How to measure your company’s carbon footprint

We will guide you step by step on how to measure the emissions of your company - from the electricity, gas, lights, supply chain, transportation and waste.

Creating a sustainable business is not just about purchasing locally and recycling, it is also about being mindful of your direct impact on the environment. At Small99, we believe it is important to take action first and measure later. Rather than waiting months for audits to return, you can start reducing your emissions immediately. 

While you may have already begun measuring your carbon footprint – this in itself is a great early action to take! – there are many steps you can take right away to reduce your carbon even without measuring. 

At Small99, we know that gathering the data to accurately measure your carbon footprint can be time-consuming, which is why our focus is on getting started now, no matter how small. For instance, switching to LED light bulbs, driving an electric vehicle, or swapping meat for more vegetables will immediately reduce your carbon emissions; we don’t need to measure this. So, whatever stage you are at, keep going!

What is a carbon footprint?

Before we get into definitions, it is important to set the scene Everyday actions you take utilise energy. Some of this energy is derived from fossil fuels – a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). 

According to NASA, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) has increased 47% since the start of the industrial age, and still continues to rise. Normally, these emissions block the heat from the Sun from escaping Earth and are recycled back into the Earth’s ecosystem in a process known as gas exchange. As a result of human industrial activity, GHGes exist disproportionately in the atmosphere, trapping the heat – consequently leading to climate change. 

Image credit: climate.nasa.gov

This means it is important for all businesses to cut down (reduce), as well as find ways to recapture the gases (offset) – of which small businesses release 43-53%. Therefore you play a key role in being the solution to the crisis.

A carbon footprint is a record of how many greenhouse gases you have released due to your personal/workplace habits. This includes commuting to work, gas and electricity, and of course activity from everything you buy, sell or throw away. It also accounts for the workplace habits of your employees. Every decision you make, big or small, has environmental consequences. 

Why measure your business’s carbon footprint?

Understanding our own contributions to climate change will help keep ourselves (and others) accountable. Small businesses collectively account for a third of the UK’s business emissions. According to the British business bank, 56% of small businesses say they have not taken action.

The UK itself aims to cut 78% of its emissions by 2035 and meet net zero by 2050 by reducing emissions from multinationals as well as small businesses. Whilst the current legislative focus has been on large businesses, the UK government is likely to set requirements for small ones too in the coming years to meet the 2050 target. 

Larger organisations are seeking partners and pathways that meet their carbon reduction strategies – and are putting pressure on smaller businesses within their supply chain now. You may be asked about your carbon footprint if you work with larger companies sooner than you think! 

As a small business, customers and investors are interested in your environmental impacts and resilience against potential shocks (e.g. COVID, supply chain failure). Staking a claim on your net zero progress has numerous advantages such as attracting new customers, a healthier work environment for your employees, and, of course, a boost in sales. 

Not to mention you will save cash as well as carbon! Reducing your carbon footprint will have a favourable impact on your bottom line as you save on things like energy, travel and material resources. 

What are emissions measured in?

Most emissions will be reported in Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e). This assigns a value to each of the greenhouse gases in terms of their global warming potential (GWP) – how successful a gas is in trapping the sun’s heat over 100 years. 

For example, Carbon Dioxide has a GWP of 1. Methane, a common gas released in the coal and agricultural industry, has a GWP of 25 – meaning it warms the Earth 25 times more than CO2. 

You can read more about CO2e here.

Where do emissions come from?

The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard has categorised emissions into three “scopes”. Below is a simplification of the 3 different Scopes.

Scope 1 – Transport

These are all the emissions created from on-site activity (e.g. gas leakages, cement, owned vehicles).

Scope 2 – Energy

Scope 2 is all energy purchased, such as heating and electricity in your building.

Scope 3 – Supply Chain

This includes everything else from your supply chain. Think of your investments, employee commuting, waste, products you purchase, everything. Scope 3 will account for approximately 90% of all your footprint and is the most complex to tackle.

Image credit: Pexels

How to measure your carbon footprint

Altogether, there are three ways to measure your carbon footprint:

  1. Industry Generic Advice
  2. Spend Based
  3. Activity Based

The first way is through industry-focused advice. Each sector has average emissions rates for industrial activities which can be applied to your situation. 

For example, small cafes based in Inverness, London and Bristol are going to have similar footprints and areas of emissions. Lighting, energy for cooking, employee commuting and the food they serve will be the biggest emissions factors. Measuring each cafe independently will take time when there are things they can get on with doing already. 

However, this generic information won’t pick up on nuances in their supply chain emissions around Scope 3.

There are two more specific ways to measure your footprint and account for Scope 3 emissions: spend-based measurement and activity-based measurement.

Spend-based measurement

Spend-based measurement involves calculating based on the monetary value of the things you buy – converting pounds spent into estimated emitted CO2e (i.e. CO2e per £). Think energy bills, purchased goods and services. 

For example, the average salon uses 7,000kwh of electricity per year, costing £1,097.

7,000kWh is equal to 1,631kg of CO2e. Converting electricity into the cost, we get a figure of 1.49kg of CO2e per £1 spent.

Activity-based measurement

Activity-based measures the actions and activities of your business and is therefore far more accurate (and time-consuming). This would involve surveyors coming in to record heating, electricity, fuel, and purchased goods audits. The results include a detailed description of where your emissions originate. We suggest all small business owners begin with a spend-based approach (as the information from a full activity audit can be overwhelming) and progress to activity-based if your company would like further detail. 

Carbon footprint services

Hiring an environmental consultant can be thorough and useful, not to mention you often get a green accreditation. However, it may not be the right stage financially or practically for your business. For a simple breakdown of your carbon footprint, a carbon calculator can give you a rough idea of what stage you are at in your journey. 

Our Net Zero Scorecard has been designed to show small businesses where their emissions lie and provide instant, actionable steps on how to improve. Get a quick idea of the scopes in your business by answering a short list of questions.

Once you are ready for a more thorough evaluation, turn to Spherics which uses industry data and your accounts to make spend-based measurements of your Scope 1, 2 and 3 data and returns easy-to-digest reports. The option to input activity-based measurements is also possible to fill the gaps in your emissions. Eventually, you will be guided along a net zero strategy tailored to your needs. 

If you are curious as to how you compare to others in your industry, check out Compare Your Footprint which also offers environmental consultancy advice with a paid membership. 

Measuring will help to pinpoint where our emissions are coming from and subsequently make changes to reduce them. Keeping track of our progress locally and globally is crucial to facilitating long-term solutions to climate change. 

Step-by-Step

  1. Make sure you have taken the steps to eliminate your emissions as much as possible before measuring to avoid wasting time and money.
  2. Take a simple score-card test to see if there are any vulnerable areas in your strategy, and refine them as necessary.
  3. Collect information on your energy usage. 
  4. Measure your footprint via a spend-based approach.
  5. Compare your footprint to others within your industry.
  6. If found to have a large carbon footprint, measure your footprint via an activity-based approach.
  7. If you need further advice, contact an environmental consultant.
  8. Finally, stay transparent about your footprint by posting to social media and your website!

Once you have measured, set a date to re-measure in 6 months to a year. Keep track of your improvements one audit at a time!

What next? Take immediate action and evaluate your progress via the NetZero Scorecard

Once you know your carbon footprint, take guidance on how to reduce the rest of your emissions – while offsetting! Restore rainforests, invest in carbon capture technologies, and facilitate renewable energy solutions through a simple direct debit. The information is all here.

Further Reading 

Take the Net Zero Scorecard

How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint of your cafe

Three Tactics that Engage Consumers in Climate

How to Turn Carbon Reduction Into a Competitive Advantage

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