What has happened?

Joe Biden, only a month into his first term as 46th president of the United States, has spared no time in beginning to repair some of the political and environmental damage caused by his political predecessor. Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2017 sparked global outrage, and in 2020 the US officially withdrew. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreement, drawn up in Paris in 2015, frames global targets to improve action to mitigate, finance and adapt to growing pressures from climate change.

Originally signed by 196 member states, the agreement devolves local responsibility to each state, with the collective and overarching intention of preventing global average temperatures rising by more than 2oC. Any more than this would see catastrophic and irreversible impacts across the globe, such as increasing sea levels causing floods and land loss, and increased natural disasters like forest fires and intense tropical storms. Despite Covid-19 shutting down world economies and cutting global annual emissions by around 7% in 2020, to avoid reaching a 2oC increase, global emissions will need to continue to repeatedly decrease by 7% every year for the next decade (Columbia.edu, 2021).

But why is it so important?

The simple answer is emission inequality. In terms of absolute emissions, the US is the second largest polluter after China, responsible for 15% of total global emissions (OurWorldInData.org, 2020). Per capita, emissions for the US are ranked 2nd globally. This may come as somewhat of a surprise, given that the US is such a developed country with advanced technology and extensive climate laws. However, consumer behaviour research shows that around 39% of the population, a worrying 129 million people, are not concerned by climate change, and 20% believe that human activity plays little to no role at all increasing global emission levels (Pewresearch.org, 2019). As such, American society continues to be a major contributor to climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol, formulated in 1997 by the UNFCCC, first introduced the concept of carbon trading. The idea was that member states would be issued with an emission quota in the form of ‘carbon credits’. Members would not be allowed to exceed this quota without purchasing additional credits. The problem that arose was that wealthy countries with high emission levels were able to buy credits to increase their quotas from smaller poorer countries, often with lower emission levels. This created a flawed system and did not truly tackle the underlying issue, that wealthier developed countries are still not on track to sufficiently reduce emission levels, and Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement highlighted this inequality. 

In addition to this, by rejoining the agreement the USA is sending out an important message, one that the world will listen to. As such a powerful and influential state, this sets an optimistic precedent that will hopefully inspire and encourage other nations to take action also. Biden has already pledged that the USA will become a net zero state by 2050, and after a year of wildfires, coastal flooding, ice storms and hurricanes, taking steps to mitigate the effects of climate change are more important than ever. Led by Michael Regan, former environmental regulator, the US office looks promising in its strive to amend and improve current environmental policies.

Whilst states need to take individual responsibility for their sustainability efforts, international collaboration will also be crucial in preventing emission levels from reaching disastrous and potentially irreversible levels. Other key players in the climate conversation such as China, India, the UK and Australia must also increase internal pressure on climate laws, and can assist with the sustainable development of other emerging economies.

A year ago, the World Health Organisation declared a public health emergency due to the rapid outbreak of the Coronavirus disease. Many countries around the world immediately shut their borders and locked down their populations, some seeing lockdown measures lasting months. With most of the world stuck at home self-isolating or in quarantine, our consumption habits have altered dramatically as we transition into a new era of working from home and online shopping, whilst our relationship with travel and transport has totally evolved. This change in consumer demand and supply has had an unprecedented effect on global sustainability levels, contributing to a much-needed shift in both corporate and consumer attitudes towards more environmentally responsible behaviour.

Scientists have estimated that global carbon emission levels have dropped by as much as 17%during the course of the pandemic, levels that have not been seen since around the time of WWII. Figures show that in the first quarter of 2020, global primary energy demand fell by 3.8% compared to the year before, and predict that by the end of the year it will have dropped by 6%. This trend may be attributed to reasons such as a switch towards renewable energy, with global demand increasing by nearly 3% this year in comparison to 2019 levels. This goes hand in hand with the fact that a large portion of the population is being encouraged to work from home in the interest of public health.

