How to reduce office carbon footprint?

How to reduce office carbon footprint?

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Going green at work is like a diet - it's hard to start, but once you do, you feel better, look better, and your wallet will thank you too.

As the world becomes increasingly aware of the impact of climate change, businesses, governments, and citizens are stepping up to reduce their carbon footprint and enable the transition to net-zero.

Businesses are significant contributors to GHG emissions, both directly through their operations and indirectly through their supply chains. One area where companies can make a significant impact is by reducing emissions in their offices. From energy-efficient technologies to sustainable transportation options, there are a multitude of strategies that businesses can implement to reduce their environmental impact.

In this article, we'll explore some of the most innovative and effective ways to reduce office emissions, helping you create a more sustainable workplace while also driving cost savings and improving employee well-being. 

What is the carbon footprint of an office?

The carbon footprint of an office refers to the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs), including carbon dioxide and methane, that are emitted directly or indirectly by activities or operations. In the context of an office, the carbon footprint encompasses all emissions related to daily operations and maintenance, categorised primarily into three scopes as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG). 

Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from sources that an office directly controls or owns. This includes burning fuels for heating or generators, emissions from company-owned vehicles, and any other direct onsite GHG emissions. In offices, these might include: 

  • Natural gas or oil typically accounts for about 10% of an office's total GHG emissions. 
  • Company-owned vehicles can contribute significantly depending on the fleet size and usage patterns.

Scope 2 emissions result from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling consumed by the office. Although these are indirect emissions, they are closely tied to the office's energy choices and efficiency. Scope 2 generally forms the largest share of an office’s carbon footprint, encompassing: 

  • Electricity is used for lighting, computers, and other office equipment, often including 30% to 40% of total emissions. 
  • Heating and air conditioning are significant, especially in regions with extreme seasonal temperatures.

Scope 3 emissions: The most expansive category, Scope 3, includes all other indirect emissions associated with the office's operations. This can encompass a range of activities, including employee commuting, outsourced services, waste disposal, and the lifecycle emissions of products used within the office, like electronics and furniture. 

  • Employee commuting and business travel can contribute up to 5% to 15% of total emissions, depending on location and mobility habits. 
  • The lifecycle emissions of purchased goods and services, like office supplies and furniture, vary widely but can form a significant part of the footprint.
  • Although more challenging to quantify, waste disposal and outsourced services are contributing factors.

Global impact of office buildings on carbon emissions

Buildings and offices are responsible for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions globally. This significant figure underscores the broader impact of office buildings within the commercial sector. 

  • Buildings are responsible for about 33% of global GHG emissions, with homes accounting for almost 20%. Office buildings and other commercial structures contribute nearly 6% to 8% of global GHG emissions (UNEP - UN Environment Programme)​.
  •  The operational energy used for lighting, heating, cooling, and powering electronic appliances in these buildings represents about 28% of global energy-related CO2 emissions​ (UNEP - UN Environment Programme)​. This highlights the critical role of Scope 2 emissions in the overall carbon footprint of offices. 
  • In Europe, for instance, the buildings sector represents 40% of the continent's total energy demand, with a substantial reliance on fossil fuels. This high dependency underlines the critical need for a transition to renewable energy sources and the adoption of more stringent energy efficiency measures to reduce the carbon footprint of office buildings​ (UNEP - UN Environment Programme)​.
  • In the UK, commercial buildings account for approximately 18% of the country's total carbon footprint.
  • Additionally, the embodied carbon from construction materials such as cement, steel, and glass, essential for building and renovating office spaces, further adds to these emissions. Upfront carbon, emitted before the building is utilised, is set to represent a substantial portion of new construction emissions by 2050, stressing the importance of sustainable construction practices​.

How do you calculate a company’s office carbon footprint?

To accurately calculate an office's carbon footprint, companies must consider all sources of GHG emissions associated with their office activities. This contains direct emissions from operations, indirect emissions from purchased energy, and other indirect emissions related to the office's broader activities. The GHG Protocol provides a comprehensive framework for calculating emissions activity data, divided into three scopes.

Scope 1: Direct emissions

Measure the amount of fuel or energy sources consumed directly by the office (in units like litres of gasoline, cubic meters of natural gas, etc.). Multiply this by emission factors specific to each fuel type to convert these amounts into carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).

Scope 2: Indirect emissions from purchased electricity

Track the office's electricity consumption (kilowatt-hours, kWh) from utility bills. Apply emission factors that reflect the mix of energy sources used to produce the electricity (location-based) or specific claims about how the electricity was generated (market-based).

Scope 3: Other indirect emissions

Collect data on activities like travel, waste generated, and goods purchased. Apply relevant emission factors to these activities to estimate their GHG emissions. Tools and software can assist in managing and calculating these emissions efficiently.

Using a carbon accounting software such as those provided by Plan A can significantly benefit in managing and calculating an office’s carbon footprint. These tools help track emissions, apply correct emission factors, and suggest ways to reduce impacts, particularly in Scope 2 and 3 categories like waste and electricity use.

