At Sustain.Life we recognize the world of carbon accounting can feel vast and complex to many businesses. No matter if you‘re just starting out or have robust carbon emissions measurement programs in place, it takes dedication and a consistent understanding of the evolving carbon accounting landscape. When speaking with clients, we often hear stories about not knowing where to start or not having other companies or practitioners to learn from. That’s why we want to pull back the curtain on our own carbon accounting journey.
While Sustain.Life is made up of a team of software and carbon accounting experts, we always work to gain greater insight into our full emissions profile while decarbonizing our entire value chain. This also provides us with a great opportunity to consistently reevaluate Sustain.Life from our customers’ perspective and improve the product’s features.
We’re proud to announce that in 2022 we maintained our status as a carbon neutral business by offsetting our 523 MT CO2e corporate footprint. In this post, I’ll dig into how we measured and offset our business emissions.
As a B Corp business and a climate tech platform deeply committed to sustainability, we have oriented our business model and team culture to reduce our impact. The annual—and ongoing—effort to measure our carbon footprint is one we take pride in. Again, it’s an opportunity for us to test and refine our data collection and calculation tools.
As a fully remote tech company, we’re different than many conventional businesses with physical locations and vehicles—things that are typically easier to calculate emissions for. Our company does not directly consume electricity or combust any onsite fuels, and as a small company, we have limited sway over our supply chain. While we work on deeper supply chain engagement for more meaningful reductions, we commit to measuring our emissions annually and mitigating emissions where we can, and offsetting those we can’t.
To calculate our carbon footprint, we follow industry best practices. We assess the categories that are material to our business and implement programs to streamline data transfer to our platform as these activities take place, easing the end-of-year reporting burden and integrating it with our business operations. So, without scope 1 and 2 emissions, where do Sustain Life’s emissions come from? After thoroughly reviewing all 15 scope 3 categories in the context of our business, we determined our material emissions come from purchased goods and services (Category 1), business travel (Category 6), and working from home (Category 7). Let’s talk about each source individually.
Purchased goods and services (Category 1)
With Sustain Life’s purchased goods and services (PG&S) calculator, we could account for one of our most significant emissions sources. Purchased goods and services ultimately accounted for more than 90% of Sustain Life’s emissions.
We pulled data directly from our general accounting ledger and categorized each spend category. This was a directional indication of our emissions based on our purchases to help us target the most meaningful engagement in our own supply chain. These emissions are based on spend-based environmentally extended input-output (EEIO) tools. They reflect everything from computer hardware and IT equipment to software and digital tools to professional accounting and legal services. Our spend-based calculation included 100% of our non-reimbursable business expenses. In an attempt to get primary reported emissions data, we surveyed all of our service providers. But given our small size, we received only one response on emissions data from that engagement. Utilizing our PG&S features allowed us to calculate the most comprehensive inventory based on proxy-spend data. It’s a conservative approach, and we look to improve our ability to report on more granular data over time.
Business travel (Category 6)
Our next largest emissions category was business travel to conferences, events, and our first company-wide offsite. Nearly all of the emissions from this source were from air travel, which we tracked throughout the year on Sustain.Life. Our business travel accounted for approximately 3% of our annual emissions in 2022, which, although technically below the materiality threshold found in the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard, we determined important to include in our emissions due to our business model. With so few emission sources, we are committed to including all material emission categories in our inventory.
We used the distance-based method provided in Sustain.Life to calculate business travel emissions, which is the most accurate method available until airlines provide comprehensive fuel consumption data for flights. While the carbon intensity of jet fuel makes air travel significantly more impactful than other modes, future enhancements to our data capture could include road transit to airports. Though travel to and from airports will be well below the materiality threshold, we are committed to capturing all of our emissions sources over time to ensure the most detailed inventory possible.
Of note, Sustain.Life works to continually reduce our environmental impact wherever possible. We hold one in-person company-wide meeting annually, with the rest virtual. Business travel, especially road and air travel, are reduced to the extent possible by flying economy class and taking public transport, where and when available.
Work from home (Category 7)
The final emissions category Sustain.Life calculated is work-from-home emissions. With no physical office locations, we feel capturing the emissions generated by our fully remote employees is important. It’s critical we account for the energy-consuming activities of our workforce, which amount to roughly 4% of our total emissions. It includes average heating and cooling of dedicated workspaces and lighting and plug loads from our Energy Star-rated equipment—all built into the Sustain.Life carbon calculator.
This calculator establishes assumptions for the average equipment wattage, average hours per day worked, the average number of days worked per year, and average household space dedicated to remote work to approximate these emissions. As 2022 was a significant growth year for employee count at Sustain Life, we entered our total monthly workforce based on hire dates from January to December.
This year, we offset our corporate emissions through the Prairie Pothole Grassland Carbon Program, a joint effort of Ducks Unlimited and North Bridge Carbon. The Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota is a key breeding ground for many of North America’s migratory waterfowl. Still, these grasslands have disappeared at a rate that exceeds even that of the Amazon Rainforest. The program encompasses nearly 28,000 acres spread across more than 50 landowners. It provides a perpetual easement that ensures this ecosystem remains available for wildlife and recreation, all while keeping significant stores of carbon underground.
As you can tell, like many companies looking to measure their emissions, there are a number of improvements we can make to more accurately reflect our emissions and streamline the data collection process for our employees.
As we refine our approach and build new features in the platform, we look forward to sharing future successes and challenges with you.