Projected change in primary energy demand by fuel in 2020 relative to 2019  (Source: IEA, 2020)
Projected change in primary energy demand by fuel in 2020 relative to 2019 (Source: IEA, 2020)

This has led to a significant decline in demand for both public and private transport, as the travel industry has ground to a halt. The way we use transport has undergone a significant shift, as travel restrictions have been imposed. Over the UK’s lockdown period, bike retail giant Evans Cycles reported a 500% increase in demand for cycling equipment and shares in Halfords rose by 17%. Bike sales have been so popular that many avid cyclists have been left waiting months to receive their purchases, with some companies even extending their waiting periods into 2021. As a result, more commuters have chosen to ditch their cars and ride to work, contributing to a huge decrease in air pollution in cities such as London and Manchester. Despite the northern hemisphere experiencing record low temperatures, this trend has largely continued into the winter months and cities are starting to respond to growing demand for increased and improved cycling lanes and infrastructure.

Another major factor in the global drop in emissions is the growing investment in green and smart technology, which can help to reduce emission levels whilst also assisting in managing the spread of the virus. Smart technology is being implemented to help spatial analysis of populations, a notable example being motion-activated streetlights that help reduce electricity consumption. Not only does this benefit the environment, but analysts can use the data generated to map what areas in cities are most populated and can target these areas to offer services such as bike rental schemes. Similarly, many countries are offering subsidised schemes for homeowners to incorporate green technology in their home, such as solar panel installation, double-glazing and improved insulation, and at-home electric car charging stations. For example, earlier this year the UK government introduced a £3000 grant towards the purchase of an electric car and costs of home-charging, as more consumers choose to use private transport means during the pandemic. Through these discounted schemes, it is estimated that consumers are nearly three times more likely to use these energy-saving technologies.

On the other hand, the drop in emission levels has been curtailed by the growing global demand and shift to online retail. During the beginning months of the year under the strictest lockdown measures, many merchants saw an exponential rise in sales as people ‘panic’ bought supplies, stockpiling products such as toilet paper and hand sanitiser in fear of a shortage. This high demand placed great pressure on production, with manufacturers shipping supplies across the globe, only to result in overproduction as demand subsequently fell again. Similarly, online retail in the fashion industry has seen unprecedented growth. Fashion merchant ASOS has recorded profit growth of around 329% over lockdown, due to their cheap and fast home-delivery service. The IPCC estimates that fast fashion brands like these are responsible for up to 10% of all annual global carbon dioxide emissions. This can be attributed to factors such as the fact that the electricity in countries where fast fashion goods are mainly manufactured, such as India and China, is usually fossil fuel powered. Additionally, agricultural practices in these places typically involve the use of non-organic fertilisers which create soil degradation, not to mention the emissions produced from global transport and over-manufacturing. Earlier this year, fast fashion brand Missguided advertised a £1 bikini, which raised many environmental and ethical concerns for consumers, bringing into question how brands like these can afford to sell such low-priced products. The UK government is working with retailers to reach a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, however recent demand for fast fashion is likely to create setbacks.

Furthermore, the switch to online shopping has meant that shipping and transport emissions have increased exponentially. In March this year, online retail mogul Amazon recruited 75,000 workers in the US to meet growing demand, including thousands of delivery drivers. Despite the idea that online shopping saves customers travelling to stores and thus reducing emissions, studies have shown that this is often offset by a few factors. Interestingly, consumers are more likely to spend around 10% more when shopping online than they would in-store, given that many people are unable to travel to shops due to health risks. This means more products being manufactured and delivered, pushing up overall emission levels. Additionally, delivery trucks and another heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) emit PM2.5, a toxic particle matter pollutant that affects air pollution levels, and are estimated to contribute to 30% of road transport emissions in the EU.

Despite this, consumer behaviour on the whole has seen a significant change towards more sustainable consumption during the pandemic. Support for small businesses has been rising, and consumers are placing more pressure on large companies to improve the ethical and environmental standards of their business models. The growing trend of green technology from both businesses and consumers will force governments and international bodies to rethink the way they function and manage their emission levels. As we begin to transition out of lockdown measures, we must try to maintain sustainable consumer behaviour as much as possible, to avoid a sudden surge in emission levels as life slowly returns back to some normality. High streets have already been struggling under recent economic austerity, and now have been forced to close their doors to the general public for months on end. Many of these businesses will not recover from the losses caused by the pandemic, and will join thousands of other defeated merchants in the competition against fast fashion and online retail.

