Collecting and using data

How to do an environmental audit

The UK government is asking everyone who runs a business to consider ways in which they can help tackle climate change.

Reducing the amount of energy you use leads to a lower carbon footprint and less carbon emissions. It’ll also help the government achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.

But to understand your carbon footprint, you’ll need to understand your data. Before you can make any changes, you need to know what to measure, where to find it and how to use the results.

Why do an environmental audit?

Operational transparency

It means you reflect in detail on the way your business operates – so you know exactly what you’re doing, who your suppliers are and how you could do better.

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Ask important questions

You’ll be forced to ask (and answer) important questions – are you up to speed with best practices for sustainability? What have you already done? What’s stopping you from going further?

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Identify opportunities

It'll help you identify areas of opportunity, or actions that are logistically, operationally and financially viable.

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Prepare for future change

It sets you up for change. You’ll get the knowledge you need to benchmark your business against itself and the industry, and learn how to monitor and measure your progress.

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The checklist

Our checklist gives you a snapshot of where you’re doing well, where you can improve, how to collect data and use it.


01. Make time to learn and inform

You, your employees and any other stakeholders will need to understand the need for auditing and change. From the basics – what a carbon footprint is – to the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the level of commitment required.


02. Consider which measures are important

While most companies look at their entire operations for a big-picture benchmark, its becoming more common for manufacturing businesses to work out a ‘per-product’ footprint, which might be more useful to customers.


03. Can you justify external help?

Larger organisations often enlist the help of specialist consultancies that assess their impact from a neutral perspective. The experts know what to look for and can advise on next steps.


04. Set your boundaries/parameters

Whilst a carbon footprint is about carbon (and other greenhouse gas) emissions, it doesn’t involve measuring your use of natural resources, or the amount of waste you generate. Keep that in mind when collecting your data – is your carbon footprint enough, or do you want to collect more?


05. Identify obvious fossil fuel use

The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) is the main source of human-generated carbon emissions. List the different areas of your business where you know electricity and fuel are used: powering physical premises; in vehicles; for manufacturing.


06. Dig deeper for secondary sources

Beyond the easy-to-see lighting, computers and transport, you’ll find a load of less obvious fuel consumption sources: the servers powering your website or app, or the fleet vehicles delivering products and materials from your suppliers. It’s easy to think other people are responsible for these secondary sources, but would the same fuel be burnt if your company didn’t exist?


07. Do the maths

Quantify your energy use by collecting gas and electricity bills first. Then look at transport: the travel, in miles, that’s gone into making and delivering products and moving employees around the country (or beyond). You should be able to work back from this to see how much fuel you use in an average week, month or year. If you’re dealing in physical products, work out the quantities and weights of your output, broken down into core component materials, and put this info into a spreadsheet.


08. Try out a carbon footprint calculator

So by now you’ve gathered lots of info (or made reasonable estimates) on your energy use, your travel miles, your water use, the waste you generate and the amount you’ve spent on other goods and services. Pop all of this into a carbon calculator to measure your footprint.

NatWest Carbon Planner

The Carbon Trust’s footprint calculator


09. Identify ways to save money

When you’ve calculated your greenhouse gas emissions you can use this info to help you reduce your emissions and identify ways to save money. Use your new data to see if you’ve got any energy use that doesn’t seem right, or seems out of proportion. You can also mark out areas to improve – as an example, a service business operating across a large geographical area could make reductions by switching from in-person meetings to conference calls.


10. Build sustainability into your business

Once you’ve made the easier adjustments, start to build change into your long-term business plan. Consider what’s possible in the future and where you want to be. Then commit to going though this process again every 12 months to chart your progress.

Useful resources and further reading

The government have more free information to help you understand where your company stands with regards to sustainability best practices.

SME guide to Energy Efficiency

from the Department of Energy & Climate Change

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Small business guide

from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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What’s next?