1. Tracking carbon for mySociety

    As we explore projects where mySociety can help address the climate crisis, as an organisation we’ve also been trying to understand the carbon impact of our existing work.

    Using Code for Australia’s carbon calculator as a really helpful guide and starting point, we’ve estimated mySociety’s 2019 and 2020 carbon footprints.

    In  2019 this was 74 tonnes of CO2, and so far in 2020 it’s, as you’d expect in a year that includes several months of lockdown, substantially lower at around 23 tonnes.

    It’s proving frustratingly difficult to place these figures in context: even while using their methodology, we can’t accurately compare the outcome to Code for Australia’s given their very different geographical situation and activities; and as a remote organisation where all employees work from home, our footprint is always going to be different from more conventional set-ups. If you think your organisation bears similarities to ours, and you’ve also calculated your emissions, please do let us know!

    As for addressing our output, we are pushing a two pronged approach: we’ve already changed staff policies to encourage more sustainable working methods and to ensure a significant reduction in our future emissions; and, currently, having learned of disturbing failings in even the most-recommended offsetting services, we are researching where we might be able to make direct payments to mitigate  the carbon we produce.

    mySociety 2019 carbon footprint
    Item Total CO2 (metric tonnes) Percentage of total
    Flights 40.663 55.31%
    Accommodation 9.545 12.98%
    Ground transport 6.198 8.43%
    Electronics 0.695 0.95%
    Servers – manufacture 5.120 6.96%
    Servers – electricity 7.199 9.79%
    Laptop – manufacture 1.655 2.25%
    Laptop – electricity 0.475 0.65%
    Catering 1.967 2.68%
    Everything else 0.002 0.00%
    Total 73.56 100.00%

     

    The biggest contribution to carbon expenditure in 2019 was travel. mySociety is a distributed organisation, with staff all around the UK. While on a daily basis that means very little commuting, we do (or did pre-COVID) meet up frequently in teams, and three to four times a year the entire organisation convenes in one place. International research contracts that require onsite interviews can mean long haul plane journeys, and travelling to the international events that we organise requires some air travel as well.

    As an organisation we produced 47 tonnes of carbon in travel in 2019, with 75% produced by relatively few longhaul plane flights. The overall contribution of train travel is relatively low despite a large number of journeys (349). There were far fewer domestic plane journeys, but even so they accounted for almost as much carbon as train trips within the UKs.

    Mode Journeys (one way) CO2 % C02 Total distance % Total distance Average C02 per journey
    Long distance plane 24 35,297 75% 73,201 63% 2,941
    Short hop plane 31 5,366 11% 11,938 10% 298
    Train 349 3,068 7% 24,035 21% 17
    UK plane 15 2,156 5% 2,964 3% 270
    Car 39 887 2% 1,359 1% 39
    Bus 25 36 0% 397 0% 3
    Eurostar 9 29 0% 1,830 2% 5
    Grand total 492 46,839 100% 115,724 100% 181

     

    While for obvious reasons our 2020 travel costs are much lower, we are keen to avoid a return to the ‘old normal’.

    Over the last year, our policy towards ‘short’ plane journeys has changed. When staff do travel, if their destination can be reached within 7.5 hours door-to-door by train (or other forms of sustainable public transport) they should take this option rather than flying, except in mitigating circumstances around safety or accessibility.

    Additionally, if staff choose low-carbon holiday travel they are entitled to claim additional annual leave, as part of mySociety’s involvement in the Climate Perks scheme.

    Our wider environmental policy can be read on our website.

    Image: Providence Doucet

  2. Looking at our own climate impact

    As Mark announced in his first blog post of 2020, we’re currently focusing our work on the climate crisis, with a particular emphasis on how those in power can be held to account over the world’s need to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

    But you can’t start challenging others, of course, without ensuring that your own house is in order — which is why we have been working out what we, as an organisation, can be doing to minimise our own impact. A small Climate Action team within mySociety have taken on this task.

    Taking stock

    The first thing we realised was that it’s not as simple as it seems! It’s a big area; there’s not always consensus on what is genuinely impactful; and it’s easy to get taken up with the small details while losing site of the big picture.

    Plus, one obvious hurdle was that we had no idea what our current carbon footprint looks like. That being so, how can we measure whether we are making improvements?

    With all those things in mind, we decided on this approach:

    1. To first concentrate on just a few areas where we believe we’ll be able to make the biggest changes for the better; and
    2. To spend some time calculating our current carbon emissions in two areas that we know to be significant: that’s travel, and our web servers.

    Oh, and one more thing…

    We decided to talk about it.

    Doing it in public

    As you can tell from the above, we’re in no position yet to confidently announce what measures we’re putting in place to minimise our climate impact.

    But we believe that by talking in public about our efforts to get to that point, we’ll be able to share what we find, learn from others, and — crucially — help normalise carbon reduction as a topic of conversation within our sector. We’re thinking about this; have you been too?

    So over the course of a few blog posts we’ll share where we’ve got to so far, and where we still have questions, starting with a look at our travel.

    We’d love it if you could let us know what you’ve been doing, as well, especially if you are a similar organisation to mySociety: small in size, mostly remote, working online with digital services, maybe running events and with some need for travel, both domestic and international.

    Image: Markus Spiske