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ADEPT and CIPFA webinar - measuring carbon footprint to deliver climate action plans

The latest joint webinar from ADEPT & CIPFA discussed how local authorities can measure their carbon footprint and the importance of sustainability reporting to the wider organisation. ADEPT Chief Executive Officer, Hannah Bartram provides an overview.

With the climate crisis sitting firmly at the top of global, political and economic agendas, it’s clear that measuring climate impact is going to become part of everyday reporting. Our three contributors looked at what we can learn from how sustainability reporting is being managed, the development of a carbon reporting tool and what it’s like to use that tool.

First up was CIPFA’s Policy Manager, Dr Eleanor Roy who discussed the organisation’s 2020 global research into sustainability reporting. The research aimed to provide a baseline from which the evolution of public sector reporting could be tracked and to identify some of the challenges and opportunities being experienced.

 Four key themes were explored:

  1. The global landscape of public sector reporting - CIPFA found no clear and agreed definition of sustainability in the public sector and no standard interpretation. Respondents wanted to see strong institutional commitment to reporting alongside prioritising, aligning and harmonising standards.
  2. Reporting preparation process - reporting was often limited by data quality, the absence of a framework suitable for the public sector, the lack of mandate to produce reports and the absence of clear policy parameters. However, when organisations started to use existing data, it frequently acted as an impetus to address quality and reliability issues. Organisations with established sustainability objectives valued reporting to demonstrate progress and achievement.
  3. Assurance and accountability - assurance was valued as insurance against ‘green washing’, widely perceived as a significant risk for climate reporting. Because the reporting journey is so new, many wanted to see a phased approach, and would welcome the involvement of the NAO, for example, to bring scrutiny and oversight, improve demand and data quality.
  4. Capacity, capability & communication – the lack of climate science expertise within the public sector was an issue. Of those currently reporting, 60% had a dedicated team. Finance staff were perceived as essential because of their skills in delivering robust and reliable information and developing mechanisms, reporting structures and control frameworks. The main audience for reporting was considered to be local communities.

CIPFA has identified key areas where development is needed:

  • Clarity on the definition and scope of climate reporting to ensure common understanding and interpretation. 
  • Acceleration of alignment and harmonisation of existing frameworks with a view to creating a public sector framework. 
  • Greater commitment to reporting at organisational level to ensure the maturation and evolution of the process. 
  • Prioritisation of the development of expertise needed to support quality reporting.
  • Recognition of key role of assurance and accountability.
  • Integration with wider forms of reporting to avoiding duplication, provide a more holistic view of organisational performance and ensure better informed decision making and strategy to achieve climate objectives.

CIPFA’s sustainability report is available here.

Next up was Jo Wall, Strategic Director, Local Partnerships to talk about their free to use greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting tool produced in collaboration with the LGA. The tool aims to provide a standardised approach to enable local government to reduce workload and dependency on consultancy. Produced in 2020, and reviewed by CDP and BEIS, the tool began with GHG Scope 1 & 2. Since then, and with the development of more functionality, around 250 UK local authorities have started to use it. 

The tool collects information that you would typically already have in your financial systems or elsewhere, eg. gas consumption per kw/hour, what type of electricity you buy and type of fuel you put into vehicles. It also produces tables and graphical outputs that can be inserted straight into reports.

Climate Emergency Action Plans can typically contain 3-400 activities. It’s relatively easy to make good progress on things that will make a huge difference when done at scale and pace, eg. building and energy efficiency, building controls & management systems, fleet reviews & replacement vehicles.

In terms of what we should be doing now and in the next few years – renewable energy and energy storage can have payback of 7-10% and funding is available for solar and thermal. Grant money is also available for tree planting and other forms of landscape sequestration and recovery, and some of those may be become real assets in the future if a sensible form of carbon trading is developed.

The tool is kept under regular review against additional data requests and areas that people would like to see developed, with the aim of an annual refresh. Notably, with LGA guidance they have been working on social care and how that might be accounted for in a practical way.

Finally, Ariane Crampton, Head of Climate Programme at Wiltshire Council, which was involved in piloting the tool and has been using it for two years, described using it from a local authority perspective. 

Ariane described how it’s comprehensive and easy to use, providing an example of how the tool developed, eg. to include emissions from wood pellets from biomass boilers. Collating fleet emissions involved categorising vehicles into size and type, and then inputting mileage against fuel type. There are also options for capturing water consumption and materials use – eg. food and drink, IT equipment, plastic and waste.

Transmissions and distributions are calculated automatically. If you don’t have much data about staff vehicles, you can use the average medium car conversion factor mileage claims. 

One of the most interesting questions raised was around benchmarking and comparison with other local authorities. While some speakers were comfortable with this, others sounded a note of caution, particularly around rurality and carbon intensity. Generating fair benchmarking data is quite difficult when rural authorities typically have a much higher carbon footprint than urban by population size. Local Partnerships would like to see benchmarking against authorities with similar profiles, but have not yet had enough returns to make that viable.

The webinar recording is available to view on the CIPFA YouTube channel here. As one of our contributors said, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

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