonnes of landfilled general waste, the calculation will be 3 x 467.046kgCO2e ÷ 1,000 = 1.4tCO2e
  • For the return journeys from Edinburgh to London, the calculation will be 810miles x 20 x 0.22143kgCO2e ÷ 1,000 = 3.6tCO2e

 

These figures won’t give Jackie her full carbon footprint as she hasn’t investigated the emissions in Scope 2 and 3 that she has no direct control over, but the data will provide her with a benchmark. We would advise her to get in touch with us so that we can advise on what changes she could make to reduce her emissions and save her business money.

What next?

If you follow Jackie’s example, you will be in a position to identify any areas where you would like to reduce emissions. You can create a plan for the next five or 10 years – or even right up to 2045 if you feel that is possible. Ensure that any goals you set are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

You can then share your successes with your staff, your customers and your supply chain through internal comms, newsletters, on your website or through social media to demonstrate your efforts.

If you run a Scottish SME and would like support in identifying where you can cut emissions from your energy use, click here

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