For our 19/20 annual report released in August I calculated our group’s emissions as 130 tCO2e. This was from our scope 1 (gas boilers in some offices), 2 (electricity in our offices) and parts of 3 (flights, car travel and our websites).
This is 0.34 tCO2e per employee. 60% of those emissions were from flights so our first measure to reduce our impact is pretty obvious.
The problem is 130 tCO2e isn’t the full picture. Now that I have the data and calculation logic I will be working out our full scope 3 emissions including commuting, Working From Home, purchased goods/services, investments and emissions caused by the digital products we have created.
Once we have that benchmark then I can start looking at other ways to reduce our impact on top of the measures we have already rolled out. However, this doesn’t answer the question of what we do about those 130 tCO2e?
The obvious answer is buy some offsets for as little as £780. But the very concept of offsetting is one that makes me uneasy because of how easily it can be misunderstood and seen as an excuse to keep polluting.
Offsets are paying for someone else to not emit the same amount as you already have.Its positive impact is shown as part of the excellent Ted Countdown illustrations and it is clearly part of the solution when it comes to addressing the damage we’re all causing to the planet. But it cannot be seen as the definitive way to stop causing harm or to undo the harm that has already been done.
I’m going to use an intentionally provocative analogy to demonstrate my point. Imagine gathering up all of the plastic waste in your house and going to the nearest river and throwing it in. Whilst you wait there, someone else approaches the river to do the same thing but you give them some money to go to the tip and dispose of it properly.
It might be a flippant analogy but it is vital that we keep this in mind when we consider the huge range of initiatives, above and beyond offsetting, organisations must put in place to address the climate and ecological emergencies. From reduction, to procurement principles, to education, to donations, to employee incentives and then to offsetting what can truly not be removed from being emitted in the first place.
The climate emergency
As humans we have caused two simultaneous, interlinked emergencies. First there’s the climate emergency which is the heating of the planet due to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have reached a scale not seen for 800,000 years, at a rate of change never seen before which will lead to a scale of temperature not seen on this planet for 3 million years.
Second is the ecological emergency which is the huge losses of flora and fauna right across the natural world due to habitat loss, pollution, illegal trade, invasive species release and hunting to a point where we’re now in the sixth mass extinction.
The climate emergency is undoubtedly more in the public consciousness and it is the climate emergency that the concept of offsetting is born from. Measuring an organisation’s direct and indirect emissions and buying offsets is a clear and auditable way to acknowledge emissions and claim carbon neutrality.
A plan to reduce emissions is also the most recognised way to show that an organisation is meeting its obligations to the planet. At The Panoply we will offset all of the scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions that all of our companies have ever been responsible for (including before they joined the group) by 2023. That will allow us to claim carbon neutrality (or positivity depending on your outlook!).
However, as I said earlier, we don’t yet have a finalised reduction plan. We have taken some obvious steps but the reason it isn’t a finalised plan is because we haven’t calculated our full scope 3 emissions. I want our reduction targets to be very, very ambitious and to enable that I need to know our starting point.
The ecological emergency
The level of destruction we have caused to the natural world is summed up by the following:
Of the total mammals on earth, livestock account for 60%, humans 36% and wild animals just 4%. This is particularly acute in Britain; we are one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, ranked 189 out of 218 countries.
This also highlights the hypocrisy of criticising other nations for deforestation and other damaging activities when we do such harm to our already depleted natural world with the likes of HS2, badger culling, grouse moor burning, wildflower meadow destruction etc.
The impact of a company like ours on the ecological emergency cannot yet be quantified in the same way our carbon emissions can. However, only through acknowledgement that as a company who employs people who need infrastructure, transport and equipment, can we start to move the conversation beyond carbon counting and offsetting.
Offsetting our carbon footprint
Despite the reservations I outlined about the misunderstandings of offsetting, I am still in absolute support of it when it’s done well as part of a wide range of initiatives. When analysing who to offset with I was looking for an organisation that offered the fundamentals i.e. projects that adhered to Gold Standard. I also wanted an organisation that was challenging the status quo of offsetting and would help push my thinking on the subject.
