How to work out your carbon footprint

There are plenty of good reasons to work out your carbon footprint, so you can factor it into resource efficiency drives, use it to raise awareness among employees, or even include it in environmental responsibility reports for total transparency.

However, it can be difficult to determine precisely what your carbon footprint is – and what should or should not be included – so here we look at the main elements you should allow for in your calculations.

The National Energy Foundation’s Carbon Calculator is a good starting point, as it covers the main sources of energy demand – and so of carbon emissions – encountered by most businesses of any size in their day-to-day operations.

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You should be looking for a result in kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted, although it is normal to include other greenhouse gases too, in a way that makes them comparable to carbon dioxide; as such, the units are often given as kgCO2e or kilograms of carbon dioxide ‘equivalent’.

Your primary and any secondary energy sources are the first consideration, and this includes any mains electricity supply, plus any renewable energy generated on-site.

Utility bills should show you exactly how many units of electricity you use in a typical period, which you can then compare against published CO2 data to determine how much emitted carbon dioxide you are responsible for in this way.

Add in any portable energy sources, such as heating oil or wood burned, and again there is a unique conversion factor to translate a kg or tonne of each material into kgs of CO2 equivalent.

Transportation is another key area, and you can calculate this in one of two different ways, either by knowing how much fuel you use and working out the total CO2 by litres or gallons, or by using a standard conversion factor based on the number of miles covered.

Whereas the first option may be more precise, you can of course only use it if you know exactly how much petrol or diesel your workforce fleet has used – which is difficult for things like the morning and evening commute, which usually fall outside of any mileage expenses paid.

The per-mile option can still give a good indication of the total CO2 emissions from your business transportation, and can also factor in public transport, taxi journeys and even international travel via aeroplane or Eurostar.

These are the main areas included in NEF’s Carbon Calculator, and you should look to produce figures for total carbon emissions, as well as CO2 per employee, per square metre of premises floor space, and so on, to give you a powerful set of data when embarking on resource efficiency drives.

But there may also be specific carbon emissions associated with other parts of your business, such as resources you consume as part of your work that most other businesses do not, so try to be aware of any such activities that might also add to your overall carbon footprint.

In general, anything you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is good for the environment, while resource efficiency is a worthy commitment in its own right – and all of this can be combined with reduce, reuse and recycle commitments to ensure any unavoidable waste from your business activities does not end up in landfill.

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