Written by Tess Fitzgerald


Written By Tess Fitzgerald

In 2018 the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) policy replaced the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme. The new format sets the foundations to monitor change, with the aim of helping drop emissions. In order for the 1.5 degree pathway to be met, global emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 . This provides an opportunity for businesses to be as transparent with consumers as possible, however in many cases this has become a tactical marketing ploy. Reporting emissions is an incredibly powerful way of creating emission targets but the resulting mass of confusing terms and claims companies employ can get confusing for consumers. Carbon neutral, climate neutral, net zero, carbon negative…carbon positive? What do they actually mean?

To the everyday consumer, these claims appear to be a sufficient pledge of company efforts towards sustainability. However, it is time that we take a deeper look into what the reality of it all means, both for businesses and the consumer. Companies that publish their total annual GHG emissions quantify them in equivalent tonnes of CO2 (CO2e). The GHG Protocol breaks these emissions down into three different ‘scopes’, analysing their levels of impact. Scope 1 includes any direct emissions from sources such as fuel combustion, fugitive emissions, and company vehicles. Scope 2 looks at indirect emissions, such as those from the consumption of purchased electricity or heat. Scope 3 includes all other indirect GHG emissions, including but not limited to those caused by the extraction of raw materials, transportation, waste disposal, and other outsourced activities. However, companies are only obliged to disclose data for their Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Whilst this is a good step towards company transparency and places emphasis on reducing direct emissions, the problem lies in the fact that most of the time Scope 3 emissions account for the majority of a company’s GHG emissions. This can be very misleading for consumers who want to shop sustainably.

Sustainable shoppers are currently looking for ways to distinguish products based on their emissions. Although total company yearly emissions help, there is a specific product based emission standard called the GHG Protocol Product Standard. This certification is measured through analysing four different stages of the products life. The first is raw material acquisition, which looks at how much energy is used to obtain resources needed for manufacture, including waste and unusable material. The second is product manufacturing, which is usually the most energy consuming part of the process, and once again produces considerable waste. Next the product usage is analysed, for example a lightbulb and how much energy it will use. Finally, product disposal is considered, looking at how it will be either discarded or repurposed.

In any instance, a substantial amount of emissions will be produced in the product manufacturing process, so how can companies claim they are carbon neutral? In order to achieve a net neutral certification, companies must ‘offset’ their emissions. This means that their total Co2e emission output must be balanced by sequestering the same equivalent of carbon, to create a net output of zero. There are several approaches a business can take to try and achieve this. Most importantly, they should find ways to reduce their emissions first-hand as much as possible, by taking measures such as using renewable power or recycled materials. This will decrease their GHG emission output significantly across all three scopes, and is a significant step in working towards cutting emissions. Cutting emissions at the source is often cheaper in the long term and is much less likely to generate copious amounts of indirect emissions which will need to be offset.

Whilst effective, this will not be enough to make a product or company carbon neutral, so companies have the option to invest in carbon offsetting techniques. The most common of these includes planting trees, as implemented by Andrex, the toilet tissue company. Their slogan promoted their work of planting three trees for every one used in production to offset the carbon emissions produced. Other company offsetting techniques include buying carbon credits associated with efforts of peat bog restoration, investment in renewable infrastructure and even refrigerant disposal. This involves not actively partaking in these offsetting efforts themselves, but by purchasing ‘credit’ through donating to different projects, in order to balance out their equivalent emissions. This is a lot easier for smaller companies who do not have the capacity or resources to fund their own offsetting projects and allows for the development of specialist missions which are likely to be more effective.

There is no doubt that these sorts of projects are extremely beneficial in the process of restoring the environment through funding sequestration projects. The problem is that arguably this option makes it too easy for companies to buy their way out, instead of actually working towards decreasing their Scope 1 GHG emissions. Furthermore, these sorts of projects do not instantly take carbon out of the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration through tree absorption takes years until the carbon credits actually equal the trees’ intake of carbon. If companies do not focus their efforts to primarily reduce emissions and wait a number of years to offset emissions, parts of India and Bangladesh will already be underwater. Too late then.

