I was at a training event on Practical Carbon Footprinting for Businesses in Dundee yesterday. Organised jointly by the Business Environment Partnership and Carbon & Environmental Solutions (click on their logos below to visit their websites) the aim of the event was to show how to measure an organisation’s carbon footprint as well as provide some background information on why this is a good idea. We also looked at “Product Footprinting” which considers the carbon involved in a product from cradle to grave, regardless of the businesses involved in its production.
So, for example, the carbon footprint of an egg would need to include information on the farm where the chicken was raised, the chicken’s feed, where it lived, how it lived, who looked after it, how far the egg was transported, whether it was refridgerated in storage, the energy involved in retail, the packaging and potentially even the distance from store to home and cooking methods involved with its final destination. Perhaps we also need to know which came first, the chicken or the egg. As you can see, it’s not easy to work out a product’s footprint which made me slightly glad we were focussing on “Organisational Footprints.”
The training included several aspects:
- Carbon controls and regulation – The Climate Change Bill
- Assessing business impacts
- Understanding carbon
- Calculating carbon emissions
- Carbon within your supply chain
- Reducing carbon and improving sustainability in business
- Assessing carbon in business ventures
- Emissions Trading Scheme overview
The training equipped me handsomely and I could probably even try my hand at working out my organisation’s footprint (I would need about 6 months to do all the calculations mind you). However it was also made clear that you can’t consider Carbon in isolation. All the environmental elements of a business (waste, water, energy, pollution) are closely connected to each other. You can try and solve your waste issues but if you ignore your energy use you only end up with part of a solution. Fortunately a Carbon Footprint can account for many of the different elements (you convert the figures for waste into CO2) so at least you end up with a “baseline” or starting point for improvement.
It’s not an easy task to calculate the footprint accurately and it takes some fairly complex maths (multiplication and all sorts) to reach the final figure. Also, the baseline can change very quickly if, for example, you employ new staff, move offices or add new premises. The most important point that came out of the training was that by calculating your footprint based on conversion factors provided by the official bodies (one of which is Defra) you will almost certainly see aspects of your business in a new light. Think your biggest carbon use is hire cars? It might well be the IT server room, particularly if you have inefficient computers or leave them on all night.
Moving onto the topic of the post – will carbon footprinting become law for businesses? In some ways it already is. New legislation now requires big business (using over 6,000 megawatt hours per year throughout their organisation) to publish their energy consumption figures. There is also already a Carbon Allowance Trading scheme. As you can see from this article Carbon Allowance trading could become big business.
If implemented as most people think it will be then allowances will be given to all businesses showing them how much CO2 they can use in a year. If they go over that level they will have to buy extra credits from the open market. If they manage to stay under the level they get credits to sell on the open market. It could really help apply the “polluter pays” principle (which we see applied so successfully by the Environment Agencies) to Carbon production. After all it is a form of pollution to increase the density of our atmosphere! What it should also mean is that smaller businesses, who can more easily clean up their act and reduce their CO2 output to below the allowance provided, can sell their excess allowance to bigger businesses for financial gain. So it not only helps reduce carbon output overall, it also helps rebalance the incomes of businesses in the UK and allows smaller businesses to punch above their weight.
That’s if it all goes to plan of course. And as we know with these schemes, that’s by no means certain.
Either way, if you want to partake of the training then visit the websites (click the logos above) for details of training events for your business.