How do we really measure the carbon cost of our new ways of working?

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  • How do we really measure the carbon cost of our new ways of working?
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Who would have imagined three years ago that the implementation of our business moving to hybrid working would result in a meaningful number of our office-based team now working from home over the course of the working week?

Like many other organisations, we are now beginning to see a regular pattern emerge of capacity levels across our 12 UK offices on different days of the week. Yet working out office capacities, desk allocations – and even how much fruit to provide for our teams – are not the only measurements we are making. One of the most significant is how we monitor our Scope 3 carbon emissions and how this will impact our global pledge to be net zero by 2030.

In 2019 when RLB made a pledge to be net zero, we looked at our carbon emissions as the carbon cost of operating a full office with occupancy at 1:10, not a partially occupied office with an occupancy of 1:15 plus circa 250 individual homes. And it occurred to us: how many organisations are having to recalculate this cost and really understand the impact of homeworking on their carbon footprint, and its ultimate effect on meeting their own net zero pledges?

At RLB, we undertake thousands of quantitative surveys every year for our clients, and we have hundreds of highly skilled technical consultants whose role it is to gather that data and make sense of it. We provide expert opinion based on data for our clients and drive positive outcomes based on these insights. We are now going to use this technology and expertise to gather our own data and find out exactly what the impact of our new ways of working is having on RLB’s carbon footprint. We will ask questions like how many of our employees have LED lights installed in their home? How many have gas or oil boilers versus electric heating? What percentage have loft insulation? How many have gone further and installed air source or ground source heat pumps? And how does the reduction in travelling to and from work counter these emissions they are using while working at home?

Like many other companies who have committed to net zero, we are well on our way in our sustainability journey but recognise we have some big challenges ahead. As part of our ongoing measurement and monitoring, for the last two years we have included these homeworking emissions, calculated using the BEIS homeworking emissions factor against a calculated estimation of RLB employees living in either shared accommodation or single households, and against our hybrid working policy. The calculations are a best estimate, and therein lies the challenge for us and for other organisations.

Although not the easiest approach to get us to our net zero goal, it is the right route to ensure we are aware of the full impact of our business; and to progress towards the ambitious sustainability targets we want to achieve for our company, for our people and for our planet. Once we know the facts, not just estimates, we can then look to support behavioural change and provide resources and incentives to our colleagues to help them reduce their carbon emissions at home. The options here are endless and we want to engage our people in how we can provide the most support. Suggestions so far have included utilising our fantastic supply chain to see if we can provide employee discounts for LEDs and other energy efficient lighting options and using our extensive knowledge of providing sustainable solutions for clients for our own people. To address commuting and business travel, we will be encouraging more employees to take up our electric vehicle loan scheme. Our findings will influence our strategy.

This is, of course, something we can offer to other companies who are facing the same challenges: a robust measurement – not a finger in the wind – of what homeworking means to their carbon footprint so they can take action too. Not just in terms of carbon measurement, but expert consultancy on how they can reduce these emissions, and how we can help them move to a more positive outcome, based on these insights, whether their team is in the office or at home. Or, even flipping the whole scenario on its head and offering estate rationalisation counsel if their homeworking outweighs their office working scenarios.

We have all been challenged to think and act differently over the last few years. It is now time to understand the impact of these seismic changes. It is also the time to act to ensure that that impact doesn’t compromise our long-term sustainability goals.