The ability to buy carbon credits is not just limited to businesses, and has become one of the biggest issues with the Kyoto Protocol agreement. By allowing larger more polluting countries the option to buy credits off smaller less industrialised countries, they are not limiting their actual output and has no impact whatsoever on curtailing cultural habits of overconsumption of resources. Many large corporations now pass this responsibility on to the consumer, with several travel agencies offering consumers the option to offset their journey. Increasing consumer awareness of their carbon footprint is a crucial step towards improving global attitudes to consumption and sustainability, but we must push for corporations to tackle emission problems head on, electing for more sustainable business strategies in the initial stages of production.

A current buzz word in the sustainability sector is transparency. If companies are being transparent about their reduction targets and specifying what projects they are investing in to become carbon neutral, this is an ethical way to deliver sustainable etiquette. We encourage all readers to send companies emails asking for evidence based reports or information about how these claims or targets are being met. If compliant with a number of standards, reports have to be publicly available. They are heavy reading but are very worthwhile getting to know a company’s operations. That is true transparency.

With CO2 emissions continually increasing it is looks more and more likely a solution of huge scope will be the only way to help stop climate change. Is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) the solution and is big oil in a unique position to meet these needs?

Why Do we Need CCS?

If you’re reading this blog the chances are you are pretty up to date with the pressing threat of climate change due to human GHG emissions.

You’ll probably be aware of the succesful implementation of renewable energies across the globe to decrease GHG emissions from the energy sector.

But energy production is one part of a larger problem.

the EPA estimate in 2018 energy production accounted for 27% of global GHG emissions. So over 70% of global emissions are essentially unnaffected by the renewable revolution and require their own solution.

Some climate scientists believe that long term the only solution to reducing global emissions has to, in some form come from CCS and the IPCC stated in their 2018 report, to achieve an average global temperature increase of less than 1.5C some form of CCS is essential.

What is CCS?

Carbon Sequestration is the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. It comes in numerous forms, but here I am going to highlight the main Carbon Sequestration techniques available today.

  1. Point source Capture. Aims at collecting the CO2 produced in industrial processes before it reaches the atmosphere and storing it in geolical formations. An example would be from flue gases in a power station.
  2. Direct Air Capture (DAC). Also known as artificial trees, these technologies rely on taking carbon directly from the ambient air around us.
  3. Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BeCCS). This technique aims to replace conventional fuels with biofuels than take in CO2 in their production, and then capturing the emissions when the fuel is burnt, resulting in a net negative fuel.

Point source capture unfortunately suffers from the fact that it can’t result in negative carbon. It is only employed in systems where they are burning fossil fuels in the first place so all it does is reduce the emissions being released. It also suffers from a high running costs and drops the efficiency of the fuel it is being used with as it is a very energy intensive process.

You might be asking why I haven’t listed the other most obvious form of carbon sequestration? Planting trees! Well ideally yes , planting trees is a great form of carbon sequestration. However it suffers from two problems. Firstly it recquires a large ammount of land, and secondly the average time for a tree to reach maturity is around 10-20 years so unfortunately it is not something we can use to directly tackle carbon at this very instant. Ideally it can be used in conjuction with other CCS technologies for a long term carbon reduction plan.

So is it with DAC and BeCCS we must put our faith in for a succesful CCS technology?

Both technlogies can promise net negative carbon emissions and can have an instant impact. However both suffer from one major drawback. They are costly, and suffer from scaling issues.

So Where Does Big Oil Come Into it?

Big oil are uniquely positioned in this issue. They are some of the main global contributers to GHG emissions globally. Yet they have an infrastructure of specialist engineers and scientists and the money to scale these technologies.

Carbon Engineering is a DAC company backed by numuerous large investors including Bill Gates and Shell.

They have created a proof of concept factory that captures as much carbon as nearly 40million trees. They estimate if 40,000 DAC plants were created globally that would be enough in itself to reduce carbon emissions to net zero. Is that a lot? Well to put it into perspective there are over 38,000 McDonalds globally.

