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INSIGHTS

How Has the Covid-19 Pandemic Impacted Our Carbon Footprint?

by Ben Barton / July 15, 2021

As we enter the halfway point of 2021, the world is still adapting to the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and taking stock of the state of current affairs.

Here at Mentor Group, we wanted to investigate an underreported impact of the events of the last 18 months; what impact has Covid-19 had on our carbon footprint?

There are lots different factors to take into account when calculating a business' carbon footprint. Flights and transport are the most obvious and most talked about, but even something as simple as printing ten pages with a laser printer will produce just over 10g of CO2

All of these factors will have been impacted by the pandemic; for the purposes of this blog, we can look at the larger, aggregated trends for businesses in the UK over the course of the last year to get an idea of how our footprint is likely to have changed.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released its provisional findings of the UK’s greenhouse emissions for 2020, and they paint a very clear picture of just how much the shifts to remote working and the massive restrictions on transport and travel impacted the emissions of greenhouse gases within the UK.

Following the national lockdowns imposed in Great Britain, both the business sector and the transport sector saw significant drops in their CO2 emissions and their total greenhouse emissions.

The transport sector – covering road transport, domestic shipping/aviation, and railways – saw carbon dioxide emissions drop by 19.6% in comparison with figures in 2019. Transport also accounted for 29.8% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions, compared to 33.1% in 2019.

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Furthermore, in the business sector, emissions of carbon dioxide dropped by 8.7% against 2019 numbers, whilst accounting for 18% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions (roughly the same as in 2019).

Those numbers by themselves don’t mean all that much given the continued trend of falling emissions that we have seen since the 1990s. To really get an idea of how sharply emissions fell in 2020, we need to look at how the same sectors performed in 2019 against 2018 numbers and compare the respective percentage changes.

Sector 2018-19 Emissions Drop 2019-20 Emissions Drop
Transport Sector 2.8% 19.6%
Business Sector 1% 8.7%

 

Starting with transport again, between 2018 and 2019 transport emissions in the UK dropped by just 2.8%, meaning that emissions from the transport sector dropped exactly seven times faster between 2019-2020 than they did from 2018 to 2019.

Looking at the business sector, emissions of carbon dioxide fell by just over 1%, meaning that the drop in emissions seen in the business sector was even sharper than in the transport sector.

There is a third sector to consider for our purposes – residential emissions. With the shift from office working to remote or home working, we should not be surprised to see that residential emissions in the UK rose in 2020 by 1.8%.

However, when the seasonal changes in temperature are adjusted for, the increase in CO2 emissions reaches 6.7%, a significant jump, especially when compared with the temperature adjusted drop of 1.3% in carbon emissions from 2018 to 2019.

The impact of the UK’s response to Covid-19 is clear to see. National lockdowns and travel restrictions shifted workers out of the office and into their homes, largely eliminating carbon emissions from the daily commute and the emissions from running an office building.

These drastic drops in emissions more than helped to offset the inevitable rise in emissions from heating residential houses for longer, and increased energy usage in general.

Further drops in emissions for businesses can be seen in the restrictions on international travel, meaning fewer flights and clearer skies, as well as the continued push towards cloud-based data storage, which serves as a far greener alternative to local server storage and the continued decrease in demand for printed, physical copies of documents.

This is something we've observed for ourselves at Mentor Group. Looking specifically at printing, our number of copies printed dropped by 98.8% between Q1 of 2020 and Q3 of 2020, saving approximately 1.8kg of C02 in the process.

It is critical to note that these numbers are, of course, provisional figures – it’s far too soon to glean official, verified numbers. However, these figures are used to indicate both concrete trends and early indicators of trends, and they paint an undeniable picture that, as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses all over the world will be responsible for a far smaller carbon footprint than in previous years.

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Ben Barton

Ben Barton

Using words to inform, persuade and entertain. From Travel Safety to the NFL, I write about anything and everything. Except for golf.