Even before the pandemic, purpose-centred businesses were beginning to see how they could marry their ambition for profit alongside their environmental, social and governance targets. The pandemic lockdown stopped most people from travelling and helped to develop other methods of meeting clients such as Zoom.
As the world has begun to open up, more people are travelling for work but many more are beginning to think of the environmental cost of this, especially in the light of COP26 which was held in Glasgow in November 2021 and re-committed to the world to a reduction in carbon output that would keep the earth’s temperature at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Carbon offsetting is when an individual or company buys a carbon credit to decrease its carbon footprint. Carbon is emitted in many ways when running a business but one of the main ways is transport. This could be by delivering goods or as a salesperson attending meetings with clients. Carbon offsetting is controversial because it can be used to subsidise a business which is unethical and has no environmental goals but does it mainly to gain some dubious credibility. This is often called ‘greenwashing’.
It is important that carbon offsetting is not seen in isolation but as part of a thoughtful process that sees a general reduction in carbon output by the business.
The first stage in any carbon offsetting process is to measure the carbon output. You cannot offset a company’s carbon unless you know how many tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted.
In the case of travel, it is important to know the annual distance travelled by each employee. In the case of a salesperson who travelled 60,000km a year, pre-pandemic, via a 2L petrol car which averaged 10km/litre, this would equate to about 14.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This could be offset by buying 14.3 tonnes of carbon credits from a reputable carbon trader. However, it is better to see how it would be possible to reduce the carbon consumed by travelling less and using greener modes of transport or a virtual alternative.
On a close inspection of the distance travelled each year, the salesperson may be aware of visits that could have been held over Zoom or other suitable communication tools. They may set a target of reducing their distance travelled by 10,000km per year. It may also save the salesperson time to pursue other leads, hence, making the person more productive. It could be 20,000km were used travelling to London, Manchester and Birmingham that could be visited by train which uses much less carbon per km travelled and allows the salesperson to work on the train. This could increase productivity again. The salesperson could also trade his 2L petrol car in for an electric vehicle which can be charged at work using the energy produced by solar panels on the company’s roof and supplemented by grid electricity produced by renewable sources such as wind. Flying to meetings has a much higher carbon cost and should be restricted as much as possible. Airlines such as Jet2 and EasyJet already offset their flights, but flying is the most carbon-expensive way of travelling and should only be used when other modes of transport are impracticable.
These actions alone would more than halve the carbon produced by this salesperson. The residual carbon can then be offset using a gold standard accreditation scheme allowing this person to become carbon neutral. Doing it all via offsetting is wrong as it doesn’t change the person’s behaviour and can be seen as charitable giving whilst not changing the salesperson’s life. Everyone has to consume less.
The problem in the UK is that our trains are one of the most expensive in Europe. Many other countries invest in their railways as part of their state systems to help make travel easier and cheaper. Trains were privatised in the UK in 1993 but this has produced a chaotic system which is expensive to run. Several companies which won bids to run parts of the network have gone bankrupt. If trains were cheaper, more people would use them for work which would lead to a reduction in carbon usage. Recent news has been dominated by Avanti West Coast trains needing to slash services because they have not been investing in their staff or rolling stock over the last few years. An enlightened government is needed to make rail travel the popular choice over jumping into the car through the use of subsidies or renationalisation.
The 2020s are a crucial decade for saving our planet. There needs to be a reduction in the world’s dependence on oil and gas and our carbon footprint. If we do not achieve this, our weather will become increasingly unpredictable and lead to raised sea levels and droughts. Everyone must try to reduce their carbon footprint and then use carbon offset schemes run by companies like Eco Offset and Carbon Footprint to protect biodiverse and carbon-storing environments.