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New research finds Local Authorities failing to tackle key Scope 3 emissions reductions

A new survey of UK local authorities employing more than 500 staff, commissioned by employee commute emissions solutions provider Mobilityways, has found that local authorities are behind the private sector in terms of gathering key Scope 3 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions data and acting to reduce ‘value chain’ emissions which, on average, make up nearly 70 per cent of organisations’ total emissions.

Only 29 per cent of the local authorities captured by the Mobilityways survey verified that they had begun implementing Scope 3 reporting to collect indirect emissions data from upstream and downstream activities including employee commutes, business travel, supplier emissions and end-of-life product processing.

Of the minority  group which have started Scope 3 reporting, only seven per cent had worked out a way to measure GHG emissions from employee commutes. This is despite the fact that 42 per cent of local authorities reported setting absolute targets for emissions reduction from employee commuting.

Local authorities are one of the largest employers in the country with 2.25m staff on their payrolls – representing nearly seven per cent of the total UK workforce. More encouragingly, 40 per cent had analysed all their suppliers and asked them to provide them with relevant emissions data regularly.

Quality of emissions data also a major concern

The study found evidence of major concerns from sustainability leaders of local authorities about the quality and comparability of the emissions data they were gathering. Six out of every 10 (61 per cent) UK local authorities expressed major concern about the ‘lack of standardisation for weighting and measuring emissions performance, especially as regards Scope 3 reporting’.

Meanwhile, over half (54 per cent) of local authorities were very concerned about the ‘richness of the (emissions) data’ they were collecting admitting, ‘we don’t really know the story behind the numbers yet’. 62 per cent also admitted an over reliance on self-reported environmental performance data from suppliers.

Julie Furnell, Managing Director of Mobilityways, said:

“Our research findings suggest that local authorities are behind other sectors we have been collecting data from over recent months as regards Scope 3 emissions reductions. They don’t seem to be able to devote sufficient resources to gathering and making sense of emissions data and then setting achievable category-level emission reduction targets.

“We think the key reason for this is that they’ve had to focus incredibly hard on reducing both the emissions and carbon-based energy usage of their buildings and facilities across their entire estates. This focus has been made all the more pressing in the last year and a half by the increased cost of fossil fuels. In addition, central government grant schemes such as the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, as well as the £4 billion of ringfenced Net Zero-linked investment for local authorities by the UK Infrastructure Bank, have all served to encourage authorities to focus their energies and resources on improving the insulation in their buildings, as well as increasing the mix of green energy usage by adding more solar panelling and wind turbines serving their estates for example, as well as exploring investment in heat pumps and electrification. On the positive front, these efforts are now bearing fruit: in late June, the Progress on Reducing Emissions Report by the Climate Change Committee reported a 10 per cent reduction in emissions from UK public sector buildings in 2021/22, compared with 2017/18 levels.

“However, this hard focus on chasing central government grants to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings has come at the expense of tapping other, more cost-effective, emission reduction opportunities. Encouraging staff behaviour change to reduce emissions is surely the next big opportunity to ensure local authorities stay on track to hit their 2030 or 2035 Net Zero targets.

“From studying Mobilityways’ extensive consumer mobility data over several years, we have found that the average employee generates 601kg of CO2 per year. In London, that figure falls to around 240kg due to the capital’s comprehensive public transport system. However, in rural areas where average commute distances rise dramatically it can be as high as 800kg. Mobilityways’ analysis revealed a sustainable travel option is available to just over 95 per cent of employees it surveyed and 40 per cent of respondents were open to exploring those options immediately.”

“Supporting workers to break old travel behaviours which harm the environment and slow up authorities’ Net Zero progress must now become a greater focus for sustainability heads,” said Mobilityways’ Mark Hand at a recent PSE-hosted Net Zero debate webinar series.

Julie Furnell, of Mobilityways, again:

“The good news is, by using data to identify the sustainable travel options that are already available, it’s possible for most companies to cut their emissions by half or more without doing anything particularly radical.  Some of the companies we work with have taken more radical steps such as identifying where the majority of their employees live and relocating offices nearer to them or implementing flexible working and halving the number of parking spaces they need.”

Furnell continued:

"But for most, using a tool like ACEL (Average Commuter Emissions Level) to measure and benchmark their emissions, then clearly mapping out the transport alternatives for their employees, is proving enough to start making substantial cuts to their commuting emissions.”

Julie Furnell

Mobilityways will publish its full report, based on its recent multi-sector market research, this autumn.

 

Image credit: iStock

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