What should we do about walkit.com’s carbon footprint?

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What should we do about walkit.com's carbon footprint?

Posted 7 October 2009 11:29 by martin

Most people believe that as a society we've got to cut our carbon emissions, year on year, and drastically.

But if you're down the pub (or wherever) chatting with friends, and you start talking about climate change, it's often difficult to detect any sense of urgency about people changing their own behaviour.  Who, hand on heart, can claim that their personal carbon footprint has decreased year on year recently (I can't)?  Who even has a good handle on what their personal carbon footprint is (I sort of do through Act on CO2)?

Reasons abound as to why we may not personally be blazing a trail:  'it's them, those cross-Atlantic flight addicts who need to change', or 'business needs to take the lead', or 'government's got to set the right framework/incentives'.  And all the while we veer further away from the path we need to take to hit the 2050 reduction targets.

But what about walkit.com's responsibilities as an online business?  A few years ago there was some fashionable twaddle aired about a new internet-led knowledge economy where we would all 'live on thin air', when in fact the world wide web is increasingly energy hungry, and often helps catalyse increasingly unsustainable patterns of consumption.

So where does that leave walkit.com, and its own own operational carbon footprint?  Well, here are some of our challenges:
  • Three of us work from home, so as a business, we have no direct control over energy consumption there, and have the added difficulty of trying to work out how to apportion energy consumption to the home, or to work
  • Three of us work from a managed office, where negotiations about procurement of energy are complex (to say the least).
  • As we're based in 3 different parts of the country, and have many meetings around the UK, we do quite a lot of long-distance rail travel.
  • Our computers and servers may not be the most energy efficient, but the expense, time and business disruption associated with moving over to new ones would be considerable.
Of course there's lots we can do – switch off computers when not in use, cluster meetings to minimise travel, use teleconferencing, buy new kit with carbon emissions in mind etc. etc. – all the usual stuff.  And we do most of them, maybe not with total rigour, but certainly with good intentions.

But when we look at something like the 10:10 campaign (to commit to cut emissions by 10% in 2010), I don't think we can honestly sign up to it.  We'd struggle to even work out a baseline for our 2009 emissions.  And as walkit.com's traffic grows, and we grow as a company, if anything, our emissions are likely to go up, not down.  We could try to get our relative emissions down, but relative to what:  Full time (equivalent) employees? Turnover? Office square footage? Unique users of walkit.com? Pages served by walkit.com?  Routes generated by walkit.com?

And surely relative reductions aren't good enough, when we live in an 'absolute' world!?

We could of course 'appropriate' some of the emissions reductions resulting from walkit.com users' behaviour change – but measuring that is difficult, and anyway, surely that is their carbon saving, not ours?

Lastly, we could offset, but that opens up another can of worms…

'We've all got to urgently reduce our carbon emissions, but, ummm…here are walkit.com, we're…excused?'  Is that just a tad complacent?

What do you think?  Should we:
  • Get real, everyone (whether individually, or as an organisation) has to do their bit when the threat from climate change is potentially so serious, so walkit.com must cut its emissions, whatever it takes.
  • Do our best – use our common sense to try and keep our CO2 emissions as low as we can, but don't necessarily get bogged down in identifying the last kg of carbon that needs to be managed.  Maybe offset too.
  • Stop navel-gazing – we'd be better spending our time improving and expanding our service to help other people lower their carbon footprint, rather than agonising over our own carbon emissions.
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Comments

  1. Andy D'Agorne says:

    October 25th, 2009 at 10:17 pm (#)

    I think you have to do a bit of everything. Providing a link to ActonCO2 and encouraging site users to calculate home much they can save per week by walking just once a week will help users. 10:10 could be a lever in negotiations with your managed workspace – get all the other tenants to say they want to achieve 10:10 and challenge the owners to act so that you can promote your green credentials and help them remain competitive. Ticking the box, especially when it is difficult, will make it easier for you to argue that others should do likewise. But dont let it stop you from developing walk it further in the mean time!
    😉 Andy

  2. Sam Jewell says:

    October 25th, 2009 at 10:19 pm (#)

    Hi

    I think you have to do something. There's no way you can excuse/justify doing nothing – got to lead the way, not wait for others.

    I personally am for carbon offsets – After reading a few articles in the Economist (which doesn't agree wholly with my personal politics) I have been persuaded that offsetting can be effective if it mean we get the biggest bang for our bucks, and save carbon where it can be saved cheaply and effectively. This at least can be a starting point, and from this point you can reduce your own emmissions and your need to buy offsets.

    There are independent bodies who rate offsetting companies, and some do score very highly. Just go with one of them – it is surely no more stupid than giving your money to a charity blindly, and letting them handle their own efficiency/productivity how they like.

  3. Geof says:

    October 26th, 2009 at 9:27 am (#)

    You have already taken what is probably the most important action – talking about it! People who talk about the problems and solutions are aware of their actions and much more likely to turn off their computer, get a sensible meeting schedule, and persuade their friends and neighbours to do the same… And remember that you don't have to go to every meeting: tele, video and web meetings, and some collaborative software, can really reduce your travel needs (and costs, and time away from home).

  4. Gav says:

    October 29th, 2009 at 7:15 pm (#)

    Jamie, suggest you think of the 10 things you can do. then post them on the blog, ask people to provide a further 10 things they can do, and the next and the next.
    looking through the list will provide ideas and maybe the final 10 (don't have to stop there) would go some way to cut your emissions down by 10%..

    if three work from home,

    use tap water not bottle water
    low energy bulbs
    ensure computers and equipment (like wifi routers) are turned off at night

    its simple stuff, we can all do it, but do we?

    when you commute. do you walk at the end? if its too far, do you bike? do you teleconference? how much of the travel could be swapped to teleconference? do you travelshare?

    hope your doing well, must catch up one of these days,

    gav

  5. Janet says:

    November 11th, 2009 at 3:08 pm (#)

    I think doing your best is always the right choice. We're in a similar position to you guys – with a home office, a virtual office and a variable number of staff. The amount of business travel we do (by train) also depends on our workload. So establishing baselines is tricky.

    I think you have to try though. You can pick a reasonable method of apportioning home energy use to the business, and then make sure you use the same method next time. Aligning it with the costs you claim against tax is a good way of being consistent across the board if you're not sure where to start.

    The 10:10 folks are being pretty rational about growing businesses, which attracted us to take part. They agree that an absolute reduction is the overall goal, but that some growing businesses will not be able to achieve absolute reductions – and that where a low-carbon business grows, and causes carbon reductions elsewhere, this can be a good thing. So they'll allow you to measure your emissions relative to turnover.

    We're making a similar journey to you – we post updates and info in our notebook at http://www.polon.co.uk/notebook/category/sustainability. So we'd be interested to hear how you get along.

    PS Any plans for a walkit.com iphone app?

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