What is DD’s carbon footprint during the current COVID-19 lockdown? Good question! We’re very familiar with the term at DD and since we went on lockdown, I’ve been wondering what the impact would be on our carbon footprint.
Last week, as I was preparing to speak at a BIMA event on how to lead a sustainable recovery, it came into focus again. There, we discovered that The International Energy Agency has predicted that global emissions could drop by as much as 8% this year; that’s over 2.5 billion tonnes of C02, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is great news for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), but it is only a small step in the right direction. It’s not enough. We would need a decrease of 7.6% every year to bring the “danger line” of a 1.5C increase in global temperatures within reach.
Sustainability at DD
Here at Digital Detox we’re a humanity-led digital product agency and we’re always looking to understand the impact of our products, services and our business on the world around us. Managing our impact on the planet is crucial as we enter the decade of action to avoid irreversible climate change.
And although we may be only 25 people, awareness of our impact and how changes to our operating model may influence it, is really important. We believe that technology and humanity can live in perfect harmony, so I’m very keen on understanding, managing and reducing our impact wherever possible. All whilst solving problems facing people and the planet.
So where to start? Well in order to work out the impact of COVID-19 we need to begin with a baseline. And thanks to our friends at the Planet Mark, we have this. Our annual carbon footprint is 31.2 tonnes of CO2e* based on their tried and tested calculation model. This gives us a good estimate of our previous ‘normal’ working model before we moved everyone to home working. Or the ‘new normal’ as it seems to be called now.
Digital Detox carbon emissions footprint
Working out the impact of COVID-19
By taking this one component at a time, I did a very rough calculation of the reduction the enforced lockdown has resulted in. Very rough because I was short of time and being out the office we had limited data but nevertheless, insightful. Here’s what I came up with:
TRAVEL This is the easy one. 100% reduction = 0 tonnes CO2e.
PROCUREMENT Currently we only track paper here and so without any printers to feed I’ve reduced this down to zero = 0 tonnes CO2e
WATER Here I simply assumed that all water usage we had in the office had been transferred to people’s homes whilst they were working there = 0.2 tonnes of CO2e
WASTE This is a tough one as it’s calculated on the number of bags of recycling and landfill that our office produces. We know this is zero right now, but we must account for the additional waste produced by our team by working from home. So I added 50% of our overall total = 7 tonnes of CO2e.
BUILDING This is where the largest proportion of CO2e went in. Our office is empty, so lights are off, devices are off and there’s nobody using the kitchen or shower appliances. So whilst we haven’t been able to get in to read the meters, I’m going to estimate that we’ve used no more than 10% of our previous total = 1.52 tonnes of CO2e.
So our office footprint is coming in at 8.72 tonnes of CO2e, a saving of 72%. But that’s not the full picture.
HOME ENERGY Because we are all working from home now, our energy use here has increased. It’s important that we try to quantify this additional consumption to compensate for the reduced energy in the office; the shift to 100% remote working meaning having to redefine the ‘boundary’ for how our footprint is calculated. Ideally, and if ethical or privacy lines weren’t an issue, we could take meter readings from people’s homes, and apply a conversion factor to the numbers. Maybe we’ll do that soon, but for now I looked online to find some estimates.
Here USwitch estimates energy consumption will go up 15% for electricity and 20% for gas during the lockdown. Ovo estimates here that an average personal footprint for energy is approximately 1.7 tonnes of CO2e. So the additional energy used by the team at home can be estimated at 255kg CO2e extra per employee to give us a total = 6.4 tonnes of CO2e.
So based on my estimates, I would calculate our annual CO2e footprint will have been reduced from 31.2 to 15.12 tonnes if we were fully remote working from. That’s a saving of 51.5% from working from home and operating our company via a fully remote working model for a full year.
Given that it’s an estimate, I would recommend a range at this stage of +/- 15%, which leaves me pretty confident that our reduction is in the range of 43-60%. This is slightly higher than previous estimates I’ve seen from two people who are doing great things with their company footprints, Tom Greenwood and James Cannings. Both Tom and James have floated a 40-45% reduction in their company footprints; with more accurate numbers and more experience in this field, it’s one of the reasons I find the sustainability community in our space so refreshing as we’re all looking to learn and support one another.
So, whilst I’ve been thinking about sustainability in business for the last year or so, I’m not a carbon accountancy expert. Nor do I have a huge amount of time to do the necessary research. In addition, whilst doing this analysis, I can’t help noticing that we’re not tracking enough data points.
For example, we don’t currently track commuting to work done by our team. 4 members of our team live outside of London and in 2 cases outside of the UK. This will have to be factored in once we get back to a commuter model for our business. We also don’t track all purchases, just paper. The footprint of our assets, such as phones and laptops needs to be added to the mix. There is plenty of work to do but I feel inspired to do more. But for the purposes of this activity, this will do for now.
As per Mark Carney, firms ignoring the climate crisis will go bankrupt. Understanding your impact, and then working to reduce it, is the new normal. The new SECR framework that mandates large organisations sending their footprint data back to the government, will go some way to addressing this.
But the frequency is yearly and with only 10 9.5 years to avoid that irreversible climate change, we need regular data to create the awareness that will drive real change in our day-to-day business activities. Even the limitations to my methodology here have highlighted the importance of regular data.
So that’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to set up a footprint calculator for our business. Something dynamic that we can call on at any time to find out what our carbon footprint is, which would be added into an almost real-time dashboard, along with other key metrics for our company to track against KPIS. Net Neutral Carbon? Our journey starts here and this is how well we track our progress against it.
How did I get on? I would love to get your thoughts and advice on this as we embark on an exciting journey over the coming months. And if you’d like to do something similar for your business, please do get in touch. There’s an ever-growing community of business owners who are sharing ideas, thoughts and space for innovation in this critical topic.