02 February 2010

Carbon Offsets and Steenberg Carbon Footprints

Carbon Offsets and Steenberg Carbon Footprints

Every year on slightly ad hoc basis, I sit down and try and calculate our carbon footprint and then offset for the greenhouse gasses that make up our carbon footprint.  It's a guesstimate because it does not include all aspects of the Steenbergs business, but we cover a much wider proportion of Steenbergs' impact on the planet than most other people get round to doing.

Firstly, let me explain the things that we include and those that we exclude:

Carbon costs that are included: transport of raw materials and packaging from most recent supplier to Ripon; transport of Steenbergs goods from our Ripon factory to customers; transport of Steenbergs staff on business; and carbon cost of paper used in marketing and office functions

Carbon costs that are excluded: energy (as it is 100% from renewable sources via Good Energy, but see my note i below); staff travel to and from work; embedded carbon within Steenbergs raw materials and packaging (this is something we are still trying to collect all the data on)

We have used the Climatecare model for carbon costs and the total annual cost for 1 January - 31 December 2009 was 3.75 tonnes CO2 which is actually below (and I mean way below) the minimum that Climatecare will offset, which is an annual minimum of 10 tonnes.  So we pay the minimum of £75 + VAT to offset this rather than the actual cost of roughly half that.  Basically we are a carbon minnow, treading pretty lightly on the planet, but I do accept that this excludes the embedded carbon in our packaging materials, which may be horrible!

What is interesting and very shocking (at least to me) is the breakdown of our carbon costs, which shows that the cost of our paper is astronomic comprising half of our carbon costs.  We use even in our small business about 500-600kg of paper a year on stuff - I am going to get this figure down but it will be painful as everyone seems very attached to their own particular piece of paper for processing and/or recording our operations.

Our carbon costs from transport are actually quite low because we do not have our own transport and through using consolidated carriers from the Royal Mail to Palletline we optimise space utilisation on transport vehicles rather than inefficiently running our own vans at below full capacity.  In addition, we do next to no mileage for business purposes - we hardly do any direct face-to-face selling or account handling which perhaps we should do but is just not part of Sophie or my inner psyche.

As part of my Open University course, I also had to do my personal carbon footprint last year using their Quick EYE-OU greenhouse gas emissions programme.  This came up with a personal score of 9.2 tonnes CO2e per year which is actually 3.2 tonnes (-25.8%) below the UK average.   This comprised direct CO2e from home energy, personal food and travel of 6.0 tonnes CO2e and embedded carbon of 3.2 tonnes CO2e from indirect goods and services (such as goods and services purchased and my share of governmental CO2e).

To put it into perspective, the US average is 19.9 tonnes CO2 per person, but the Indian average is 1.2 tonnes CO2, the Brazilian 2.1 tonnes CO2 and the Chinese 4.8 tonnes CO2  per person (see Timesonline article).  The article also shows UK's carbon to be 9.3 tonnes CO2 per person, which does not match the information above, because this study does not include all greenhouse gas emissions or non household carbon.  So even if my contribution to climate change is low compared to the UK average, it is a big clumpy footprint stamping down on our planet.

It is interesting to see that my personal totals are much higher than Steenbergs as a business.  This is partly because we have ignored the embedded CO2e at work from goods and services purchased, as well as in packaging materials.  But also, we are much more profligate with energy at home than at work, plus travel is less efficient than the consolidation carried out at work.

One of the conclusions I came to when I did calculations for work back in 2007 was that personal travel is the real swinging factor.  Energy will eventually be tackled via nuclear power (whether you approve of it or not, and I don't, but Professor James Lovelock is probably correct on this one).  More CO2e is generated by staff travelling to and from work than the business as a whole; similarly, more CO2e is probably generated by shoppers going to and from the shops than the embedded carbon in the products and/or services that they purchase in those shops. 

Basically the cost of our personal freedom through the car is hugely inefficient and as a nation we must come to terms with reconfiguring our relationship with transport if we ever want to really grapple with climate change. 

But I suspect the price of this will be too hard to bear and it just won't be tackled by any MP or Minister in any UK Government, of whatever political persuasion.

Note i: if you did include office and factory energy, we used 2572kWh which equates to 1.36 tonnes CO2 and would add another £20.17 in offset costs.  So while I exclude this from our calculations, it is actually covered by the minimum carbon cost per reporting period that we have bought carbon offsets for.