Join others on the road to carbon neutrality

More people in business now realise a low carbon footprint gives a competitive edge. But how do you set about achieving it in a meaningful way – and how much hassle is it?

More businesses are looking for high-impact ways to push towards a thriving, futuristic low-emissions economy.

Research by EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), the organisation that backs Gen Less, shows the number of people in business who agree having a low carbon footprint gives a competitive advantage has mushroomed by 8% since last year to 45%. They’re on track to meet the market – 88% of Kiwis want businesses to do more about climate change.

Understanding and measuring where your emissions are coming from is a critical first step in figuring out what needs to change in your business, and knowing exactly what you can achieve.

EECA has been at it longer than most. As the government agency charged with promoting energy efficiency and opportunities to reduce emissions, we signed up to a certified emissions reduction scheme in 2007. We’ve managed to whittle away our annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 35% since then, and last year became a certified carbon zero organisation.

Demand for climate-friendly products and services is growing. No matter what size your business is or what sector it’s in, you can get ahead of the game by taking steps to becoming more carbon conscious.

Where do you start?

Carbon footprinting, also known as carbon accounting, is a process of measuring the impact your activities have on the amount of greenhouse gasses released in the atmosphere. It’s expressed in tons of CO2 equivalent emissions.

This is the first step to reducing business emissions. It shows up your emissions hotspots and helps you identify which areas offer quick wins that are worth targeting first. Once you have a baseline, repeating the process every year means you can track your emissions consistently and accurately.

Guides, calculators and worksheets are freely available to help businesses measure and report their own greenhouse gas emissions. These are perfect for getting smaller businesses underway. Large or complex businesses are likely to need more technical expertise and extra resource – that’s where an independent certification agency comes in. It’s also a must-have if you want to call your business ‘carbon neutral’. Look for a certification agency that works to the main international standards (ISO:14064-1 and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol).

EECA measures and reports its emissions through Toitū Envirocare’s carbonreduce certification programme and is a Toitū carbonzero certified organisation.

What to measure

You can focus on any emissions categories that make sense to your business. One common approach is to look at air travel, waste, electricity, manufacturing/production and freight/transportation.

At EECA we measure and record emissions data from these categories:

  • Air travel. We capture flight mileage simply by recording where flights start and end – our booking agent does this automatically.
  • Electricity. We record the kilowatt hours on our electricity bills for each of our three offices (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch).
  • Car mileage. Our booking agent captures data on rental vehicles, while travel in personal vehicles or by taxi shows up via staff expense claims.
  • Accommodation. We use the Ministry for the Environment standard conversion factor per person per night.
  • Waste. A small but important slice of our carbon footprint as landfill waste generates emissions as it breaks down. An independent provider audited our waste over two weeks, giving us an estimate of kilograms produced per year.

Some businesses include emissions generated by staff commuting. A survey found EECA staff are high users of public and active transport so we made a call to exclude it from our programme. This is acceptable if a category is less than 5% of the organisation’s total emissions profile.

Reducing emissions

EECA works with Toitū to produce an annual emissions reduction plan. We have two ambitious, long-term targets that are science-based and consistent with keeping warming to 1.5 degrees by 2030 – something we signed up to as members of the Climate Leaders Coalition. They’re ‘SMART’ targets (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-constrained) with assigned responsibilities.

Two sets of specific projects with 1-2 year timelines step us towards the finishing line. Seven aim to reduce emissions while nine improve data quality.

Three of our current projects relate to transport emissions. It’s a challenging area because our account managers need to travel as part of their work, for example to make site-visits to large energy-using businesses around the country. We’ve been chipping away at these emissions over the years by encouraging staff to consider opportunities to reduce travel, improving teleconferencing resources, and embracing electric vehicle (EV) car share schemes and electric rental cars. Our Auckland office now only uses EVs. This has helped us cut emissions from plane and car travel by 31% since 2007.

Another project relates to our electricity provider. We had a big win a couple of years ago by switching our Auckland office to a retailer that offsets emissions at no extra cost to EECA. Switching the Wellington office when our current contract expires will make a satisfying dent in our emissions.

We aim to run our three offices as efficiently as possible. They all hold excellent energy savings credentials of either 4 or 4.5 out of 6 stars through the NABERSNZ scheme.

Like most organisations, our supply chain is a cache of potential emissions reductions. Our supplier criteria ensures those with lower carbon options and climate-friendly policies stand out. We also tell suppliers carbon reduction is important to us and look for ways to work together on improvements.

The carbon neutrality step

The heart of climate-friendly business is about cutting out harmful emissions before they’re generated. You can compensate for the emissions you can’t yet avoid by offsetting them. This means purchasing carbon credits from a credible provider in the voluntary carbon market. The money you pay for the credits then goes into a programme that removes or reduces emissions.

As the buyer, you get to choose which scheme gets your funding. The programmes could be in New Zealand or overseas but it’s important to be sure it’s credible. See the Ministry for the Environment guidance document for advice on how to tell if a programme ticks the boxes.

EECA last year purchased credits in Te Uru Rakau (Forestry New Zealand) initiatives, earning its status as a certified carbon zero organisation.

Get more information

Toitū Envirocare Carbon Assess(external link)

EECA collaborated with Toitū Envirocare to to develop a tool to collate and track the combined carbon emissions of their New Zealand-based suppliers and give small businesses an easy and affordable way to measure their carbon emissions and benchmark against similar organisations.

Toitū Carbon Assess for small New Zealand enterprises(external link)

Toitū Carbon Assess for a sustainable supply chain(external link)

Measuring Emissions: A Guide for Organisations(external link)

A set of documents from Ministry for the Environment encouraging best practice monitoring and reporting.

Guidance for voluntary carbon offsetting(external link)

Updated and extended until 31 December 2021 (Ministry for the Environment).

Calculate and cut your emissions, and lift profits(external link)

A how-to guide for the voluntary carbon market from the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development

Calculate and Lower your Carbon Emissions(external link)

A resource sheet from the Sustainable Business Network and link to the Annual Carbon Emissions (ACE) calculator

Business carbon footprint calculator(external link)

Free online emissions calculator.

SME carbon footprint calculator(external link) 

For small and medium-sized businesses.