Covid-19 has done wonders for global net zero targets. In April 2020, the climate change news site Carbon Brief published research which found that the closures had led to a dramatic reduction in transport use, electricity demand and industrial activity in worldwide. In China, carbon emissions fell 25% in the early stages of the pandemic, while global emissions are expected to fall by 2,000 million tonnes over the year as a whole, the largest annual reduction on record.
For companies keen to achieve their own ambitious goals, this was a godsend. With the vast majority of workers replaced by air-conditioned, energy-guzzling offices for their own homes, companies’ carbon consumption fell overnight. Research by energy supplier Bulb and consultancy firm EcoAct estimated that, overall, UK companies will see their carbon emissions drop by 470,000 tonnes during 2020.
There was only one very big problem with these numbers. The emissions figure was calculated based on what the researchers believed employees would generate while working from home. As we learned more about domestic emissions, these reductions became almost nonexistent. Instead of reducing their carbon footprint, companies simply transplanted them. A recent EcoAct white paper pointed out that these emissions “have not been eliminated, rather they have been moved to the homes of employees outside the direct control of the company.”
As a result, any business that promised to achieve net zero goals in the coming years could be thwarted by the energy habits of their own employees at home. With investors keenly interested in how and when companies plan to reach net zero, companies have started collecting employee data in an attempt to fix the problem. Take Standard Life Aberdeen: Last month the Edinburgh-based fund manager, soon to be known as Abrdn, said it would start collecting data on employee emissions as part of a plan initiative aimed at reducing its carbon footprint by 50% over the next four years.
According to company CEO Stephen Bird, the company’s emissions fell from 65% to 14% due to nearly disrupted business travel in 2020. Greater use of technologies such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom maintain this figure. lower than pre-pandemic levels in the future, but Bird acknowledges that simply relying on a reduction in long-haul flights will never be enough.
“While we continue to roll out efficiency measures in our larger offices, in 2020 we have grown from less than 1% of our employees working at home to more than 95%,” he says. “This means that working from home has become the biggest source of emissions, accounting for 55% of our carbon footprint. “
So Standard Life Aberdeen has asked its employees to share their utility bills to help offset its corporate emissions, calling on Edinburgh eco-tech startup Pawprint to do so. Staff can voluntarily use the Pawprint app to upload data from their water, hearing or electricity bills, which is transformed into a carbon emissions score using a methodology validated by the Lancaster University professor Mike Berners Lee, carbon footprint expert and brother of the World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The more employees sign up, the more accurate the overall company score will be and the more certain it will be that it is compensating the right amount.
Pawprint, which was created two years ago to help individuals reduce the environmental impact of their daily lives, is seeing more and more companies taking an interest in the technology it provides. Craft beer maker BrewDog was its first corporate client, prompting staff to sign up for the app by promising to “double” both their shows and their dogs’ shows. International energy logistics provider Peterson and oil and gas company FTSE 250 Cairn Energy followed suit, with CEO Erwin Kooij saying the goal is to encourage employees to “question their own behaviors when it comes to sustainability ”.