Organisations are increasingly developing their own carbon and ecological footprint calculators to measure their impacts.

While there are plenty of generic footprint calculators out there, many organisations’ activities are specific to them and it is more appropriate for them to develop bespoke solutions.

The Drivers Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), part of the UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT), is one such organisation. It is currently refining its own carbon calculator with the aim of reducing the impact of its activities.

Carbon emissions from transport

Carbon emissions for the transport sector are the hardest to tackle of any sector. They have only declined by 3 per cent in 30 years in the UK.

Some organisations, such as Swansea University, have produced their own transport impact reduction scores to reduce the impact of employees’ business travel.

Swansea University’s transport impact reduction hierarchy used to reduce the impact of employees’ business travel.

The DfT already has to operate in line with the government’s Clean Growth and Road to Zero strategies: it is publishing its own decarbonisation plan this autumn.

100 million documents a year

This is about reducing the impacts of bureaucracy, basically. DVLA sends out over 100 million documents a year to drivers, most of which are vehicle tax enforcement letters.

While some might say, why not just stop sending them out at all? that is unfortunately not going to happen.  DVLA is, however, interested in reducing the carbon emissions resulting from these transactions.

Rhian Thomas heads up the team that manages and reports on DVLA’s performance against the UK Greening Government Commitments. As the coordinator of the project, she explained that “strategic rather than financial reasons are our main motivation. We wanted to see how much we could reduce of our scope three emissions.”

Scope three? What’s that? So, the Independent Panel on Climate Change divides emissions by type into the following categories:

  • Scope 1 – “direct” emissions from the activities of an organisation, or under their control, such as fuel use on site, gas boilers, fleet vehicles and air-conditioning leaks.
  • Scope 2 – “indirect” emissions, such as from electricity purchased and used by the organisation, when the electricity is produced.
  • Scope 3 – all other “indirect” emissions from the organisation’s activities from sources they don’t own or control.

Scope 3 emissions

Scope 3 usually contains the largest share of the carbon footprint – things like business travel, emissions from the supply chain, from waste and from water, and from the use of its goods and services by customers and clients.

By law, the DVLA already has to reduce scope 1 and 2 emissions, so by including some from scope 3 they are getting ahead of the game.

Examples of scope 3 emissions being covered by the DVLA’s modelling

“We started in the context of our core business, not just our estate,” continues Thomas. “That’s to say all of our services.”

The purpose of the calculator

“The purpose of the calculator is not to report calculations and impacts externally but purely for internal purposes,” she says.

“It is to introduce regular carbon impact discussions into the executive team meetings, which is working.

“We also want to provide business cases for change with environmental metrics and to increase the awareness of carbon impacts amongst business change managers and business case drafters.”

Above all they want to reduce emissions from the driver’s experiences with them. “Over the driver’s lifetime they would typically have 11 interactions with us to do with tax and vehicle licensing.”

Modelling

The modelling that DVLA uses looks in great detail at the different stages of these transactions – the operational processes: from letters being sent out, being printed on different printers, whether the completed forms had to be taken to a post office, how far this journey would be, what type of vehicle might be used for this journey, and for delivering the letters from the post office, with what type of fuels, to the distance the form was travelling back to the main office in Swansea.

The various fuel and electricity types used for each of these steps is then converted into carbon emissions using standard UK emission factors. Modelling each step in different ways establishes the benefits of shifting to different processes, such as online and paperless transactions.

Each step has its own carbon score:

“It’s important to use the right metrics, and to double check everything,” advises Thomas.

Social value modelling

One thing they have yet to take account of is emissions from the data centre they use, but under Greening Government requirements they have a list of strategic suppliers and each quarter look at energy efficiency and renewable energy levels in data centres. The contracts last only two years, which allow them to switch to greener suppliers sooner. DVLA enquires with suppliers every quarter if their energy efficiency level has changed. This drives improvements in the supply chain.

From January 21 the Welsh government will also permit them to use social value modelling. (Swansea, where their main operations base is located, is in Wales, and procurement strategy of public bodies is a devolved responsibility and covered by Wales’ unique Well-Being of Future Generations Act).

“Ten per cent of all contracts will be able to include social value, so we will be able to start choosing companies based on these criteria,” Thomas said.

“It’s also important to get buy in from the financial department and the board, to document everything correctly I report properly. The calculator is only as good as the data we get from departments.

“We also have to update all the data every 12 months and draft our own reporting requirements. All of this requires resources, which we see it as part of the green recovery.”

Prioritising changes

DVLA has also introduced a competitive element by getting different departments to run their own modelling and decision-making to see who can reduce emissions the most.

“Our prioritisation is not to do the easiest thing but to do the thing that will reduce the most journeys or the most use of paper,” she said. “The tool that we have developed can help look at the trade-offs.”

Demand for the calculator within the organisation is outstripping the work at present. They have therefore commissioned apprentices to build an online version of the calculator in Microsoft Excel and to make it as accessible as possible while building a library of processes and product steps.

The resulting calculations will be used to inform a task prioritisation tool and the results are being shared with other government departments.

Beyond carbon

Going beyond carbon into the ecological footprint looking at the impact of paper also, and the circular economy. “The government makes sure we buy only recycled paper, but a lot of the paper we use is heavier than normal, so minimising it saves carbon and trees.

“When the forms are returned we recycle them, which gives us another income stream,” Thomas adds.

As for the impacts of employees, like many organisations the DVLA has seen a huge increase in home working during the pandemic, which has reduced emissions from the business transport.

“Our individual employee carbon impact has dropped by a third,” Thomas says. “So we hope to continue some homeworking when the pandemic ends.”

It is a huge amount of work and it will continue to be updated and developed.

Get inspired

This example gives an insight into how each organisation might apply the principles of carbon and ecological footprinting to its own needs and circumstances.

Risks for other UK organisations to consider. Different countries will have their own regulations and emission conversion factors

David Thorpe is author of books such as Solar Technology and One Planet Cities. He is director of The One Planet Centre. He is based in the UK.

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