Measuring greenhouse gas emissions

The importance of analysing and managing the carbon footprint of a business can be measured in cost-savings as well as limiting environmental damage, writes Louise Bateman

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, according to the business adage. It’s one Jane Ashton, director of group sustainable development at TUI Travel, owner of Thomson and First Choice, is all too familiar with.

She’s managed TUI Travel’s footprinting for the past 11 years and, last month, the travel and leisure group released its 2013 Sustainability Report; it shows its airline business has reduced “absolute” carbon emissions by 15 per cent over the last five years.

“Carbon footprinting is built into the fabric of what we do,” Ms Ashton says.

TUI Travel is one of a growing number of businesses that feature in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Index, a global system for scoring how well the world’s top 500 companies are measuring their emissions and achieving progress on climate change.

In 2013, more than 400 responded to the CDP questionnaire. Chief among the reasons for taking action is the value created through carbon emissions reductions, according to the 2013 report, which reveals 68 per cent of respondents claim to be doing so. At TUI Travel, £28 million has been saved by the company through environmental efficiencies in the last two years.

It is now mandatory in the UK for all quoted companies to record their annual greenhouse gas emissions in their directors’ report, one of the reasons accelerating action on footprinting, according to Craig Simmons, co-founder of UK sustainability consultancy Best Foot Forward, now part of the Anthesis Group.

Mr Simmons notes retailers are leading the way on footprinting because they are consumer-facing and a lot of their value is in their brand, and they are trying to reduce risks within the supply chain.

Retailers are leading the way on footprinting because they are consumer-facing and a lot of their value is in their brand, and they are trying to reduce risks within the supply chain

He points to Tesco, which has undertaken ground-breaking research showing that in the first six months of 2013, 28,500 tonnes of food waste was generated in Tesco stores and distribution centres. Thanks to this data, the supermarket claims it is now able to work with its suppliers to try to cut waste at all stages of the journey from farm to fork.

For smaller companies, footprinting is still a minority activity. However, according to Steve Malkin, chief executive of Planet First, which is working with the Eden Project to offer small and medium-sized enterprises carbon footprinting services and certification, “a lot of action is now being driven by procurement” within this business sector.

Big data, meanwhile, is making it easier and more cost effective for any company to measure and report its emissions. Carbon Analytics is a UK software startup offering its customers free as well as premium carbon-footprinting services, while Amee, which launched seven years ago, has gathered carbon-efficiency data on more than two million UK companies.

Progress appears to have been slowest with water footprinting. However, last year, the Carbon Trust launched the world’s first international standard for organisations measuring, managing and reducing water use year on year, with Coca-Cola Enterprises, Sainsbury’s and Branston, some of the first companies to achieve it.