It’s a lot, but it’s possible.

However it would recquire a scale of production that is unprecedented. Imagine the capabilities Big Oil could have to help change the world if they were united in a shared vision of a green future. Since 1990 just the top 4 Big Oil companies have totalled profits of nearly $2tn and employ 280,000 people, including engineers and scientists in the UK alone. If they were comitted to helping the world become carbon neutral the power they could wield would be incredible. However currently there is not enough incentives for them to do this.

Ultimately Big Oil is driven by profit and the only way they will ever make big change is if there is financial incentive to do so. It is down to governments to apply pressure on them to reduce their emissions and hopefully encourage them to invest in technologies such as DAC or BeCCS to help with this.

Just a disclaimer….

This article isn’t an endorsement for Big Oil. They have consistently been some of the worlds biggest offenders in CO2 emissions and with companies such as ExxonMobil predicting their emissions to increase by 17% by 2025 they are certainly not on course to reaching carbon neutrality.

It’s more of a what if…

Anyway, just some food for thought.

Joseph Ash

The supply chain of food has numerous holes where a vast amount of food slips through. Food waste accounts for around 6% of global emissions, in context this is three times more CO2e than world aviation. Around 66% of the food waste is attributed to cultivation techniques, processing or transportation wastage. The other third comes from retailers and consumers.

This wasted food has to be grown, cultivated, processed, packaged and transported. Then sent straight to landfill, no questions asked. Trees are cut down to make room for this food that is never consumed. Rivers are polluted for this food that is never consumed. Animals are killed for this food that is never consumed.

As always world data should always be subjected to a regional review, as statistics can often be flawed on the “earth scale”. Small is beautiful. Therefore taking WRAP’s study of 2019 we can evaluate if the UK food waste is a problem. It is. In 2018 25 million tonnes of CO2e were related to food waste, which would be equal to 5.57% of UK’s total emissions. Food waste as a CO2e figure would include indirect emissions from agricultural inputs of imported food which would not be included in total UK emissions.

Post farm-gate, households are responsible for 70% of this waste, meaning there is no burden shifting that can happen in the UK on food waste. It is on us, the consumers. Our eyes are just to big for our stomachs.

My childhood was spent watching my mother tear of the mouldy parts of the bread and subsequently scrape the burnt bits into the bin when they were cremated in the toaster. Certainly not ideal, the point remains that food waste solutions are by nature simple. It entails thinking about how much food we buy and if we can feasibly use it within a given timeframe. Done right, this can lead to your food waste footprint disappearing. However, inevitably there will always be some wastage and there can be some really good ways of dealing with this. These apps are all on my phone and that I can testify will reduce the amount of food that you waste.

1. Olio: A food waste app which states on its website it has saved 6.5 million “portions” of food. It involves uploading a photo of your wasted items and then a user will request to take them off your hands. Completely free to us and you get the added kick of brightening someone’s day which is certain to give you good Karma!

2. Too Good to Go: A friend once told me a saying that has stuck with me for a long time, “however rich I get I will still love a deal”. Restaurants and supermarkets put on food that is left over at a vastly reduced price compared to standard menu items. It can be a post breakfast bagel, a lunch time burrito or a night-time curry, I have found such good quality meals for around £3. Imagine eat out to help out 24/7.

3. Out of Milk: This is a bit of a curve ball but bear with me. This is a shopping list app that is a dream to use. You can put your go-to meals in, or a full list of everything you need for the week and fly round Aldi. Taking minuets out of your week to plan what you eat will really help the amount you throw out.

If none of these apps tickle your fancy, your local food bank will be sure to take whatever food you have. Take one minuet to find your local foodbank here through The Trussell Trust.


Twelve months ago if you told me I would be sitting writing an article on the potential damage that face masks could do to the environment, I would have had a couple of questions. Uncertainty remains on how long this unprecedented time will last, but the regulation on face masks and social distances looks set in place for the foreseeable future.

