Turning down the heat
HLG Associates on carbon footprint and steps organisations can take to help tackle climate change
One of Joe Biden’s first actions after inauguration was both highly significant and very symbolic. Potentially for all of us.
At a stroke, he reversed his predecessor’s controversial decision to withdraw America from the Paris Agreement. In so doing the new President signalled his, and most of his nation’s, commitment to fight climate change and bring the USA back in-line with other countries.
The Paris Agreement obliges signatory states – 191 in total – to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Each country must determine, plan and regularly report on efforts to limit global warming. Simple – right?
Far from it, of course. The climate change challenge – believe it or not – is enormous. Achieving or even coming near national goals requires just about every individual and organisation to make permanent changes in lifestyle and operations. Some of these are small, some must be bolder.
Where to begin? Start taking an interest in your carbon footprint, according to Chris Bester of CI-based building consultancy experts HLG Associates.
‘Global warming is caused by emissions of greenhouse gasses, or GHGs,’ he expands, ‘which gather in the atmosphere to reflect heat back towards the earth’s surface rather than letting it escape into space. Human activity is increasing these gasses beyond any natural cycle, which means temperatures rising unnaturally down on earth – this is leading to a change in the earth’s climate. A carbon footprint is a way of measuring the total contributing greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual or organisation.’
‘What’s important to understand,’ Mr Bester continues, ‘is that cause may be direct – i.e. through our actions – and indirect, i.e. through actions of others we’re involved with.’
For an organisation, direct emissions come from activities under its control. Burning oil or gas to heat premises, for example, or driving company vehicles. These are termed ‘Scope 1’ emissions.
‘Scope 2’ emissions are indirect, resulting from generating the electricity used by an organisation. The amount depends on the method of generation – wind power logically resulting in less greenhouse gases than coal-fired power stations, although the lifetime emissions must also be considered.
Lastly comes ‘Scope 3’ emissions, again indirect and again coming from activities outside an organisation’s control. Examples are emissions caused by manufactured goods bought by the organisation or through delivering them to premises. There’s the impact of employees travelling to and from work, especially in buses and cars. Business travel – think fuel-guzzling jets. Waste generated – think landfill gases. Another source is the lifetime emissions of an item or service, e.g. the energy required to mine metals used in car batteries.
Jointly, the greenhouse gas output of scope 1, 2 and 3 represents an organisation’s carbon footprint. And jointly, such a breadth of potential sources represents quite a challenge for any organisation thinking about reductions. But the right proportional approach, according to Mr Bester, is choosing an area offering the most straightforward impact.
‘Organisations should logically consider Scope 1 emissions first, which are under direct control,’ he clarifies. ‘Reducing use of company vehicles, for example, or moving to electric ones. Upgrading to more efficient heating or cooling systems. Replacing high energy lighting with low energy LEDs, once the current fittings have reached the end of their useful life.’
‘Importantly,’ he underlines, ‘the benefit will be not just reducing greenhouse gases, but long-term cost savings too. Good for the planet – and the bottom line.’
Hard to disagree. But challenging for some organisations to find the required time and focus to start making these important changes.
Recognising this, HLG recently launched a range of professional environmental services. These include an initial audit to determine present carbon footprint, developing a strategy to reduce, or implementing wholesale operational changes.
‘There’s real interest in becoming more environmentally sustainable,’ Mr Bester concludes, ‘driven partly by global initiatives, partly by local. Governments are implementing new environmental policies, for example, encouraging or potentially obliging organisations to align themselves with national carbon neutral strategies. The building industry too is embracing the trend, with a ‘Green Construction’ approach focused on recognising and mitigating the environmental impact of development.’
‘The key thing for all organisations – like countries – is recognising the need to change and implementing a proportional response. And once there, HLG are here to help do something about it.’