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Acclaro Advisory - The Carbon Balance of Working from Home - A Woman Using her Laptop at a Home Desk

There’s plenty of news about the environmental benefits of lockdown. Pollution levels have dropped, skies are clearer and the roads are teeming with bicycles and pedestrians rather than the usual rush hour jams. Although we all face struggles with the isolation and uncertainty brought on by COVID, many people relish the newfound freedom to work from home.

Flexible working patterns have been on the rise in recent years, and there are proven health and productivity benefits from avoiding the daily commute. Companies have increasingly encouraged remote working as a cost-saving exercise, seeing benefits as the same employees occupy less space and consume less company-purchased energy.

However this energy is still being used – lights and laptops are still on and fuel is still being burned. Which raises the question: How does working from home really affect an organisation’s greenhouse gas emissions? It’s not a clear-cut answer. Working from home isn’t necessarily “better” or “worse” for a company’s carbon footprint, but it definitely is a challenge to measure, understand and report.  It comes down to a balance between emissions avoided by not going in to the office, and additional emissions generated at home.

What is the Carbon Balance of Working From Home vs Working On-site?

A video conference call taking place between a man and a woman.At an individual level, it’s a balance that can be measured. You may ditch your daily 40 mile drive, but keep the heating on an extra three hours to keep you cosy until the sun hits the kitchen window. Rather than grabbing a sandwich on the way in, it’s suddenly easier to cook a proper lunch on a stove. Many things don’t change much – a laptop will use the same power wherever it’s plugged in, and you will probably need the same number of cups of coffee to get through that last phone call in the afternoon.

Scaling this up to an organisation level becomes much more difficult. Organisations and Facilities Managers have an opportunity during lockdown to reduce energy use at low or unoccupied sites as much as possible. In many cases, however, a small number of people are still using the space, or lease agreements state that it must remain ready for occupancy, limiting the scope for savings. Control systems, zoning arrangements and occupancy patterns are all under scrutiny.

As well as trying to understand and reduce emissions, responsible businesses should be considering how to report the impact of employees working from home. It’s analogous to outsourcing services – a company should not claim a carbon reduction from moving to externally hosted servers but should bring this service in scope as part of their operations. For emissions from working from home this has been done very rarely in the past, and comes with a number of challenges.

The reporting challenge

Challenge 1: Relevance

Emissions from employees working from home are not covered by the fifteen reporting categories of Scope 3 emissions under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This creates an uncertainty for organisations. Should these emissions be reported? Will other organisations include them? Where should they sit?

Defining an inventory boundary is an important aspect of emissions reporting, and separating company-related emissions from a household setup is not straightforward. How can these emissions be separated from “normal” household consumption? And how should responsibility be split between multiple household members working for different organisations?

Challenge 2: Accuracy

The difficulty of defining which household emissions are attributable to the organisation makes it almost impossible to measure actual energy consumption data from working from home. Figures will therefore largely be based on estimates, necessitating a range of assumptions. A company traditionally occupying one medium-sized office building may now be spread across several hundred domestic dwellings with a plethora of heating systems, lighting arrangements and daily routines. Benchmark data and “rule of thumb” assumptions will be essential.

Challenge 3: Consistency

Reporting emissions from home working has very rarely been done in the past. But in many organisations, flexible arrangements are nothing new. Bringing a new emissions category in to scope to include these emissions creates a risk of inconsistency with previous years. Companies should consider whether restating past emissions is necessary under their internal reporting procedures.

Opportunities

A man commuting on his bicycle.Although reporting the impact of working from home is a challenge, by calculating and being transparent about emissions companies can understand the greatest area of impact and focus their reductions efforts. The following examples may contribute to emissions targets in the short to medium term:

  • Improved understanding of company building set-backs when not in use. These changes may be implemented over Christmas breaks, bank holidays or even weekends and evenings going forwards.
  • Users have become more comfortable using collaborative technology (for example team chats and videoconferencing) which should reduce the need for face to face meetings in future, saving business travel emissions.
  • More time at home, where individuals are paying their own bills, may encourage better energy efficient routines and ways of working.
  • After months of rarely going anywhere near a car, individuals may seek lower carbon methods of commuting.

The Future

There is little doubt that flexible ways of working will be commonplace in the future. At the same time, organisations will be under more scrutiny to report their impact in a comprehensive and transparent way – including emissions from working from home. Responsible businesses on a pathway to zero carbon will need to collaborate with employees to reduce emissions wherever they work. As we have seen with schemes to encourage low carbon commuting (e.g. cycle-to-work, lift-sharing and rail ticket loans), perhaps incentive schemes will arise for home energy improvements.

Wherever this transformation takes us, it will be important to embed a culture of sustainability that every member of the organisation takes home.


To learn more about the journey to becoming a zero-carbon business,
click here to download our completely free 10-page guide.

Implementing meaningful sustainability

Implementing meaningful responsible business attributes within the built environment requires engagement of all levels of the chain – the developer, constructor and operators of facilities. Increasing complexities of roles and knowledge involved means this is no longer possible through a single body or simplified framework across the property lifecycle.

Acclaro Advisory and the SFMI (Sustainable Facilities Management Index) are delighted to be a major contributor to a collaborative approach in partnership with RICS. The aim is to create the new model necessary to transfer knowledge of sustainability through the property lifecycle. Sunil Shah, MD of Acclaro Advisory will be chairing a series of discussions across the globe, with the SFMI team developing and building upon the necessary discussions to develop a single approach for the industry.

Why?

For a long time, collaboration has been key for organisations to deliver sustainability; it has been the subject of many reviews within the property sector from the Latham Review in 1994 through to the present discussions from the Hackett Review. We have experienced a rise in dialogue develop between a client and their major suppliers, together with a governance system between the two stakeholders. Much of this is measured in more complex projects to improve performance and outcomes – great news for the parties involved!

