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ITWEB 26 May 2010

Commuting, long considered a drain on time and productivity, now has another drawback – its considerable impact on companies’ carbon emissions footprint. Businesses today have to understand where they are in terms of carbon emissions and plan some quick and easy gains to get on the roadmap, says Puleng director, Steve James.

Local company Puleng Technologies, which provides IT systems management and automation solutions, decided to quantify its emissions and found employee travel made up a sizeable chunk of the total. “Many of the technologies we provide to customers have energy-saving effects; so we wanted to practise what we preach and see the impacts in our own business,” explains Steve James, director at Puleng. Earlier this year, the company partnered with local consultancy sustainableIT to gain insight into its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions via a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory.

According to sustainableIT director, Teresa Legg, the first step was a workshop in which the Puleng team was briefed on the parameters and methods of the audit. “In a sense, it’s explaining the whole process of doing the carbon inventory assessment, so we both understand where emissions are coming from, can establish the boundaries of the audit, and also workshop what they want to calculate,” explains Legg.

James notes it’s helpful to understand what has a direct impact on emissions, and potential outside influences. “During the positioning workshop, we realised it goes far beyond just the data centre. It’s great to understand what is happening globally, as well as from a South African governance perspective, and then relating it back to IT and other activities in the company.

“We embarked on the process to examine, as a small business, what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, and how we can plan going forward.” A lot of people don’t understand the GHG Protocol and the different scopes and guidelines,” says Legg, adding this is something outlined in detail during the workshop.

The GHG Protocol corporate accounting standard involves measuring emissions classified according to scopes and is used to prevent double accounting, she explains. “Scope one emissions are directly attributable to the company, for example, the combustion of fuel created by a company car, or emissions from a plane flying if you’re an airline. For most companies, this is usually limited to company vehicles, diesel generation and air conditioners.”

Scope two describes emissions a company has created through the procurement of electricity; which is provided by another party (Eskom). Scope three emissions are those created by a company whose product or service you’re using. “So, if you hire a vehicle owned by another business, that would be their Scope one emission, but your Scope three,” notes Legg. It also includes air travel, paper usage and employee commuting.

“Under the GHG Protocol, you are not obliged to report Scope three, but we recommend it if these emissions make up a material component of the company, such as if it outsources its transport.” Commuting is considered Scope three because the vehicles themselves don’t belong to the company, but their emissions are produced in the process of employees getting to work. James says Puleng opted to report some Scope three emissions because, as a services-based business, much of its work involves staff travelling to clients in a technical support role.

“The emissions from commuting can be enormous, and made up a significant portion of Puleng’s total footprint,” Legg points out.

While much of the audit data needed was easily available in financial documents, sustainableIT set up an online survey for employees to report on their driving habits, including how they get to work, how many people travel with them, how many kilometres they drive and how frequently.

Legg notes they encouraged as many workers as possible to reply, to get the most representative sample. With 53% responding, sustainableIT took the travel patterns of this group and extrapolated it across the organisation, coordinating the online survey with the other information to calculate the final figures. These covered emissions generated during the 2009 financial year.

In calculating the final measurements, Legg explains the GHG Protocol standardises all greenhouse gases (including methane, nitrous oxide and so on) to reflect their warming equivalent to CO2. This allows the evaluation of various gases against a common basis. “Their Scope three emissions made up 75% of total emissions, and commuter travel 69% of their total including Scope one, two and three,” notes Legg. She adds that organisations are often reluctant to calculate Scope three for this very reason. “In services-based organisations, commuter travel can be quite high.”

James notes that Puleng, as a services-oriented business, has a lot of support contracts, with approximately 66% of its 50-odd staff complement constantly driving to clients. “We did one million kilometres and we’re a small business, so you can imagine what bigger companies are doing. It was a real eye-opener.”

In addition to its Johannesburg site, Puleng also has a Cape Town office, with commuting taking place between the two via air travel. “With hindsight, and foresight, it’s something we really have to be conscious of because it has massive implications,” states James.

Legg says recommendations included teleworking and using video conferencing and voice over IP communication where possible. “There’s a huge opportunity, especially for IT organisations, to reduce commuting through teleworking.”

James notes that Puleng has brought in teleconferencing solutions such as Skype and WebEx. “With voice over IP solutions, it’s not just employee-to-employer communication anymore, it’s employee-to-customer, at a fraction of the cost.” The company has also introduced off-site support for customers, via a service-desk support team, which James says has a massive bearing on reducing mileage.

He adds that utilising the same technologies it offers to clients, such as virtualisation and automation, in its own business, has enabled Puleng to make significant energy savings. “We’ve taken server infrastructure from 15 machines to one through virtualisation and added redundancy and backup. If you compare our old server room to the one running now, it’s like chalk and cheese.

“There are always areas for improvement, and we can be slicker around getting cars off the road,” says James. He points out the audit has provided more visibility into how the business is run. “One thing that has come out of this is a budget for air travel. It’s something we have to do, but there’s a budget for it now, which we never had before.”

For anyone embarking on a green journey, the first step always has to be measuring, says Legg. She stresses that establishing a baseline is vital, in order for subsequent reports to show where there has been emissions growth or reductions. “It’s also helpful to consider other metrics, such as emissions per employee, or per square metre, to compare organisations of different sizes.”

She says they recommended that Puleng sets targets and holds all of the initial data, so in a year’s time when it re-looks at things it knows exactly what metrics were used and can see what’s changed from the baseline. “It’s key that organisations start measuring now if they want to reduce emissions, because at some stage they’ll have to report on this. Unless they actually have a baseline and are measuring against it, there’s no way to manage emissions or measure how they’ve changed.

“Many companies are daunted, but it’s not rocket science. In most cases, the data is there already, and with a bit of guidance it can be easily accessed and translated,” she explains.

James says Puleng plans to do the audit again next year, as “it’s all good and well you get business owners to take ownership, but if you don’t follow through and measure progress, you might as well not have done it in the first place”.

He adds that banks and financial institutions are showing thought leadership on these issues and beginning to consider it in tenders and proposals. “They’ve come out with an approach of ‘how green are you? If you have a strong carbon audit and very strong BEE credentials, it shows you are a business which demonstrates social responsibility; not only in terms of the people you employ, but towards the environment we’re trying to save.”

James advises other businesses to conduct an emissions assessment because the exercise is pretty painless and you can’t manage what don’t quantify. “In this day and age, you have to understand where you are in terms of carbon emissions and plan some quick and easy gains to get on the roadmap.

“It doesn’t have to involve years of workshops and planning; many companies are already running the right solutions and just need to accelerate them. Virtualisation, for example, is one way of making substantial energy savings, power management is another.

‘”People have to get on with it, because it will be mandated soon. Understand where you are today, plan some quick gains, which is easy with the right technology, and underneath it implement a real, underlying, strategic roadmap for sustainability.”

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