Science Based Targets initiative - looking back over the process
By Zainab Abbass
30 October 2023
For nearly 60 years, we've been pioneers in sustainability consulting and low-carbon building design, and we apply the same ambitious mindset in our own practice as we do in our designs for clients. For example, we’ve achieved net-zero carbon operational energy in all five of our offices, aligning with the UKGBC Net Zero Carbon Buildings Framework, and in 2022 we committed to Science-Based targets (emission reduction targets that align with the latest climate science to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement) to reduce our emissions.
The Science-Based targets are aimed at limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a strong emphasis on limiting warming to 1.5°C. To meet these targets we must reduce our Scope 1 & 2 GHG emissions by 46% by 2030, with 2019 as the baseline. We are also striving to achieve a similar reduction in Scope 3 emissions (e.g., travel and waste).
Committing to the Science Based Targets initiative also involves disclosing our progress, reporting company-wide emissions and tracking our target progress annually.
Scope 1 & 2 Emissions
To help us achieve an overall 46% reduction in emissions by 2030, we have agreed annual targets, including an overall reduction of 13% in 2022. We achieved a 5.6% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions (2022 total Scope 1 and 2 emissions was around 64 tCO2e against a target of 59 tCO2e).
This had the largest emissions decrease of 43% for Scope 1 & 2 emissions despite a 10% occupancy increase, however it is worth noting that gas usage was estimated. Electricity use decreased by approximately 19%, perhaps due to the new hybrid working structure.
There was a significant 42% reduction due to a lower than average occupancy in 2022.
A significant reduction of 40% despite a 57% increase in average occupancy.
Occupancy increased by 3.5%, which contributed to a 25% rise in energy use and a small 1.6% emissions increase. However, in March 2023 the London office went from three floors down to two, letting go of a floor which had previously accounted for almost 32% of the office's energy consumption and emissions in 2022.
Moving premises from Queen’s Square to Beacon Tower in August 2022 posed challenges in collecting energy data. At Queen’s Square (plus the first three months at Beacon Tower) we needed to estimate our energy usage using REEB (RIBA Energy Efficiency Benchmark). Estimated emissions showed an increase of approximately 3% when comparing 2022 against 2021, likely due to an occupancy increase of nearly 66%, and the new office being approximately three times larger than the old office. This year our data will be more accurate as we installed a sub-meter in November 2022.
We're exploring renewable energy procurement options and discussing whole building decarbonisation strategies with our landlords for more improvements.
Scope 3 Emissions
We are also aiming for a 46% reduction in travel and waste emissions by 2030:
In 2022, our offices collectively generated 6,577kg of waste, 42% less than 11,240kg in 2019. We exceeded our 13% reduction projection for 2022 and are on track to meet or surpass our 2030 target.
Recycling emissions ranked the highest, followed by residual waste and food waste. London, our largest office, produced the most waste emissions, while Cambridge had the lowest impact at 3% of total emissions.
Our overall business travel and commuting emissions reduced by 34% in 2022 compared to 2019. This significant reduction is due to hybrid working plus pandemic travel restrictions and policies, such as default remote meetings.
Business travel decreased by 47% compared to 2019. Most of this reduction was seen in the Edinburgh office, which accounts for the highest number of business journeys.
Emissions from commuting have decreased by 17% compared to 2019. In 2022, the number of people commuting fell by 29%, yet distances covered grew by 6%. Offices have reopened
and the severity of the pandemic has waned, but the current rent crisis has led to people living further from our offices. However, more people are utilising low carbon travel such as cycling, walking, and public transport. Most people are also now working from home for a portion of their week compared to 2019, when almost everybody worked exclusively in the office. This emissions reduction surpasses the 13% we targeted in 2022.
Maintaining this reduction is vital, requiring adherence to our travel policies for sustained emission cuts.
We always consider ethical and environmental issues when we purchase goods and services. We would also like to monitor other indirect emissions that occur in our value chain, but this is not straightforward.
We already capture some of the travel emissions associated with working from home through emissions for commuting, but we could monitor and further encourage employees to reduce emissions from home working. For example, we have an internal discussion group dedicated to sharing personal experiences of optimising heat pump installations in our own homes.
As well as being morally the right thing to do in the growing climate crisis, the Science Based Targets initiative has also been useful for us. It has made us actively seek new ways to reduce emissions and operate more sustainably. By understanding the patterns and factors that drive emissions in our five offices, we can proactively shape our practices and policies to minimise our environmental impact.
By prioritising transparency, accountability, and ongoing improvement, we aim to lead by example and inspire others to take meaningful climate action. Together, we can create a more sustainable future for our organization, our stakeholders, and the planet.