The Column. "Climate Neutral"

The Column. "Climate Neutral"

For years, the sports meetup with friends in the Berliner Tiergarten have given me great pleasure. In wind and rain, in summer and in winter. They are now so mild that hardly ever is a meeting cancelled. We enjoy the fresh air amongst the trees, we don't need artificial light or air conditioning. If we all came as joggers, like Matthias or by bicycle, like Ivan, our sports group would be climate neutral. If I pick up Jan with the fossil fuel car, we are considered a carpool: 90 times 3.6 km there and back, results in 0.13 t CO2/year. If he were there more often, I could credit him for half of my emissions. Armand uses his bicycle or an electric car with gull-wing doors: 45 times 3.4 km round trip results in 0.003 t CO2/year.

One of the work groups in our office is the one for sustainability and it has managed that we now have filtered water, carbonated and non-carbonated, from the tap and that our coffee is fair trade from organic farming. LED lights have been installed. We print less and print double-sided. Increasingly, video conferences replace business trips, bicycles replace cars, and trains replace flights. Until we got to the question of what we would actually have to do to become completely carbon neutral. That would be a really good step forward! A mountain ascent, a visionary and necessary goal for the coming years, clearly in sight!

But where to begin? And how does one determine what each individual and all of us together consume and emit? For this there are already a growing number of companies that calculate the carbon footprint and provide advice on how to achieve climate neutrality.

After various researches, interviews and offers we decided for "Fokus Zukunft". A company with 21 employees in Berg on the beautiful Lake Starnberg. Of course, we didn't see the lake once during our collaboration. Thanks to Zoom.

Typical for scalable services: The extensive data collection was our task.

Who travels to work by which means of transport and how far, how many airplane trips were made, overnight hotel stays, how many train trips, how much paper is consumed, how many screens, headsets, computers, telephones do we have, where does our electricity come from, how are our office rooms tempered, how high is the water consumption and waste generation, etc.?

The emissions report was prepared in accordance with the guidelines of the "Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard". The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is the most widely used and recognized international standard for the accounting of greenhouse gas emissions by companies. Emissions are divided into three scopes: Self-generated emissions (Scope 1), emissions of purchased energy (Scope 2), and emissions that take into account preliminary work provided by third parties (Scope 3).

To reduce complexity, the effects of the seven greenhouse gases are converted into CO2 equivalents or CO2e depending on their damaging effect to the climate.

The overall result was a huge surprise. In the year under review, we emitted a total of 28 t CO2e. That is 0.53 t CO2e per person.

Compared with other companies of our size and in our sector, the figure is in the low range. We owe this mainly to Vattenfall, as we are connected to their CO2-neutral district heating network. And our landlord, who buys green electricity. Both enter into our overall bill at an incredibly exemplary 0%. These are however usually the strongest drivers.

Therefore, hardware (31%) and travel to work (19%) account for the larger share of our footprint. Even though many of us come to the office by bicycle or by public transport and we have traveled less in the Corona year, fuel consumption (19%) and business travel (16%) generate substantial amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

This means that our footprint is equivalent to four average people in Germany causing roughly the same quantity of emissions per year. Or the CO2 emissions that eleven trees bind over their entire life cycle. Or 129,000 km driven by car. Or one person flying around the world four times.

In the future, we still have savings measures such as switching from fossil fuel cars (0.20 kg/km) to electric mobility (0.01 kg/km), increasing the use of videoconferencing, replacing short-haul flights (0.24 kg/pkm) with rail (0.01 kg/pkm), CO2 offsetting for unavoidable flights, job tickets for using public transportation, reducing waste, switching to recycled paper, and reducing further to a paperless office.

Not covered in the report, but still makes sense: Switching to a green bank. For example, to Triodos, Ethikbank or GLS. Or to a green search engine. We can outsource printing jobs to climate-neutral environmental printers. In the restaurant here in the house, there are already vegetarian, and increasingly vegan alternatives.

But in order to be climate neutral today, i. e. immediately and without delay, we can buy certificates and use them to offset our emissions. A very clever idea.

Promoting projects in developing and emerging countries seems to make particular sense. After all, they are most affected by climate change, but have caused it the least. And it doesn't matter where on earth emissions are reduced.

In our case, we purchased 28 climate protection certificates for 2022 and 28 certificates for 2023 for the 28 t CO2e.

This can be used to promote hydropower in Brazil, wind power in Turkey, reforestation in Uruguay or forest conservation in Peru. We chose efficient cooking stoves in Kenya. That cost 431.20 euros.

Yes, that's right. A certificate cost € 4-18 in 2022! And that was the real shock for me! For a few 100 €, I can offset the 28 t CO2e that our office emits. The service provider we paid for the simple calculation of our emissions costs €1,800.

Can that be right? Is that appropriate? Is this greenwashing now? Some kind of marketing idea that allows us to call ourselves climate neutral on our stationery?

It is clear to me that the path, the calculation methods, the system limits and the sum of the compensation payments are questionable. For example, the certificate does not take into account our planning decisions. We still build using climate-damaging cement and steel. This is associated with the emission of thousands of tons of CO2.

Nevertheless, the beginning has been made. It has already led to all of us in the office looking at it more intensively. In two years, for the next evaluation, we will know more and be better.

When I told my colleagues about our efforts during sports in the Tiergarten last Saturday, I didn't even get to think about anything more nuanced. They feared that I might walk around MIPIM and tell everyone how wonderfully climate-neutral my architecture firm is in contrast to theirs! Everything else was lost in the general laughter between the push-ups and squat jumps.

I didn't even get around to my suggestion of jointly founding an initiative to campaign for planning offices, developers, service providers and associations in the real estate industry to become climate-neutral by 2022.

But I still think it's a good idea.

Who would like to participate?