I now look at old photos and watch TV from ‘Pre-Covid’ and a neuron fires somewhere in the cerebellum that tells me something is off. A sudden alarm when Noel Feilding hugs the bread weeks star baker in last year’s series or Kevin McCloud’s handshake as he visits the incredibly airy living space in the converted 2012 castle of the now divorced and broke man.

I am no social scientist but it is of my best intuitions that this knee jerk reaction means there is a deep rooted nature in this change. Or maybe it’s just me. Mad. Alone.

Disposable masks are not yet recyclable through current methods and with the surge in demand continuing the question is how bad could this be for the environment? A recent study at UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub on a scenario based forecast for the environmental impacts of different face masks has been released, with guidance being presented on preferable outcomes.

If the UK’s population is to use a disposable mask every day, then 2.47 billion masks will be made, used and sent to land fill each year, equating to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2e. Per mask this makes the figure 0.006kgCO2e. The majority of this CO2e comes from the air freighting. It is unclear after the initial PPE shortage how many of these masks are still being air freighted but the UCL report assumes 100%.

If we compare footprints of disposable masks to a renewable mask company, such as YTA masks which we have been working with here at Tyndall Sustainability, we can calculate the burden to the environment saved by choosing reusable.

YTA’s footprint from every mark is 0.68kgCO2e. Although being higher per mask than standard disposable masks, these are meant to last. It would therefore take 11 days of wearing a YTA mask to equal the CO2e of a disposable and thereafter you are saving emissions. If we scale these values up over a year (assuming 6 reusable masks/person/year) we reach a saving of 1.2 million tonnes CO2e compared to a scenario of the UK population wearing disposable masks. The same as driving a car to and from the sun…15 times.

The emission saving of owning a reusable mask is only part of the environmental benefit. Disposable masks being found in huge number, in rural and urban areas worldwide. Photos are emerging of ecology suffering as a consequence of incorrect disposal techniques, although the scale is unknown, it again proves how quickly the impact of human activities is seen within nature.

As masks become added to the age old “key, wallet, phone” checklist, it is paramount that we choose the right way of covering our faces. It is rare that something comes along that is, more stylish, more environmentally friendly and cheaper all in one go.

To view the Whole UCL report click here

Benjamin Richardson

We’ve decided to use this space to keep people updated on what’s going on in the world of sustainability, so make sure to come back next month to keep up to date with the latest in the world of sustainability.

The Climate Doomsday Clock

Let's start with a big one first. Last week a countdown clock mysteriously appeared in times square NYC with little explanation. Over the past week it has been revealed to be a countdown clock or ‘doomsday’ clock for the earth. But should we be worried?

The number they have used is based on a report by the MCC on how long we have until average global temperatures increase by 1.5°C since pre industrial levels.

The reason 1.5°C has been chosen as this deadline number, as the effects from stopping global warming at 1.5°C compared to letting it increase to 2°C are vast. The IPCC released a report highlighting these impacts. They predict a 2°C could cause:

Unfortunately it’s not a good outlook.

However it’s not all doom and gloom. The clock’s number isn’t a be all and end all. It’s based on estimates around taken from current emissions and it’s never too late to change. If big companies and governments start drastically reducing their emissions, and everyday people reduce their own footprint, we can reduce emissions and give the earth more time.

So take the clock as a call to arms. It’s time to change the way we live - as a society. The earth is hurting and it’s down to us to save it.

Brewdog Goes Carbon Negative

Brewdog announced a couple of weeks back that they have now committed to carbon negativity. What does this mean exactly? 

Brewdog have agreed to offset double the amount of carbon they release into the atmosphere! Meaning they will ‘take in’ twice from what they put out! 

This equates to 140,000 tonnes of CO2 offset. 

To put that into perspective, if an average car drove 2500 miles it would release 1 tonne of co2 emissions.

That means 140,000 tonnes equates to 350 million miles driven in a car.

That’s almost enough distance to drive to the sun and back - twice!

Hopefully more companies will follow in Brewdog’s footsteps to work for a better future. Good on you Brewdog.

Read more about Brewdog’s paper.

China Aims for Carbon Neutrality by 2060

China, the world's largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions stated this week they aim to be carbon neutral by 2060. However there’s a couple of questions I have. Firstly, how? Secondly - do they really mean it?

