Evaluating your business’ carbon footprint

What 'carbon footprint' means and how you can reduce it in your business

Carbon emissions from the day-to-day running of your business will invariably be your biggest contribution to pollution.

While experts still quibble over the finer points of what to include when calculating carbon footprints, it’s widely accepted that working out your business’ emissions is the first step on the long road to eco-nirvana.

Calculating your carbon footprint

When you’re working out your business’ carbon footprint, the most obvious factors to include will be its ‘direct’ emissions – those produced from manufacturing, the everyday running of the office, and from staff travel to and from work.

However, some businesses eager to demonstrate their commitment to reducing greenhouse gases – and, in many cases, the press coverage that follows – have been criticised for failing to factor in the less clear-cut ‘indirect’ emissions – those that arise from, for example, your customer’s use of your product.

Julie Gartside, an environmental consultant at Enviros, says the first step to reducing your business’s emissions is to work out exactly where you’re using up the most energy. “What we always say is that if you measure it first, then you can see how big each bit is, and then you can start going down the route of setting targets,” she says.

In the absence of any officially sanctioned method of calculating carbon footprints, those in the know generally use guidelines contained in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, published by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in 2001. Their website contains a list of tools to help calculate the emissions from various business activities and sectors.

There are rumours that the Carbon Trust is looking to resolve this situation by introducing a ‘Gold Standard’ certification programme of carbon footprinting similar to the Soil Association’s organic certificate, but as yet, there is nothing on the horizon.

Quick fixes

There are endless measures you can take to reduce your carbon footprint – from buying low-energy, multiuser PCs like the ones made by VeryPC, to replacing all your company vehicles with hybrid or electric versions.

However, there are some very quick – and very cheap – ways of reducing your emissions. According to the Carbon Trust, the average office wastes around £6,000 each year by just leaving office equipment on over weekends and bank holidays, and air conditioning can account for over 30% of a business’ annual electricity consumption, so make sure your employees switch off all your appliances when they leave work.

Getting a smart meter installed is another quick fix on the road to reducing your emissions. Smart meters, currently being rolled out across Great Britain, allow you to keep track of your gas and electricity use.

How you’ll be able to access your usage data may vary by supplier – some provide hand-held displays, while others may offer online portals – but, however delivered, this information can help you identify efficiency opportunities. Smart Energy GB has more information on the benefits of smart meters for small businesses.

Essentially, says Gartside, cutting down your emissions is merely a matter of consideration. “I guess the key thing for businesses is just don’t do it,” she says. “Don’t use the energy, don’t travel, and don’t throw things away.

“It’s just all about integrating these values into your business. It’s really not rocket science,” she says.


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