Code Enigma has always been a business that cares about it's values and ethics, we take our environmental responsibilities seriously. This blog post is about how we set the business on the path to net zero carbon emissions.
As a small business it would be easy to ignore our carbon footprint. Let's face it, we're a tiny blip on the radar when compared with almost all other companies. We don't have very many staff, we all work from home, we don't tend to impact local air quality, we generate less plastic waste eating at home, and so on. There are many environmental positives, however, we are living in carbon-greedy western economies and we do have challenges in our business model, for example:
- working from home is inefficient from a space heating point of view;
- when we do travel, it tends to be long and carbon-heavy journeys;
- our equipment tends to be portable, so lots of lithium-ion batteries.
Ultimately working means energy consumption, which means - for now at least - carbon emissions, no matter how you're doing it. We've been aware of this for some time, we have operated an Environment Policy since 2014, and that includes steps such as:
- avoiding air travel where a train journey is feasible, even if the train is more expensive;
- encouraging responsible space heating/cooling, only heat/cool the space you're working in, not your entire home;
- encouraging low energy behaviours, such as ensuring we use LED lighting;
- encouraging heating with grid electricity where possible.
This is certainly helpful, but if we're to work towards net zero collectively we need to somehow measure and address our actual carbon footprint, broad gestures and guidelines aren't going to be enough.
Some time last year we had an interesting chat with our UX and design partners, dxw, and we were quite inspired by their approach. They decided a few years ago to get ahead and order a proper study of their carbon footprint and lay out a plan to address it, with an eye on net zero emissions. They have produced a working group, which generated a Carbon Reduction Statement. So starting last year we began to take steps to measure our environmental impact and this year we're going further, we want to be a business that is genuinely on the path to net zero and will get there as quickly as possible.
How do you measure?
There's no easy way to do this, it involves a lot of best guesses. We looked around and decided to use an online service, Ecologi, to measure the carbon footprint of our staff and suppliers. It's a free service that integrates with our accountancy package, Xero, and then allows us to enter some characteristics that allow it to estimate our supplier's individual carbon usage. If you want to find out more about Ecologi's methodology you can follow this link.
Although our homeworking carbon footprint is estimated by Ecologi to be about 1.8 tonnes of CO2 a year, once you factor in all our suppliers we have an estimated carbon footprint of a whopping 296 tonnes of CO2 a year. Almost all of our emissions are 'Scope 3', supply chain based emissions, the largest chunk being professional services, with technology and communications services coming a close second. Over the two and a bit years Ecologi is able to cover at this time we have accrued 691 tonnes of CO2 we need to offset somehow.
How to address your carbon footprint?
This needs to be a twofold activity. Firstly, we continue to strive to reduce our carbon footprint. That 296 tonnes a year needs to be in steady decline, which means doing things like:
- reviewing suppliers to see if there are less carbon intensive alternatives;
- helping our homeworking colleagues to further reduce their personal energy usage;
- encouraging colleagues to move to 100% renewable electricity suppliers;
- continue to reduce the carbon emitted by our travel activities.
As an aside, there are other cool things we can do in the way we work too, for example as a development company we can even invest in code efficiency. If our websites require fewer CPU cycles to perform their function, they use less energy, ergo they have lower carbon footprints. WebSiteCarbon.com is a neat tool for measuring performance from an environmental perspective, but tools like Google's LightHouse - which is built into Chromium based browsers - can also help you identify inefficiencies in front-end website code.
Those activities are good, but the carbon we've already emitted needs addressing, and the carbon we will inevitably continue to emit also needs consideration. So the second activity is the famous carbon offsetting, carrying out activities that will actively remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Offsetting is controversial, mostly because a lot of it is little more than lip-service. There's a pretty good article here in The Guardian about the pitfalls of offsetting but to cut a long read short, you need to do your homework. What you're looking for is a carbon offsetting scheme that will actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere, not one that will simply reduce future CO2 (e.g. buying wind turbines).
After much reading and researching, we settled on buying mangrove trees. The average mangrove tree sequesters (stores) 0.3 tonnes of carbon each over their 25-year growth life, so that's already a good carbon sink. It also has multiple benefits, not only does it capture carbon but it means restoring lost habitats which, in turn, help stop coastal erosion and protect against flooding in some of the world's most vulnerable regions. It also creates green jobs in relatively poor parts of the world, which is always a positive.
This year we bought 10,000 mangrove trees in Madagascar via Earthly, a company that provides a range of carbon offsetting projects you can buy into. That represents the sequestering of approximately 120 tonnes of CO2 a year over 25 years, some 3,000 tonnes in total over the life of the trees. That's clearly not enough to remove our 296 tonnes a year, nor does it address our previous usage, however we have decided to commit to continue to buy 10,000 trees a year, via different projects. Three years from now our 30,000 trees will be removing around 360 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year, meanwhile hopefully our 296 tonne footprint will be reducing steadily. And we won't stop there...
So what comes next?
We'll be producing a proper Carbon Reduction Statement and a Carbon Reduction Plan that captures all of the above in official documents that will become part of our active management system.
But it's also really important to remember that the things you need to do in order to remain net zero are a moving target. You cannot set on a strategy and walk away. For example, we're buying mangrove forests now, but there is a finite amount of space in the world for mangrove forests, we won't be able to do that forever. I imagine a few years from now we'll need to start looking at other ways to invest... I sincerely hope that when we do, we struggle to find an offsetting approach because too many companies have been investing in truly effective carbon capture schemes!
I hope you found this blog useful. If anyone wants to find out more, we're always happy to chat about what we do, both to share and to learn from others, so use the contact form below to get in touch.