We have looked at carbon offset/balance for our electricity use. This is a subject of particular concern to the younger generation, but for me has always been an important issue – I spent some years doing research into solar energy use and seasonal storage of thermal energy. The problem then was that gas and electricity were too cheap for the economic case to make much sense. This is changing and the climate change case is, of course, so much more immediate now and better understood.
Paying some compensation in the form or carbon balance or offset should be the last step in looking at our carbon emissions. The first and most important one is to reduce them as far as possible – a step that is too easily forgotten if paying the compensation is seen as an easy way out.
For us, our major energy use is in heating and cooling our office, and the next is energy used for servers and computers. During this Covid period, our offices are of course somewhat little used but we had taken steps when it was in use to be efficient in our energy consumption. The direct electric heating installed is an inefficient way to use electricity, and there is no gas or other alternative for heating. So we installed air-source heat pumps which will use one third to a quarter of the electricity for the same heat output – and they also provide cooling when needed in the summer.
Next, we have reduced our in-house server capacity significantly as we have moved more to the cloud. It is difficult to quantify the real energy saving here, because our reduction in the office is offset to some extent by the energy used for cloud services. This is difficult to determine, but we would expect it to be less than 24/7 physical servers. We are also working on making our software run faster so that will reduce energy for us and our customers.
So we then end up with some use of energy, and it seems good to compensate for that. We have chosen to contribute to real tree-planting work for this and we have offset the carbon this year based on the average carbon emission per employee, which is considerably more than our office use. That is just an average, but it provides a good basis for working out the compensation.
Where do we support the tree planting? On the basis that we should be able to afford to plant trees here in UK, we decided to contribute to work going on in Malawi, Africa, where there is plenty of space, a real need and people willing to do the work both for employment and for sustainability. We chose Temwa, a charity that has been tree-planting in Malawi for some years. They are small but I know them to be genuine in their efforts and professional in their approach, and some of the founder’s family live in Malvern near our office, so we have a connection with them.
Next year we may look at supporting carbon balance differently, maybe even spend a day together doing something like tree-planting.