Firstly let’s look into how you can become carbon neutral in the first place. There’s only really two ways to become carbon neutral in today’s world.

  1. Reducing CO2 emissions through changing industry processes and energy sources.
  2. Offsetting your carbon. This can either be through more natural ways such as planting more trees, or more extreme ways such as carbon capture.

Reducing CO2 emissions is the first port of call. In 2019 over 80'% of China’s electricity was produced through non renewable energy sources (coal, oil and gas) meaning less than 20% of this is renewable. To put that into perspective over 50% of the UK’s energy sources are from either renewables or nuclear and in 2020 the UK went over 2 months without burning any coal for energy production. Nearly 60% of China’s energy production comes from coal. By reducing the amount of fossil fuels burnt for electricity China could massively reduce their overall CO2 emissions.

It’s hard to believe the largest producer of greenhouse emissions would commit to become carbon neutral - risking damage to their industry-heavy economy, but only time will tell if they are serious about their pledge. However , one thing can be said. At least they are aware of the issue are attempting to address it. Worryingly in 2017 Donald Trump stated the US is set to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation and it is encouraging to see the USA’s main competitor stepping up to take responsibility for their impact on the environment.

Joseph Ash

We have been working with the Bristolian zero waste store Smaller Footprints to help calculate the carbon footprints of each product for sale.

Smaller Footprints focuses on decreasing single use packaging by wholesale bulk orders. This means that their packaging footprint is remarkably small. Summated across all 103 products analysed the total CO2e amounts to 1.38% of the total CO2e breakdown. In context, Tesco’s latest report outlines their packaging contribution to be 7% of the stores carbon footprint (20,860 tonnes CO2e).

Due to the storage and product type, food waste is negligible at Smaller Footprints. Food waste by retailers and consumers is estimated to be 9% total food emissions. This is slightly higher than all off the emissions from aviation! This mean if we could reduce our waste it would be the same as taking all the planes out of the air!

Supporting local shops like Smaller Footprints really does help put a dent in these waste and packaging statistics. The big factor is an ever environmentally conscious consumer will mean the big supermarkets battle to gain the headlines in terms of sustainability. Headline such as, “Tesco committing to eliminate 67 million pieces of plastic weighing 350 tonnes a year” and “Sainsburys becoming carbon neutral by 2040”. Although these numbers and claims need improvement the ball has started rolling to get the big players on board. We all need to push for detailed plans on how these claims will be met and evidence that they are completing them. So far the plans are hard to find and vague.

If you would like to read the full report on the work completed at smaller footprints, click here

Benjamin Richardson

Its Coffee week. The worldwide favourite, second to water.

In the UK it is estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are disposed to landfill each year. This number was based on a 2011 estimate and current predictions go as high as 5 billion. To make the plastic cups heat and leakproof a Plastic lining is used. This plastic lining makes recycling of the cup hard, with only the cups disposed of in the big stores getting recycled. Even this is questionable, as I am well aware from working for a large corporation the burden of this recycling scheme will fall on an employee (probably at the end of a long hard shift) where the thought of digging through bins is far outweighed by bed.

How bad are these cups?

A paper from the VTT Technical Research Centre has estimated the carbon footprint for a standard Coffee. Packaging generally represents 5% of the total footprint, 80% growing and processing of the ingredients and 15% by transport.

The Total CO2e (a measure of the green house gas emissions) is 8.1g for a non-recycled standard paper cup and lid. A plastic reusable cup is around 20 times this value. Therefore to make your plastic reusable cup worthwhile, you need to use it! A steel made reusable cup needs to be used 130 times…you need to really use it!

The Math:

8.1gCO2e × 5 billion = 40.5 thousand tonnes CO2e
If all the cups were made with a plant lining and recycled this number would decrease to 14 thousand tonnes. A saving equivalent as 28,000 people flying to new York from London. Big.

The bottom line:

Useless message:


House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee “Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups”

Huhtamaki report: “Taking a closer look at paper cups for coffee” via VTT Technical Research Centre

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