Here at Planet Mark, we want to support you to make informed decisions about your energy consumption. Recent changes to greenhouse gas conversion factors will significantly impact how your organisation’s energy usage is translated to carbon emissions. Matthew Sumners, Sustainability Consultant Manager at Planet Mark delves into the new factors, and how they might affect your carbon footprint.
The UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ, formerly known as BEIS) publishes emissions conversion factors to enable organisations operating in the UK to calculate their carbon footprints. These conversion factors provide an estimate of the quantity of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere per unit of activity or energy consumption. Emission factors are annually updated, typically in June, and are accompanied by detailed methodologies and supporting documentation. In this blog, we aim to help you understand how emission factors are worked out and provide an overview of the important updates for 2023.
How are emission factors calculated?
Emission factors are subject to change over time due to updated data, shifts in energy sources and advancements in methodologies. Consequently, these factors can vary from year to year, which can impact an organisation’s carbon footprint.
These variations are particularly noteworthy when comparing carbon footprints year-on-year, as changes in the emissions factors can result in unexpected impacts on an organisation’s overall carbon footprint irrespective of its efforts to reduce emissions or energy consumption.
Examples of emission factors changing in 2023
Grid electricity emissions
There are specific updates in the newly released documentation, such as the 7.2% increase in the grid electricity emissions factor, that could have significant implications on your carbon footprint. This rise in grid electricity emissions can mostly be attributed to reductions in renewable energy generation, and a corresponding higher usage of gas for electricity generation during 2021. Notably, this marks the first time the carbon intensity of the UK grid has increased since 2014.
But what exactly does that mean for organisations? If a company uses the same kWh or even slightly less than in previous years, their emissions from electricity consumption are likely to increase. This could seriously impact companies committed to reducing emissions annually, especially considering that electricity consumption can, in some cases, contribute to over 30% of their measured carbon footprint.
The best way to avoid the impact of this increase in grid factor emissions and safeguard year-on-year reductions is to aim for significant reductions in electricity consumption through improved energy management, awareness and education, and by switching over to a 100% REGO backed clean renewable energy tariff.
Air travel emissions
You will be well aware that air travel already carries a significant footprint, and our guidance is always to make sure that you limit air travel to a minimum where possible. Since the emissions factors were updated for 2023, a single passenger’s Economy Class return flight from London to New York (without radiative forcing) now amounts to 1.7 tCO2e, up from 1.1 tCO2e. Domestic, short-haul, and long-haul flights have all experienced increases ranging from 11% to 51%, attributable to reduced load factors (planes operating with fewer passengers) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Inevitably, this has led to higher emissions per person.
Separate from the increase in emissions factors, travel restrictions have eased since late 2021 and companies have made a return to normal operations. Since this has happened, there has been a noticeable increase in emissions from business travel compared with year-end 2022 to year-end 2021.
This upward trend is likely to continue, due in part to the impact of emissions factor increases. While air travel is considered essential for some businesses, it’s crucial for companies to understand the true impact it can have on their carbon footprint and take the necessary steps to reduce flights where feasible. When combatting climate change, air travel is undeniably one of the key targets.
Refrigerants are commonly used in air conditioning units and are found as either gases or liquids. Updates to refrigerant emission factors, to align with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s potential global warming figures, could have an impact on your organisation’s footprint for 2023.
Notable changes have occurred in some specific refrigerant emission factors, but most have seen up to 20%. Regular maintenance and checks are vital for equipment using these refrigerants to prevent leaks, without mentioning that they are required by law. Emissions from refrigerant leaks can, if left unchecked, have a considerable impact on a company’s carbon footprint.
Electric vehicles are helping businesses worldwide reduce their emissions across fleet, commuting and business travel. Due to the increased grid emissions factor, however, plug-in hybrid cars and electric vehicles have experienced emission increases ranging from 7% to 16%. While this may have a minor impact on organisations using these vehicles, they remain a more sustainable option compared to fossil fuel counterparts, particularly when charged using renewable energy sources.
Regarding waste management, there is up to a 12% increase in certain waste-to-landfill factors. This is primarily related to biodegradable materials, thanks to updated methane capture values. Accordingly, companies should be increasingly mindful of proper waste disposal methods to make sure that they are making meaningful carbon reductions. It may be worth speaking to your waste services provider for more support managing your waste streams.
They key? Staying informed
The message here is that to be confident of making year-on-year reductions in your annual carbon footprint, sustainability cannot exist on the periphery of operations.
By its very nature, climate change is volatile, erratic and ever-changing, so we would always recommend that our Members use our carbon tracker tool to visualise an estimate of annual emissions. Beyond managing consumption, it is vital for organisations to remain informed about changes in emission factors. In the long term, this awareness will help organisations proactively manage their carbon footprint and implement authentic strategies to efficiently reduce emissions. A win for the planet and a win for organisations.
At the heart of all of this is responsibility. At both an individual and structural level, taking responsibility is the only way we have a fighting chance of combatting climate change. It is crucial for companies to actively assume responsibility for implementing genuine energy-saving opportunities, rather than relying on the fluctuations of emissions factors. In the long term, businesses will reap the rewards of operating on a greener planet and enjoying a more secure and healthier future.
Planet Mark exists to guide brands towards this sustainable future. For further information on how to reduce electricity consumption, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.