Last year was the easy bit – we made a lot of promises to reduce our carbon footprint and become a more sustainable business. Since then we have been trying to figure out how to make good on these commitments. While Guardian journalism remains our best tool for confronting the climate emergency, we are doing everything we can in our business too to ensure that we practise what we preach.
We said we would undertake a full audit of our carbon emissions, and have now been through this exercise twice, starting with our 2018-19 financial year and then trying to improve our understanding and the accuracy of our data for our 2019-20 figures.
The experience has taught us a lot: we know that our print newspaper business still accounts for the majority of our emissions, but that business travel and our digital operations are also significant contributors. We also know that the vast majority of our emissions are caused within our supply chain, rather than by the activities we control directly, such as the energy we use in our offices.
This adds to the complexity of measuring our footprint and taking action. We have to gather lots of detailed information from many different suppliers and work out how much of it is attributable to us. We are grateful that so many of them have been forthcoming with the information we need, particularly when the last few months have been challenging for many in the newspaper industry.
As well as measuring our emissions, we have been looking at different areas of our business to consider how our sustainability commitments should inform what we do. That led to our announcement earlier this year that we were refusing any advertising from fossil fuel companies. More recently, our Guardian Jobs team has made it easier for employers to advertise sustainability jobs to our audience of environmentally-conscious readers.
We have now set a goal of eliminating at least two-thirds of all emissions from our own operations and our supply chain by 2030. That feels like a daunting challenge but we wanted to set ourselves an ambitious goal that would force us to think creatively about how to achieve it.
There are a few big areas that we are focusing on initially. We need to do everything we can to reduce unnecessary energy use or materials in our own operations. That includes everything from making the lighting in our offices as efficient as possible to reducing the amount of packaging we use for our newspapers. The way we work has a big impact. Like almost everyone, we’ve been forced to find new ways of doing things this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic – increased use of technology is likely to help us reduce our environmental impact over the long term.
We also need to make our supply chain as sustainable as possible. That means making sure that environmental considerations are consistently a key part of our purchasing decisions, and working with our suppliers to see how we can help them to reduce emissions within their own operations.
We are clear that reducing our emissions as much as possible is the priority, but for the emissions that we cannot eliminate, we are looking at ways to remove the equivalent carbon from the atmosphere.
While emissions are an important part of our sustainability performance, they are not the only thing we should address. For example, we can also look at things such as the amount of recycled or recyclable materials we use. While we are pleased with the progress we are making, we know that there are many areas that we have not fully considered yet and we expect our sustainability plans to evolve a lot as we learn more.
Our readers are always a great source of ideas and challenging questions that force us to think harder about what we do. Since certifying as a socially aware B Corporation last year we have gained lots of new ideas and inspiration from fellow B Corps, and of course our journalism is a constant source of information about new developments and technologies that can help us improve.
These measures are intended to demonstrate that we must back up words with action. The Guardian wants to lead the world with authoritative, compelling, revelatory journalism about the climate crisis. We can only credibly do so if we ourselves face up to the challenges that confront policymakers, businesses and households in these troubling times.
Net zero carbon or carbon neutrality mean that the emissions of an entity (usually a nation, region or company) are balanced out by the amount of carbon dioxide it is taking out of the atmosphere, through absorption (ie trees) or removal (ie carbon capture and storage, see below)
Carbon removal is the process of taking carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases out of the air chemically or mechanically. This can be done at source, by capturing and containing carbon dioxide or other gases physically, or by “scrubbing”, a chemical process applied to waste gases that flow or are pushed through a filter that react with the gases to change them to less harmful forms. It can also be achieved, usually less efficiently, by scrubbing carbon from ambient air. There are various methods of doing this, most involving passing air over chemical filters, but at its simplest carbon removal can take the form of crushing rocks such as basalt that then absorb carbon naturally from the air, a process known as enhanced weathering. These crushed rocks can be added to soil, which can also improve the fertility of poor soils, but the energy used to crush the rocks must also be taken into account.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a means of carbon removal that requires diverting carbon dioxide emissions from their source, usually a power station or industrial facility, and compressing the gas to a liquid for long term storage, usually in a depleted oil well or other natural geological storage site. CCS technology has progressed over the past two decades but is still expensive and energy-intensive.
Carbon offsetting is the practice of reaching carbon neutrality through investing in projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions. There are as many forms of offsetting as there are ways of using energy. Carbon sinks such as forests and peatlands can be protected or expanded to offset carbon emissions from other sources. Tree-planting, for instance, is a common offsetting practice. Carbon offsetting has been sometimes controversial in the past two decades, as it has been subject to scams and frauds, and because some organisations have been accused of using offsetting as a cheap alternative to the more difficult choices involved in actually reducing their emissions. For these reasons, it is important that offsetting measures are clearly set out and subject to independent verification.-
• Julie Richards is delivery portfolio director and leads GNM’s initiative to achieve net zero emissions