Calculating our Carbon Footprint for a Shared Office Space

Sep 16, 2022 | Business, Sustainability

Despite being awarded the Norfolk Carbon Charter Silver accreditation earlier this year in recognition of the work we’ve done towards reducing our carbon footprint, something was still bothering me.

The figures included within our application were all based on industry averages, not on our actual data. So how are we going to measure any further reductions (or otherwise)?

We needed to measure our carbon footprint more accurately.

Measuring your carbon footprint in a shared office space

The thing that was holding us up was access to accurate data. We’re based in a serviced office and, despite me speaking with our landlord, we had no way of knowing how much energy we’re actually using from bills alone. There’s a single bill for the entire building and no way of tracking this to individual rooms.

Having discussed this problem with the team at the Carbon Charter, I decided there was only one answer – I was going to have to do this manually.

Just the thought of the work involved put me off for a number of months, but once I finally got stuck in, it wasn’t as bad as I thought!

What did we measure?

Having done some research on how most businesses calculate their carbon footprint, I decided to focus on our Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (electricity) emissions, and the major Scope 3 emissions (indirect) that we have most control over, i.e. commuting and working from home.

Scope 1 emissions

For us, this included company vehicles and gas heating. I was able to calculate the mileage for both commuting and business meetings for the previous year for our two company vehicles by looking back at my diary and using Google Maps to calculate distances.

I then used the Government’s conversion factors table to calculate the total kg of CO2e for these vehicles.

The gas heating was more tricky as I was not able to get any figures on this. So I had to use an average – I took the top end of the estimate for a business of our size to be on the safe side!

Scope 2 emissions

To calculate our electricity usage, I started with a spreadsheet where I captured all of the devices in our office powered by electricity. The tricky bit was then tracking down wattage information for each of these devices, but a bit of digging online and I had some decent figures to work from. Next, I estimated how many hours per year each device was on for. This was complicated a bit for the year in question by time working from home due to Covid, and for some things like the coffee machine, usage was based on the number of cups I estimated we consumed each year!

The point here, I think, is that this is going to be imperfect, but there was method in my madness and I’m confident that the figures represent a much better reflection of our actual energy usage than averages alone.

Using the conversion factor tables again, I was able to calculate the kg of CO2e for each device and add the whole lot up.

Scope 3 emissions

I discovered that there’s a conversion factor for working from home which was a great help for Scope 3 emissions. I simply had to calculate the number of hours each employee had worked from home in the year and apply the conversion factor. This was not too bad for us as we were following the government’s Covid advice and were generally all in the office the rest of the time.

Employee commuting was again relatively simple – a case of using Google Maps to calculate the distance between work and home, and multiplying that by the number of days in the office, and applying the best conversion factor for that employee’s vehicle.

What didn’t we measure?

There were a few bits of electricity usage which I know we have missed – the intercom in the office buzzes perhaps three times a week, and we then walk down to answer the door. There are LED lights in the communal entrance hall and corridor, but these are motion activated and the usage is shared with other occupiers of the building. The Carbon Charter team were happy that the figures associated with these would be minimal and we therefore didn’t need to tie ourselves in knots trying to paint a 100% complete picture.

I’m also conscious that we have not got a full picture of our Scope 3 emissions – our supply chain. This felt like a huge undertaking, and not one I have the time or knowhow for. However, I have been reassured that it is not uncommon for companies to quote their emissions figures without taking into account the full Scope 3 list. I think it’s just important to recognise that this is missing.

What is our carbon footprint?

According to my calculations, our carbon usage from April 2021 – March 2022 (our financial year), our carbon generation was 8.60 tonnes CO2e.
I shared my final figure with the Carbon Charter as I was concerned that it seemed a bit low compared to benchmark averages. However, they checked everything over and were happy that I’d covered everything. They said that much of the benchmark data is now quite old, and that modern machines are often much more efficient and we don’t have a lot of things consuming energy over and above our computers and phones, so I do believe this is as accurate a figure as we are reasonably able to come up with.

The good news is that we’ve also been offsetting during that time period via membership of Ecologi and our tree planting scheme. In the same time period, we offset 64.46 tonnes of CO2e. So, we are carbon neutral, which feels good!

What’s next?

Essentially, what we now have is a benchmark against which we need to try and make improvements. I have to say, the thought of HOW we reduce our carbon footprint when it’s already fairly low is a bit baffling. We need our computers and phones to do our jobs! Some things which we can do include:

• Continuing to lobby our landlord to switch to a renewable electricity provider when the contract is next up for renewal (although I fear that with the steep rise in electricity costs, his priority will be price, not provenance)
• Cycle to work more – for those who are close enough
• Switch our second company car to electric (it is on order and should have been with us in April 2022 but has been held up due to a shortage of parts)
• Prioritise virtual meetings rather than driving, where possible. Where in-person is important, can we use public transport more?

We will also continue to interrogate our supply chain, asking them about their eco-credentials and making decisions based on that. We will also be looking at wider sustainability concerns, not just carbon reduction, to continue to improve our relationship with the planet and the people who inhabit it!

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