Homeworking Emissions: Our Expert Panel Answers Your Top 10 Questions

Our expert panel answers your questions on homeworking emissions calculations and energy efficiency at home We recently held a webinar on the homeworking emissions methodology that we hosted in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group and NatWest Group. The webinar was very well attended and we received lots of questions on homeworking emissions from attendees. We ...

Catherine Radojcin

17 Dec 2020 9 mins read time

Our expert panel answers your questions on homeworking emissions calculations and energy efficiency at home

We recently held a webinar on the homeworking emissions methodology that we hosted in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group and NatWest Group. The webinar was very well attended and we received lots of questions on homeworking emissions from attendees. We have now summarised the answers to the most frequently asked questions about homeworking emissions and the new methodology for calculating them. If you missed live the webinar, you can watch it here.

The answers here come from the valuable contribution of our webinar panellists: Olivia Cropper, Lloyds Banking Group; Shanaugh Duncan, Bulb; Katie Murphy, NatWest Group; Lindsay Ventress, EcoAct and Luke Skillett, EcoAct.

Summary of the homeworking emissions methodology

Published in October 2020, EcoAct’s homeworking emissions methodology is the first open-source carbon calculation method designed to account for the climate impacts of homeworking.

The methodology is the product of a corporate consultation between six major UK corporates (including NatWest Group, Lloyds Banking Group and Bulb) and EcoAct’s energy experts. It covers emissions from office equipment, home heating as well as home cooling. It provides a best practice estimation guide to enable businesses to calculate the emissions associated with their homeworking employees. It is designed to complement the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which does not at this time provide its own methodology for the calculation of these emissions (they currently sit as a subset of Scope 3, Category 7: ‘Employee Commuting’ emissions).

Although reliant on estimation due to the lack of available data on homeworking, it is designed to be adaptable to industry and geography and provides additional guidance on how to refine the methodology to increase the accuracy of calculations. We encourage corporates to engage with and validate this methodology and be a part of its ongoing evolution.

Top ten questions asked about homeworking emissions calculation

1. How material are homeworking emissions for companies?

Most calculations undertaken so far by our clients and partners have covered the spring and summer months of 2020, and therefore have been significant but not substantial (certainly for UK-based companies where home cooling is not material). For many organisations it is largely outweighed by the reduction in employee commuting and business travel during the pandemic.

However, emissions in the winter months will rise substantially and could be significantly more material due to the energy required for home heating. In addition to this, we would anticipate that with the shift to homeworking becoming a new normal for many employees, this will be an ongoing area of emissions that we must adequately account for to ensure we are not undermining our progress against climate targets.

2. How do homeworking emissions compare against commuter and business travel emissions and traditional office-based working?

During our webinar, we learned that for Lloyds Banking Group the savings in emissions from reduced commuting and business travel so far outweighed home emissions. However, it is hard to draw conclusions on this, having not yet made it through the winter months and as we are not yet sure what the new normal will be when we emerge from the pandemic.

In terms of office energy use, there is large scope for variance depending on the grid intensity of the region where the office is located, the size of the office and the energy tariffs used. We feel it is too early to draw any broad conclusions yet. Some clients found that the reductions in emissions from reduced office occupancy has been less than anticipated due to the increased health and safety requirements for air handling units in order to maintain clean air in buildings as a consequence of COVID-19.

We are hoping that, with this methodology, companies can start assessing all these elements and understanding how these emissions areas weigh up for their own specific organisations.

3. Can the methodology be adapted for different geographies?

Yes it can! Although the whitepaper provides the reference data for the UK and US geographies, the methodology can be applied using energy reference data and regional statistics relating to home energy use (heating type for example) for any geography. It will just require a bit more research to access the relevant data and emissions factors for your location.  

Look at local energy administrators. In the UK for example there is OFGEM and in the US it is the EPA which publishes energy data. There are similar bodies in other geographies that can provide the required information.

