CUTTING YOUR DIGITAL FOOTPRINT
Ben Tolhurst opened the event with an overview of Business Declares. It recognises that business has a huge part to play in tackling climate, ecological and societal breakdown. It raises awareness of the agenda and seeks to facilitate action around the issues. It does this by convening dialogues, advocating change and inspiring business to find solutions to mobilise action and share good practice. There are around 40 organisations from various sectors in the Business Declares network including The Body Shop, Ecotricity and Bates Wells.
How can we be a truly sustainable business? – Tom Greenwood (Managing Director and Co-founder Wholegrain Digital)
Wholegrain Digital is a web design and development agency focused on sustainability and social justice. When it started out in 2007, it had the ambition to be a prototype of a truly sustainable business. Tom talks about some of the actions the company has taken particularly in respect of carbon emissions.
To improve building efficiency, they decided on a collaborative or shared space approach making sure the space was on a renewable energy tariff. There can be an issue with determining the contribution of energy used which is information needed in, for example, BCorp certification.
The single biggest action Wholegrain has taken to reduce emissions was to introduce a no-fly policy. One initiative which was abandoned was introducing an internal carbon tax. Tom, however, believes it would be effective for some organisations. In terms of accounting for home-working energy, there are challenges around quantifying the additional energy usage. There are also privacy issues relating to accessing employee’s personal information. To achieve a transition to renewables, Wholegrain offered staff a renewable incentive of an additional day’s annual leave. All staff now have a renewable energy tariff. In terms of impact from staff holidays, the company supports the Climate Perks scheme organised by Possible.
Ongoing challenges include a goal to generate their own power (eg from solar panels), reducing commuting (they have found COVID-19 has reduced emissions by about 40%), tackling emissions from gas heating and the footprint of office purchases (refreshments, stationary, software and equipment). Wholegrain seeks, where possible, to purchase refurbished equipment.
The company calculates emissions using a spreadsheet but are looking to move to a software solution. In terms of offsetting, drawing emissions out of the atmosphere is prioritised over reducing other people’s emissions. They look to synchronise the timeframe for drawdown in line with the emissions themselves. Credibility of any offsetting scheme is also important. The company also has a goal of accounting for historical emissions. There is a policy to plant 1260 trees when someone joins the company a scheme known as a green handshake.
Bringing carbon footprinting to the heart of your organisation – Will Richardson (Green Element and Compare Your Footprint)
Will set up Green Element in 2004 to help organisations and equip them to become more sustainable. The intention was to be a company which lead by example. It became one of the first certified BCorp companies in 2015. The company is a living wage employee, allows staff to do pro-bono work for a charity of their choice one day a month and is transparent in terms of earnings and salaries.
The company is on the road to net-zero through Science-based Targets with targets having been approved. It has signed up to the UN campaign Race to Zero and is certified ISO 14001. A weekly podcast interviewing people from various organisations has been really effective in understanding and learning what others are doing.
One of the most effective ways for an organisation to become more sustainable is to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of operations and business activities. Many companies, particularly smaller organisations, are held back by the financial and time constraints of hiring environmental consultants. Will set up Compare Your Footprint to support organisations in measuring emissions allowing them to give greater focus to reducing their impact. Compare Your Footprint provides a comprehensive online carbon calculation and benchmarking tool. Will suggests that improving a company’s environmental credentials is not just good for the planet but boosts profitability, improves investor confidence, enhances reputation, attracts and retains talent and increases business resilience.
Compare Your Footprint charge for their services based on the client’s turnover. The tool is free for companies with a turnover of under £300,000. It also offers lots of free guidance on reducing emissions including with respect to home working.
Sustainable Digital Design – Tom Greenwood
Tom considers the impact of digital and suggests some actions to address emissions. Emissions associated with the internet and digital services are more hidden than those of other sectors but are significant equivalent to those of Germany (which is similar to the total for global aviation). Although the average website only produces 1.76 grams CO2 per page view, this rapidly scales up; for a website with 10,000 pages views per month, it amounts to 211 kg CO2 per year. Websites use electricity in data centres, transmission networks and end-user devices. There are also the embodied emissions associated with manufacture and maintenance of equipment and infrastructure. Since the internet is run on electricity, it can use renewable energy and transition is therefore more straightforward than, say, the aviation sector. Tom gives advice on reducing emissions including
- Streamlining user journeys (minimising the time taken for users to find something and number of pages they have to visit)
- Using efficient images (using fewer images, using graphics instead of photos and minimising photo size). File size for photos can be reduced by using smaller photos, blurring edges, using black and white and changing the format from JPEG to WebP or AVIF.
- Using less video (avoiding autoplay, reducing video length, avoiding animated GIFs, and using MPEG4 format). Video also uses huge amounts of a user’s data.
- Try and use system fonts (default device fonts). If using custom fonts, optimise them (reducing font weight and style variants, using the most efficient file format and subsetting fonts by removing characters not required.
- Consider the energy used by cosmetic items such as animations
- Try and use low energy colours (this relates to OLED screens rather than LED). White uses the greatest energy, black lowest, blue uses about 25% more than green or red)
- Minimise tracking (file size and processing increase energy use, also slows down website and invades privacy)
- Use green hosting (Green Web Foundation is a great resource).
For further help, Tom has written a book called Sustainable Web Design. Also keep a look out for the Business Declares Digital Declutter Toolkit which will be launched soon.
Carbon Management for distributed teams – Rym Baouendi (Founder and CEO of Offsetgo)
As a result of the pandemic, companies are increasingly operating a system of home working. With a more distributed workplace, some of the scope 1 and 2 emissions will be associated with staff member’s home-working associated with, for example, gas, electricity and handling waste.
Offsetgo helps digital-first organisations track, reduce and offset greenhouse gas emissions from the so-called distributed workplace. They look for companies to have a system in place where they can pledge a certain tonnage of carbon offsets per remote desk or per full-time equivalent to get started with climate action. This is the first step of a company working with Offsetgo. The next step is to start using Offsetgo’s tools. The main tool is focused on assessing home office impacts which are associated with the physical space (proportion of heating, cooling and lighting for commercial use) and the digital impacts (devices, network and data use). The tool is based on life-cycle assessment (LCA) methods and building science and relies on extensive energy and climate data. Reducing impact gives cost savings to the employee and carbon savings to the company.
In terms of offsetting, Offsetgo offers carbon credits that mainly focus on projects which have high potential to provide significant beneficial impact when it comes to climate change including forest management, clean energy and community projects. They look at those projects in the top 10 listed by the Project Drawdown initiative.
Embedded carbon is a significant contribution to the overall impact and relevant information is generally available from suppliers although less so for smaller items. Companies can look at using refurbished equipment and ensuring discarded items are put to subsequent use.
A reasonable estimate of an employee’s home energy usage relating to work is 20%. This is based on the government’s figure used for tax offsetting purposes. It is a good default value which can then be quantified in more detail.
It was agreed that it’s best to prolong the life cycle of an item for example by exporting laptops to be used by refugees. It is worth noting that equipment is now very efficient and there is little justification in changing to a new model to reduce energy consumption.
There was a discussion relating to the adverse environmental impact of extracting materials for green solutions. The consensus was that it is important to transition from fossil fuels rapidly and to reduce energy consumption and thereby minimise the scale of infrastructure, such as batteries, required.