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Your practice’s carbon footprint – how to assess it

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Find out how to calculate the carbon footprint of your design practice and the benefits it brings

Interior design practices, just like every other business, individual, community and country, have a carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is a concept we’re all aware of these days, just as we’re mindful of the need to reduce our carbon footprints as individuals and as business owners in order to contribute to mitigation of the climate change caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

It’s estimated that within the UK, business activities account for around half of all emissions, according to DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). But how do you know what the carbon footprint of your practice is? Although you can call in specialist consultants to assess this, it is possible to do it yourself.

What is a carbon footprint?

Although the concept of a carbon footprint is well known, understanding exactly what is being measured is important. A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions of an individual or entity caused both directly and indirectly. As well as carbon dioxide it accounts for emissions of methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. It’s expressed as a carbon dioxide equivalent, so that the different gases can be compared like for like relative to one unit of carbon dioxide.

There are different types of carbon footprinting that affect businesses, according to the Carbon Trust, which supports companies, governments and organisations around the world in planning for a sustainable, low carbon future.  An organisational footprint would measure the greenhouse gas emissions of your practice including energy use in buildings and vehicles. The supply chain footprint, meanwhile, measures the impact of raw materials and services you purchase so you can deliver your service. The product footprint assesses the greenhouse gas emissions over the whole life of your services.

What are the benefits of calculating your practice’s carbon footprint?

Calculating your practice’s carbon footprint can be a first step in contributing to climate change mitigation. For some businesses, including quoted companies, it’s mandatory to report their carbon footprint. However, the government does recommend that other companies report similarly even when it’s not a requirement. 

And there are additional benefits to assessing your practice’s carbon footprint even when it’s not a mandatory exercise. Calculating the carbon footprint could :

  • show you how to reduce costs
  • enhance your practice’s reputation
  • provide information asked for by clients and other businesses

How to calculate your practice’s carbon footprint yourself

  1. You could use an online resource to assess your practice’s carbon footprint. The Carbon Trust has an online calculator for small and medium-sized businesses. It covers both direct emissions from fuel and processes (which you may see referred to as scope 1 emissions), and emissions from electricity that’s purchased (the scope 2 emissions). Bear in mind that the calculator won’t provide you with a complete evaluation of your organisational footprint, but it will furnish you with vital information.  Before you use the calculator, put together the following information, covering 12 months: fuel consumption from sites and vehicles; electricity used in sites; and top-ups to air conditioning units.
  2. Alternatively, follow the steps in the guidance on how to measure and report your greenhouse gas emissions from DEFRA. You will still need to put together data for a 12 month period and include electricity use and fuel consumption in company-owned vehicles, as above, but you’ll also need to have to hand natural gas use, total water supply and total water treated figures, employee passenger travel data, and waste disposal/recycling data.

Once you have the information, you can use the government’s greenhouse gas conversion factors to convert the data you have collected into greenhouse gas emissions.

If you’re interested in calculating the emissions from individual activities and requirements such as flights and food, you can also take a look at the ClimateCare calculator while you can find out the carbon footprint of your website via the Website Carbon Calculator (but be aware that the information you supply is stored and published in its public database).

What now?

Once you’re aware of your practice’s carbon footprint, it’s important to continue to monitor its elements. You can also take steps to reduce emissions, and even to offset them. We’ll have all the information you need in a follow up article next month.