How we took our firm carbon negative
When I set up The Webinar Vet in 2010 my mission was to make veterinary education more accessible and affordable to veterinary professionals around the world. Physical training was expensive. I realised that digitalising content democratised and to some extent demonetised it too or at least it made it more affordable in terms of money, time and resources. As the platform’s popularity grew, I realised that I was taking many miles off the roads and airways by encouraging vets and nurses to do their training online rather than travel to evening meetings or conferences in far flung places. This was obviously having an impact on individual’s carbon footprint but didn’t directly impinge on ours.
I spent a long time looking at what was the best tool to going carbon neutral and for a small business everything looked difficult and cumbersome. I was also concerned that many of the accreditation schemes were obsessed with carbon footprint without looking at other important areas like waste disposal, resource use and increasing biodiversity.
An early advocate of the greener veterinary practice was Ellie West, a veterinary anaesthetist, based near London. She had discovered a small charity called Investors in the Environment which offers information, templates and tick lists to help you work through your carbon negative journey. After she did a webinar for my veterinary audience, I joined for a relatively small amount of money.
The first part of the process is to let them know what you are already doing and to celebrate efforts. If you are doing some interesting environmental initiatives like investing in electric cars, you may already qualify for the bronze accreditation. The next stage is to do an environmental audit to work out where you can improve. Not surprisingly, a big part of this process is measuring the business’ carbon footprint. There are obvious parts of the business where it is clear energy is used.
- Do you deliver goods?
- How do you travel to meetings?
Heat and lighting in your factories and offices
- Do you work with a sustainable energy supplier?
- Do you use energy saving bulbs and timers?
There are also the indirect areas like what are your suppliers doing as well. If you have a website and are sending lots of emails, is your datacentre also working in an energy-efficient way? However, the first stage is merely to measure your carbon.
It is possible to do this in-house, but many companies engage external agencies. We were very fortunate to have a friend in the veterinary industry, Chantelle Brandwood, who had moved into measuring carbon and helping businesses to offset their carbon against ethical schemes taking place around the planet. She provides a full report, which includes a calculation of your carbon footprint with Scope 1, 2, and 3, carbon emissions, and a carbon reduction plan. Her fee starts at around £2000 for small businesses.
We took part in this process during the Covid 19 lockdown in the UK – a time when we had sent most of our team home. We had to calculate home energy use as well as office usage which was minimal. Most surveys calculate that less energy is used by working from home. Our carbon usage in 2020 was very low. We took the decision to offset more than our carbon usage because 2020 was a very unusual year. We doubled the amount of carbon we offset.
The company we used was called Eco Offset and it found a reputable carbon trading firm that had projects in the Amazon to protect the rainforest as well as a scheme buying solar stoves in Mali to provide to women refugees enabling them to cook food without having to cut trees down. Offsetting is a little controversial and some big businesses use it to buy carbon credits whilst carrying on their dirty practices. That is not using offsetting in the spirit in which it was set up.
Obviously, every business uses resources to operate. It is our responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible but also to consider the other elements. We plant trees for every membership we sell. This does not sequester carbon in the short-term, but it can provide shade for humans and livestock and also encourage biodiversity.
In the end, it is becoming more essential for businesses to begin the journey towards carbon neutrality and negativity. In the ideal scenario this will be done out of conviction. If companies try to be green out of expediency or because it seems trendy then they will be found out. The key to going carbon neutral or negative is to be committed to a better planet for all people, animals, and the environment.