Software tools that automate the data collection and calculation process are recommended for an effective carbon management strategy. These tools ensure adherence to the GHG Protocol and can streamline the reporting process for compliance and sustainability goals.

Why reduce your office's carbon footprint?

Beitou Library, Taiwan's first green library, features solar panels, rainwater collection, and energy-saving wooden balcony railings. (Credit: Beitou Library)

Reducing your office's carbon footprint is an effective lever for decarbonisation strategies and helps meeting your company’s sustainability goals. Here are the pivotal reasons why focusing on your office's emissions is beneficial:

Environmental impact

Reducing GHG emissions is essential to mitigate climate change. As significant contributors to global emissions, offices can play a crucial role in meeting the net-zero targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. Businesses can actively participate in decarbonisation by decreasing emissions from office operations, especially those linked to fossil fuel consumption for heating, cooling, and electricity. 

Economic benefits

Energy consumption is a significant operating cost for most offices. With projections suggesting that around 80% of today’s buildings will still be in use by 2050, retrofitting existing structures for energy efficiency becomes a cost-saving strategy. Enhancing energy efficiency can substantially reduce utility bills, directly improving the bottom line.

Business reputation and market position

Adopting green practices can significantly boost a company's reputation, attracting environmentally conscious consumers and stakeholders in a market where poor environmental practices deter 84% of consumers. Demonstrating a commitment to reducing carbon emissions can differentiate a brand and build loyalty among a rapidly growing demographic of eco-aware customers.

Regulatory and policy alignment

The building sector, particularly in regions like the EU, is under increasing regulatory scrutiny to reduce energy consumption and emissions. In 2023, buildings were responsible for 35% of energy-related EU emissions. To align with the EU’s net-zero targets, there is a push to reduce energy consumption in buildings by 25% and decrease fossil fuel use by more than 40% by 2030. Addressing these requirements ensures compliance and positions a company as a leader in sustainability.

Strategic low-hanging fruit

Focusing on office emissions is often considered a 'low-hanging fruit' for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Since offices are central to many businesses' operations, changing this area can have immediate and measurable impacts. This includes transitioning to renewable energy sources, implementing energy-efficient technologies, and revising operational practices to be more sustainable.

Reducing an office's carbon footprint is a multifaceted opportunity that offers environmental, economic, and strategic benefits. It helps combat climate change and enhances a company’s operational efficiency and market standing, making it a prudent move for forward-thinking businesses.

Learn more about the benefits of decarbonisation for companies.

Best decarbonisation actions to reduce the carbon footprint of your offices

We understand the problem, now let’s focus on the solutions to reduce emissions in offices:

  1. Use energy-efficient lighting: Using energy-efficient lighting such as LED bulbs, CFL or T5 fluorescent can save up to 75% of energy compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. According to the US Department of Energy, businesses can save up to $0.06 per square foot per year by using energy-efficient lighting.
  2. Optimise heating and cooling systems: Optimising heating and cooling systems with programmable thermostats, clean filters, and energy-efficient HVAC systems can save energy and reduce emissions. A well-maintained HVAC system can reduce energy consumption by up to 30%. 
  3. Reduce paper usage: Encouraging the use of digital documents and reducing paper usage can help reduce emissions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper production and disposal account for 40% of waste in landfills. 
  4. Encourage sustainable transportation: Encouraging sustainable transportation options such as public transportation, carpooling, biking, and walking can make a huge impact in reducing emissions from employee commuting. In fact, transportation accounts for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Choose sustainable suppliers and products: Choosing sustainable suppliers and products can help reduce emissions throughout the supply chain. This can include using recycled materials, reducing packaging, and selecting products with low-carbon footprints.
  6. Retrofit existing buildings: Retrofitting existing buildings with energy-efficient measures such as insulation, energy-efficient windows, and renewable energy systems can reduce emissions. A report by C40 Cities revealed retrofitting existing buildings with energy-efficient measures could reduce their carbon emissions by up to 50% by 2030.
  7. Use green certifications: Using green certifications such as LEED, BREEAM, or WELL to design and operate sustainable buildings can greatly reduce emissions. Buildings with green certifications have been found to emit 34% less carbon dioxide, use 25% less energy, and consume 11% less water than non-certified buildings, according to the US Green Building Council. 
  8. Implement a sustainability policy: Implementing a sustainability policy and engaging employees in sustainable practices is a sure way to reduce emissions.

Reducing emissions in office buildings is essential for mitigating the impact of climate change. The carbon footprint of office buildings can be reduced through energy-efficient measures, sustainable transportation options, and choosing sustainable suppliers and products. Retrofitting existing buildings with energy-efficient measures and designing and operating sustainable buildings with green certifications can also significantly reduce emissions. By taking action to reduce their carbon footprint, offices can contribute to the fight against climate change while also benefiting financially and attracting environmentally conscious customers and employees.

Take action today to reduce emissions for your office and contribute to a more sustainable future. Book a demo with Plan A.

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