The UK is committed to creating a ‘net zero’ contribution to the world’s carbon emissions by 2050, and businesses will have a big part in that process within the decades to come. But we already have ingenious ways that firms within Derbyshire can not only reduce the environmental impact of their operations now, but cut their costs too, as Dr Gary Wright, Senior Researcher in Low Carbon Technology in the University of Derby, explains.
We make use of the phrase ‘small business’ to indicate the scale of its operation, the number of employees, its physical space or its subscriber base, but do we consider how ‘small’ the impact each business has on environmental surroundings?
Or, for that matter, do companies truly understand how much polluting processes are contributing to their costs?
To understand why we have to decarbonise, we need to appreciate the context from the UK’s determination to reduce total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Firstly, the united kingdom is currently committed under the Climate Change Act 2008 to a decrease in 100 per cent of its emissions by 2050, when compared with 1990 levels. That is going to require a significant acceleration of the action the UK is already taking in areas such as energy, transport and buildings.
It will require policies to incentivise business investment too, but the target is already beginning to influence regulation and legislation, and that will become increasingly evident within the decisions more and more businesses take in the coming decades.
Secondly, what are we decarbonising? When we consider the GHG emissions associated with the UK’s ‘Carbon Footprint’, then Co2 (CO2), which increases the volume of GHGs which trap heat within the atmosphere, gets the most attention.
But, in fact, it is one of only three main GHGs, alongside Methane (CH4), which absorbs the sun’s heat and warms the atmosphere, and Nitrous Oxide (N2O), which impedes the security from the sun’s ultra-violet rays supplied by the ozone layer, with a combined output measured in tonnes or mega grams of Co2 equivalent (MgCO2e).
This footprint is effectively the impact of consumption spending by UK residents on products or services, and that isn’t just a way of measuring the UK experience, but may be the sum of all emissions across the supply chain, wherever in the world they arise.
These ‘consumption emissions’ are distinct from emissions ‘produced’ within a country’s territory or economic sphere, but they are measured together with those which are directly generated by British households through private motoring and burning fuel to heat homes.
In short, implementing ‘net zero’ requires not just legislative support from government and buy-in from businesses, but also a social contract with individual consumers.
Just more than a year ago, the University of Derby, Derby City and Derbyshire County Councils, were granted an extension to the D2EE Low Carbon project, renaming it DE-Carbonise.
DE-Carbonise, that will run until November 2022, supplies a combination of resource efficiency grants, bespoke technical expertise and oversight of de-carbonisation initiatives in medium and small enterprises (SMEs) within the D2N2 region (Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire).
The University’s involvement is really a fusion of the expertise within its Business School and its Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering, quantifying the change in carbon emissions related to any proposed change in business practice. In the space of 12 months, that essential work with companies across our region has taken more than 350 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) out of the atmosphere.
We can calculate its impact using an agreed formula, using the government’s annually updated emissions data: GHG emissions = activity data x emission conversion factor. This can help us to provide a clear and practical method of business emissions reporting.
But an easy method to explain this is to provide a handful of differing examples of the project’s many decarbonising successes in the first year.
Crassus Grab Hire, in Draycott, near Derby, specialises in waste removal and the delivery of aggregates and topsoil. The firm was keen to investigate how it could recycle the waste it collected and through the University’s Invest to develop scheme initially received funding to buy equipment to help with this, inducing the creation of two new jobs.
However, Crassus was struggling with exactly how to make further improvements, so the managers approached our DE-Carbonise project team for help.
Through a carbon reduction audit, we identified that the firm could turn its current waste right into a reusable product — a topsoil which is non-hazardous, safe to use and which meets the relevant British Standard.
An action plan outlined six key steps the team needed to take, and over an eight-week pilot project, they screened and tested 600 tonnes of soil, selling 90% of what was essentially a by-product. This resulted in a carbon saving of 0.5 tonnes, reduced their annual mileage by 1,600 and saved them £9,360.
Or, expressed in annual terms, the pilot demonstrated the procedure had the potential to reduce the company’s CO2 emissions by over 14 tonnes, yet still time as delivering cost savings of more than £60,000.
The next step is to look at how that waste could be turned into an aggregate, which has opened the door to more collaboration between the company and academia, this time through engagement with researchers in the University’s College of Science and Engineering.
As among the UK’s top 50 mechanical and electrical companies, Barlborough-based Carmel (UK) Ltd, specialists in scalable managed building services for major retailers, national developers and commercial chains, had its employees travelling over 1.3 million miles a year, primarily in cars and vans. Expressed in GHG terms, that meant an annual carbon footprint of 374 MgCO2e.
DE-Carbonise assessed the information and then produced a series of recommendations including:
- Monitoring travel emissions and which makes it a KPI for the business
- Shifting from route to rail transport in a phased way
- Replacing necessary road vehicles with electric ones
- Installing charging infrastructure
- Changing organisational focus from ‘time spent’ to ‘tasks achieved’.
Once we calculated that taking these steps can reduce Carmel’s carbon footprint from transport by as much as 95% within just a few years, the company dedicated to delivering them, applying for grant funding to aid their implementation, and working with DE-Carbonise to realise the benefits the changes will bring for their operations, their footprint and the planet.
For more information about DE-Carbonise, visit https://www.derby.ac.uk/business-services/funding-services-and-support/de-carbonise-project/