Professional bodies, on the other hand, are showing a different approach to advancing the sustainability agenda. An increasing number of groups are jostling for position and funding. They are focussing on what separates or differentiates themselves from their peers. However this doesn’t promote a sector or an industry in a cohesive way, nor does it show leadership internally or externally. Discussions are blighted by arguments over semantics (the most recent is that experienced on the definition of Social Value), and with so many opinions there is little room to tackle key areas that would give consistency and a common approach for the good of the sector.

What we need is a more joined up structure

RICS have been taking a lead on one area related to Responsible Business. As the appointed Chair of the Forum, I (and our partners at RICS) see the importance of collaboration across the delivery lifecycle for two main reasons. First, is to ensure that as a collective we are working together and that multiple points will drive changes in behaviour and the need to comply. Secondly, simply, is that no organisation knows everything and that to build a practical response spreading over the lifecycle of a property requires a number of actors knitting their specialisms together.

The journey that we have been on in the sustainability sphere has promoted environmental specialisms including energy, waste and water, largely because they were easy to measure and understand. Social aspects have been considered by organisations for a long time, slowly becoming more widespread. For example, it formed a fundamental part of the London Olympics legacy programme.

In fact, volunteering and philanthropy have been easy wins for businesses to prove corporate responsibility with minimal strategic considerations. However, we haven’t had a structured approach. Since 2010, there has been a step change in the role of society within the sustainability framework.

Regulation in supply chain management (through Modern Slavery and Social Value ), the conceptualisation of wellbeing (through mental health awareness and workplace productivity), and increased competition for talent have driven employee development up the agenda.

Looking into the future, we can see the increasing trajectory of societal and community needs as part of the built environment dovetailed into environmental requirements. Assessments of place and occupier services will be based upon the provision of these services and engagement with the community to drive improved satisfaction, a safer environment and a location where people want to work.

Technology will play a significant role in this. The deployment of technology is driving the collection and use of data, but we have yet to answer the question of who owns this data. We are entering into space where knowledge is being captured that can denote the behavioural characteristics of individuals to help provide a tailored working environment. Should individuals be made aware of the data held and how it is used? Protocols are necessary –technology and data are a vital part of our necessary progress. – but a negative perception can damage the brand of an organisation quickly.

The Solution – The Responsible Business Forum

So, RICS has been working with Acclaro Advisory, UKGBC, Arup, Business Services Association and others to capture insight and identify solutions required for a responsible business to operate property assets. This work aims to influence the corporate culture, operational level and interaction with the supply chain to ensure the long-term sustainability of the built environment. See here our opening discussion in the UK, and the finding that we took home from a business leaders roundtable event.

Utilising partners, frameworks, tools and events from across the world, we will look to capture the knowledge, benefits, challenges and risks that will affect the management of property and integrate responsible business practices that will improve society and the environment that we live in.

RICS is calling on strategic thinkers and decision makers across the supply chain who have a desire to embed responsible corporate values in their business, to join the conversation. Together we can deal with challenges and look to shape clear solutions and drive responsible business leadership.

Visit the RICS website and download the RICS Responsible Business Leaders Forum summary report to gain further insight
To get involved in these discussions and for further information on what RICS is doing in this area, contact us or get in touch with Ana Bajri, Property Standards Project Manager, RICS 

Article Image : RICS

 

It is a year since the collapse of Carillion and we have accepted that the facilities management side of their business was not the result of the failure. Important lessons have been learnt from the downfall and progress made by both the Government and the industry towards rectifying problems. This article looks at a number of these areas from the perspective of supplier activities and gives an insight into how the Sustainable Facilities Management Index (SFMI)  can help you to manage these activities.

SUPPLY CHAIN RISKS

One area of real change has been the management of suppliers. In the past, suppliers were used as an extension of the balance sheet to delay or avoid payments should cash flow get into difficulty. As a result, many suppliers have gone into administration, and many more livelihoods have been impacted. Suppliers have recognised the high risks of relying on a single client and vice versa.

The Government is asking suppliers to draw up ‘living wills’ to protect against supply chain risk. The Sustainable Facilities Management Index (SFMI) looks to incorporate these changes into the relevant sections of the assessment to understand how they are being delivered with an ongoing low margin model. The SFMI continues to drive best practice across all aspects of sustainability to the industry and sees these issues as a method to improve the reputation of outsourcing tarnished by bad practices.

SOCIAL IMPROVEMENTS

Greater responsibility is being mandated to clients through regulation such as Modern Slavery Act and the Social Value Act. This is driving a different conversation for both clients and suppliers.  In particular, the role of social value has significantly increased as we look for different metrics to the simple financial ones to base decisions on.

Clients need to understand which social and environmental improvements are necessary and which suppliers can be engaged to help deliver them. This will require a mapping exercise to understand the local community needs. These needs can be aligned with the values of the organisation to develop a longer-term programme.

RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS APPROACH

Developing a deeper relationship with suppliers is necessary to enable two-way dialogue, transfer of knowledge and the understanding of what true value and innovation can be achieved. The SFMI has supported several supplier workshop programmes to help critical suppliers understand the main environmental and social impacts and to foster a dialogue to deliver shared services.

These themes play a fundamental role in a responsible business approach. The SFMI is driving this approach in FM – there is a long way to go, but there are some real cases of best practice out there to learn from. You can read the latest reports and Research from the SFMI here.

If you are an FM service provider, being part of the SFMI in 2019 will give your company the pathway it needs to be managing and implementing key issues that a responsible business needs to address.

Clients that procure FM services can also benefit from the SFMI. Look out for our tools that you can use to quickly assess if your FM is providing real long-term value by managing environmental and social issues responsibly for you.