Climate change, driven by the dramatic increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a significant threat to our health and way of life as well as the environment. We now know that if we are to prevent a catastrophic rise in global warming, we need to cut our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in half by 2030 and ultimately to zero by 2050.
Whilst much of the progress to date has been from the shift to renewable energy, the spotlight will increasingly fall on business, the 3rd largest source of emissions in the UK, around 18% of the total.
This is set to have a huge impact on the construction sector, with the government announcing in January that all new homes built from 2025 will need to be ’zero carbon ready’. These homes are expected to produce 75-80% lower carbon emissions compared to current levels. To ensure industry is ready to meet the new standards by 2025, new homes will be expected to produce 31% lower carbon emissions from 2021. A consultation on applying a similar standard to commercial buildings was also announced alongside energy efficiency measures for existing buildings.
When thinking about carbon our immediate focus is usually energy, indeed since April 2020 large businesses have been required to report the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their energy use under the SECR regulations. However, for most businesses energy use accounts for less than 50% of their total carbon footprint. For businesses in the manufacturing or construction sectors around 80% of their footprint is typically in their value chain. This largely comes from the carbon “embodied” in the materials they purchase and that emitted throughout the life of the products they sell but will also include such things as the use of 3rd party transportation, water use, waste handling, employee commuting and teleworking. In all there are 15 categories of so called “value chain” greenhouse gas emissions recognised by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for organisations.
Achieving Net Zero then will require businesses to look at a lot more than their energy consumption. It will require emissions reduction across all the activities in their value chain, especially in their supply chain and the products and services they sell. Of course, every business is unique and so understanding the shape of their individual footprint is the first step that any business making a serious commitment to net zero will need to make.
This will mean calculating their carbon footprint across their full value chain (this is what is known in the jargon as their “scope 3” emissions) as well as their energy use (their “scope 1 and 2” emissions). As the adage goes “what gets measured gets managed”. This can be a complex job, not unlike financial accounting, and so it is important for all businesses to start to understand the principles of carbon accounting and start working on calculating their footprint sooner rather than later. You can find an introduction on how to do this at go-positive.co.uk/carbon-footprint.
Over the next decade we are all going to be counting carbon, have you started yet?
Eoin McQuone, PIEMA.
Managing Director of Sustainable Business Design Ltd and Founder of Go Climate Positive.