Ecologi fitted the bill perfectly. Their business service enables us to pay for the planting of 10,000 mangrove trees in Madagascar via the Eden Reforestation Projects which helps support local jobs, improve the long term health of the island for all living things and sequester carbon as the trees grow. Also, we’ve funded parts of a solar project in India and water borehole repair in Eritrea which reduce the need to burn fossil fuels or wood as well providing local jobs and access to clean energy and water.
It’s these latter two projects that represent our carbon offset to the tune of 200 tCO2e. These projects meet the criteria for a carbon offset project:
- Real: There is evidence that this project will actually remove emissions.
- Additionality: This requirement ensures those removed emissions would not have happened without being financed through the carbon offset market. This requirement must be determined by a third party.
- Measurable: For a project to be certified it must be accurately measurable.
- Permanent: The project must meet a standard to ensure the emission reductions are permanently removed from the atmosphere.
- Verifiable: Independent third-parties must be able to routinely verify the project is making the stated emission reductions all through the project’s life.
- Leakage: This is to prevent negative side effects of the project operating.
However, the above should be par for the course so it was the added extras with Ecologi that got me excited.
Firstly, the API that enables the purchasing of trees and offsets. Given the process improvements I am putting in place to calculate carbon emissions weekly/monthly instead of annually this is a great way to offset emissions as close to when they’re emitted as possible. Also, as the full automation of the website carbon calculator I am working on as part of my Manifesto role gets closer, the real time buying of offsets will make it a very attractive proposition.
Secondly, and relatedly, our tree/offset counter badge that we can put on our websites and presentations to raise awareness of Ecologi’s great work.
Thirdly, the ability to use this platform as a way to offer pre-tax salary sacrifice offsetting for employees. This isn’t something I am near to finalising yet but knowing the different options available allows me to plan for the future.
Offsetting our ecological footprint
As early stated, there is no accepted way of quantifying The Panoply’s impact on the ecological emergency. Therefore, offsetting in the same vein as with our carbon emissions isn’t possible.
That is why we are donating £3,480 to Rewilding Britain.
Rewilding Britain’s mission is to champion rewilding in Britain, acting as a catalyst for debate and action, and demonstrating the power of working with nature to tackle the extinction crisis and the climate emergency.
By 2030 Rewilding Britain aims to have 30% of Britain supporting rewilding and nature-friendly land/marine uses. Currently, only 10% is legally protected for nature but this protection isn’t working, is poorly enforced and includes things like Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty which only protect the aesthetics, not the biodiversity, of the land. This means as little as 5% of our land is offering nature the protection it needs.
Rewilding Britain are involved in many different direct rewilding projects as well as research, education and policy influencing. Our donation will contribute significantly towards that and their rapidly growing influence is testament to the work they’re doing. Their significant income growth shows that individuals and businesses are backing the cause.
They also have a website relaunch this Autumn which will include a portal for people to learn about rewilding, share their experiences and find others locally to collaborate with and increase the impact of their rewilding projects.
Rewilding Britain will be able to open up opportunities for volunteering as part of our two days per employee per year volunteering pledge. Also, they have already given us a fantastic lunch and learn to educate us about rewilding, offered valuable feedback on our client base that will help us make decisions in the future and advised us to look towards the level of diversity nature needs to be successful when considering the diversity and inclusion of our workforce
“The Panoply are taking a very enlightened approach to addressing their impact on the planet and we are delighted to be partnering with a company that understands the need to look beyond the carbon offset model. Your support is so valued, helping us at Rewilding Britain to give nature the space it needs to flourish, to help species avoid extinction and to mitigate climate warming. Thanks – we’re looking forward to what we can achieve together in the coming months and years.”
– Kate Barclay, Fundraising and Development Lead, Rewilding Britain
A diverse range of approaches
As I have outlined throughout, it is vital to have a diverse range of approaches when addressing the impact an organisation has on the planet. And even with something as seemingly simple as offsetting it is vital to challenge the status quo, find mutually beneficial relationships with other organisations and always be more ambitious with the positive impact you can have.
We, as humans, could work out a flawless carbon sequestration technology next week but still continue to ravage the natural world to the point where the complexity and depth of our supporting natural systems collapse, causing food system breakdowns and regular pandemic outbreaks. Embracing the uncertainty and unknowns that come with rewilding, and putting our trust in nature is paramount to addressing the emergencies the planet faces.
Neil Clark – Environmental Strategist at The Panoply