What to expect on a journey to carbon-neutrality
Kim Yates and Davide Stronati describe Mott MacDonald's pathway to carbon neutrality, the lessons that can be shared and where the company hopes to go next.
We had been actively reducing our carbon emissions for much of the last 10 years in keeping with our sustainability agenda.
However, last year we decided we had to be more ambitious and go fully carbon neutral. The worsening climate crisis was reflected in massive demonstrations around the world. International accords such as the Paris Agreement have been bolstered by the drive of individual states, such as the UK which has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and China which wants to achieve the same goal by 2060. Companies in other sectors have become carbon neutral – or are well on their way. And soon clients will be demanding this of their partners and suppliers in our sector too.
Start by defining your carbon baseline
We had been examining our global carbon footprint for many years, although it was in 2019 that we sought external verification of our figures. Our global carbon footprint for 2019 was 30,019tCO₂e.
Calculating this figure was hugely complicated. We have projects in over 150 countries and offices in nearly 50. Most of our offices are in buildings shared with other companies, making it even harder to isolate our emissions. We created a bespoke app which was sent to office managers around the world to help them collect the necessary data.
The next step was to examine business travel. In 2019 we employed 33 different travel agencies across the global business. This added up to over 100,000 lines of travel data – and the huge task of data cleansing to match each trip and its associated emissions to individual staff numbers.
Once we had calculated our carbon footprint, we enlisted the Carbon Trust, which went over our entire methodology and examined all our spreadsheets – a massive undertaking considering the vast quantities of data generated across the company. And now we are independently accredited on a global basis. Getting to this point took a major effort – but it meant we could confidently define our carbon footprint – and get to work on becoming carbon neutral.
Driving down our carbon footprint
In Europe – where we produced more than 50% of our energy carbon emissions and over 60% of our transport emissions – we worked closely with our landlords, and the vast majority have now moved to renewable energy supplies. In North America, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and South Asia we looked at both switching energy supplies and becoming more energy efficient.
We found our biggest travel-related emissions came from flying. We now signpost low carbon airlines or those offering offsetting schemes, while collaborative platforms and conferencing technology help us avoid much unnecessary travel.
In North America we noted a lot of road travel, so we promoted hybrid vehicles and are now moving towards electric. This only works if the country’s electricity grid is itself relatively low carbon, so a bespoke national approach is needed that takes this into account. Elsewhere we worked with our providers for preferential rates on low emissions vehicles.
Finally, we had to mitigate remaining emissions through a carbon offset scheme which physically removes CO2 from the air. We selected a peatland restoration project at the Berbak National Park in Indonesia for which we provided advisory services. Peat, which is made of plant matter built up over time, effectively converts atmospheric CO2 to solid form. We have bought offset credits that will finance the creation of new peatland with a storage capacity equivalent to 31,000t of carbon.
The importance of accreditation
Seeking independent accreditation was a crucial part of our carbon neutral journey. It enables us to assure others that we have truly done what we say; it’s a matter of trusting us not because we say so but because the Carbon Trust, an independent organisation, says so.
The first standard to meet was ISO 14064, the international standard for carbon reporting. This assures that our carbon footprint has been correctly calculated.
Verification of our offsets showed we had also met the standard for carbon neutrality, PAS 2060.
Six tips for achieving carbon neutrality
- Seek accreditation: Certification from external bodies will bolster your credibility within the industry and can also provide guidance if you need support in meeting your carbon-neutral goals.
- Make the most of technology: Use dashboards and data-based solutions to find out where the carbon is and use technological solutions where possible to mitigate it.
- Leadership must come from the top: Embedding largescale change is only successful if there is buy-in and visible support from senior leaders.
- Share responsibility across the company: Once each employee and each department see their carbon footprint, they are empowered and encouraged to find ways to cut it.
- Collaborate with other organisations: Ask your suppliers and partners how they can help you reduce your carbon footprint.
- Set science-based targets: Make sure you’re playing your fair part in cutting carbon, to reach the global goal of attaining net-zero emissions.
Next steps: From carbon neutral to net-zero
We want to make the journey from carbon neutral to net-zero by 2040. While carbon neutral involves offsetting our emissions by investing in carbon capture and sequestration schemes operated by third parties, net-zero, involves us offsetting our residual carbon emissions ourselves, without relying on any third parties.
How we achieve net-zero is still to be finalised, but is sure to include: more robust carbon management; better use of data and technology; further reduction of travel; shifting responsibility from the company to individuals; reducing energy use of our offices; more green energy; continuing the shift to hybrid or electric vehicles; and developing our own offsetting schemes.
No doubt we will learn lots from our suppliers and partners who join us on this journey, while the emissions landscape changes with new regulations, standards and legislation over the next 20 years.
Kim Yates, UK & Europe sustainability leader
Davide Stronati, global sustainability leader