Our advice is to first consider where are the most material sources of energy within your area as there may be variation from one place to another (for example in the use of home cooling) so you can ensure you are seeking out the right data.

4. How do you determine the type of heating used in employee homes, i.e gas or electricity?

Research to produce the methodology looked at National Statistics. 

In the UK over 85% of home heating is via natural gas. Therefore, when defining our “base scenario” for the methodology, the comparatively small percentages of other heating energy sources were deemed non-material. In North America, the regional differences are much larger and natural gas only accounts for around 50% of heating energy. Therefore, this was accounted for in the reference data and the adjusted regional calculation method included.

Survey data would help to enhance your understanding of your specific employee’s home heating energy.

5. How does the methodology account for multi-member households? And what about home schooling?

The methodology does acknowledge multi-member households. Unfortunately, although data exists on average number of family members per home, there is no data that tells us how many of these work from home now and pre-pandemic.

However, NatWest has run an employee survey which has helped to inform the methodology and refine their own calculation. It found that 66% of respondent’s homes would not usually be occupied during working hours prior to the pandemic. It is planning to run further surveys next year to refine its understanding of the “incremental” (or additional) emissions being incurred in homes as a consequence of home working.

In terms of home schooling, this is another good point and perhaps if material something to consider for employee surveys. We would hope, however, that widespread home-schooling will be temporary during the pandemic.

6. Can the methodology account for renewable energy tariffs?

With additional data collection, it certainly can, however it may be difficult to evidence this. You may consider surveying colleagues as to whether or not they are on a renewable energy tariff, which may allow a reporting company to determine indicative market-based emissions. However, verifying this figure as zero carbon would be difficult; requiring confirmation that colleagues are on low carbon tariffs in order to demonstrate a unique claim to that energy. If a company wanted to claim this energy at zero carbon, they might consider the purchase of unbundled renewable energy certificates within the relevant market (e.g. REGOs within the UK or RECs within the US) or incentivising colleagues to adopt and evidence a renewable tariff .

7. How do we account for other impacts of homeworking such as use of cookers, kettles, shipping of office equipment to multiple homes as opposed to one office, etc?

This is a good question. At this time, the methodology has not included an allowance for “other small power” around the home as there is such a variety of possible equipment and limited reliable data as to the statistical proportion of use.  It was therefore felt that for the “Base Case” estimation, this would be too unreliable at this time. It would be possible to account for this, through including an allowance for this energy use following actual data collection, if it was believed to be material for an organisation.

It should be noted though, that emissions from shipping office equipment to home working employees would not fall within Category 7 emissions. These emissions would be captured under Category 9 – Downstream Transportation and Distribution. Therefore, if companies wish to capture these emissions, we would recommend that consideration be given to reporting of the appropriate Scope 3 Categories.

8. To refine the methodology how often would you survey colleagues and how would you make that process and the questions as simple as possible?

This would probably be down to the preference of a particular organisation, but we would recommend annually.

The advice from NatWest is to keep the questions as simple as possible so that employees are only required to provide “yes” or “no” answers. This will make it easier to respond to and therefore more likely that you will get responses. It will also make the processing of the data far more straight forward as well. (e.g Would your home ordinarily be occupied if you were going to the office as normal? Yes or No)

9. Has this work raised considerations about the additional costs incurred to homeworking employees?

This has been a consideration for many organisations. Currently in the UK, HMRC has offered some tax relief for this. It is a small amount each week, but we would advise that you direct your colleagues to this scheme in order for them to gain access to this homeworking allowance: https://www.gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home

10. What tips do you have for reducing homeworking emissions and/or incentivising energy efficient behaviours at home?

The advice from the panel was to make available information and training for your colleagues on how to reduce their energy usage at home. Small changes can really add up to make a difference. Energy provider, Bulb recently  published tips for its members on how to reduce energy use in the home.

Some companies provide online resources for their employees and partner with organisations to provides sustainability offers, discounts and incentives (e.g a renewable energy tariff discounts) that help encourage their employees to make sustainable choices.

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