Getting carbon down

In March 2020 my organisation, the Data Communications Company (which provides the secure network for smart meters) achieved carbon neutral status. We were delighted, but also recognised this was only a start.

The year before (2018-19), our independently measured carbon footprint had been 473 tonnes, and we purchased offsets to cover this. With a workforce of several hundred people spread across three sites in Britain, and supplier contacts stretching into the Far East, this was a challenge. Though we got emissions per employee down in 2019-20, our total footprint actually rose, to 737t, because of some essential air travel to the Far East and an office relocation in the North West. Again, we have offset these emissions.

Behavioural and procurement decisions have been central to our decarbonisation effort. We replaced old IT equipment, moved to renewable energy, and rolled out tools which allowed us to collaborate more efficiently online. Later, this helped us adjust quickly to the constraints of Covid. At present, the vast majority of our workforce is working from home, and we have almost no inter-site travel.

Despite the tragedy the Covid pandemic is inflicting, in the short term the constraints of lockdown will make it simpler to reduce our carbon footprint below 2018-19 levels and work towards carbon negative status.

The logic for pushing on further towards a carbon-negative goal is that the significant overshoot of atmospheric CO2 (currently around 408-416 parts per million, and rising fast) will cause continued warming for thousands of years to come. Active drawdown of the excess greenhouse gases is required to control rapid climate change and get back to a manageable 350ppm, the level right around the time the Industrial Revolution started steaming ahead.

DCC’s purpose statement is: “We believe in making Britain more connected, so we can all lead smarter, greener lives.” Our people feel strong allegiance to this and enjoy knowing that their day’s work is playing an important part in digitising the nation’s energy system, in turn enabling decarbonisation.

This summer I assumed responsibility on the executive team for our sustainability and decarbonisation effort; I’m privileged to be working on the green agenda with some very dedicated colleagues. They will have chuckled at my sponsorship, I am sure, as my love of hard copy documents and consequent heavy burden on our printers was well known! I’ve changed my behaviour on this, and these days a weekly schedule is about the only thing I print.

In fact, we’ve reduced printing facilities across the DCC estate and moved to a more sustainable solution. There is now just one printer per site, and they are barely used as we are becoming more digital in our outputs.

Partnerships are key when trying to build a more sustainable future for everyone. We’re working with our Commercial team to develop innovative ways we can positively influence all who work with us, throughout the supply chain.

Outside the work environment, we’ve tried to focus our carbon offsetting activities to deliver the biggest benefit -- for instance, planting particular types of trees in the right locations. Tree planting at home is combined with reforestation in the Amazon funded by our offset with Carbon Footprint Ltd.

We’ve enjoyed engaging with our people and learning about how they are making greener choices at work, at home and in their communities too. What DCC is doing to decarbonise as an organisation is no more than they expect, and it aligns with that wider purpose we fulfil in the country, enabling smart metering, digitisation, and a more efficient energy system.

By George Eykyn, Director of Corporate Affairs