We started on this journey to become carbon neutral back in 2012 when we became the world’s first consultancy to be certified as a One Planet Company by sustainability charity, Bioregional. Since then we’ve taken many steps toward this goal, putting measures in place to monitor and reduce our carbon footprint, including signing up as a founding member of the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment in 2018.  In the end, I was surprised by how easy it was to achieve carbon neutral, largely because of the steps we had already taken to monitor and reduce our emissions over the past eight years.

That’s not to say we didn’t face challenges; defining Scope 3 was difficult, and many organisations exclude this from their reporting for this very reason. However, we felt we couldn’t truly take this step to addressing our whole carbon footprint without making sure it was included in this annual reporting.

Back in 2012, when we committed to Bioregional’s One Planet Living (OPL) reporting requirements, we began reporting annually on our plans and progress in making our operations, products, services, and supply chains more sustainable.

In order to meet the requirements of the internationally accepted PAS 2060 Standard for carbon neutrality, we improved the operational efficiency of our offices by firstly reducing demand for energy and business travel within the company. We focused on the impact of our office fit-outs, improved the efficiency of lighting, controls and metering across all our offices, as well as opting for low-carbon transport alternatives. The business then purchased renewable electricity for our tenancies and negotiated with our landlords to do the same. As a final step – and last resort – we purchased accredited and credible carbon offsets with environmental and social benefits to offset any remaining emissions.

For Scope 1 and Scope 2, Bioregional’s One Planet Living reporting requirements already filled most of the gaps when it came to understanding our emissions output. For example, we had reliable data in place for energy consumption across all our offices, but it did highlight some additional areas where we had not historically collected data, such as the emissions created by the refrigerants in our air conditioning systems.

However, defining Scope 3 was much more of a challenge. Firstly, we had to understand where our impact was. While we realise there is more to Scope 3 than travel, an early impact assessment of our procured goods and travel, showed that business travel made up two thirds of our Scope 3 emissions. With this in mind, we made implementing strategies to lower our reliance on business travel a key priority. These strategies included improving our IT infrastructure to reduce the reliance on face-to-face meetings, selecting office locations with close proximity to public transport hubs, and opting for low-carbon transport alternatives where possible.

This process was well underway before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but if we’ve learned anything in the last few months, it’s that the business can still operate well in a world where many of us are working from home and business must be done almost entirely online.

Achieving carbon neutrality is a challenge, but it is achievable and should be a priority for everyone in the built environment because as an industry we are responsible for such a high proportion of the UK’s overall carbon emissions.

Ultimately, this journey needs to start with a corporate commitment to carbon neutrality and a financial commitment to achieving it. There’s a lot we can be doing to reduce our impact, and while offsetting may be a part of that journey at this point, it’s important to acknowledge that it is a last resort. The journey is not over just because you are certified carbon neutral, and in coming years we will endeavour to continue reducing our emissions and lowering the need for offsets, as well as delivering net zero carbon buildings and infrastructure.

Publicly available reporting detailing how Cundall achieved carbon neutrality in line with PAS 2060 is available here. Details of Cundall’s sustainability strategy are outlined in the Sustainability Roadmap.