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Friday, May 28, 2010

Sustainability Audit

Sustainability audit

We conducted a sustainability audit to assess our environmental impact in 2006-07.

We wanted to increase our positive impact through the work that we do and to identify how to reduce our own environmental impact.

The audit looked at three levels of our environmental impact:

  • impact and influence: what we encourage our stakeholders to do and think about through our campaigns and research, guidance and practical advice
  • organisational scale: the building our staff work in and our everyday operations
  • CABE family and contractor scale: the activities of the our network and the contractors and service providers we spend our money on.

How did we do the audit?

We appointed sustainability consultancy Beyond Green and footprinting expert Best Foot Forward to do the audit. This involved crunching hard data and listening to people's views about our environmental impact - our impact as an organisation, through our network and suppliers, and on our stakeholders.

While carbon and climate change are very big issues, sustainable development is about more than these. So we commissioned a calculation of our broader ecological footprint as well as our carbon footprint based on information about our resource use, the goods and services we buy and how we travel.

How did we do?

Our carbon footprint - the emissions associated with our activities - was calculated by the audit as 503 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted per year.
Our consultant says that we are average for the UK. We never like being average, but in this case it gives more than usual cause for concern.

Carbon emissions have to be stabilised worldwide at between one and two tonnes per person by 2030, and we generate 4.6 tonnes each.
Being average also means that in terms of our ecological footprint, everyone who works at CABE exceeds the sustainable earthshare of just under 1.8 global hectares per person. This is without counting our private lifestyles. Our total annual ecological footprint was 222 global hectares, an average 2.05gha each.

Why did we need an audit?

Sustainable development is a key government priority, as set out in Securing the future: delivering UK government sustainable development strategy. All central government departments and their agencies are required to produce sustainable development action plans. Our funding departments, DCMS and CLG, have already produced theirs and the requirement will soon be extended to non-departmental public bodies like CABE.

As the government's advisor on architecture, urban design and public space, we decided to address sustainability early to ensure we are equipped to lead on these issues.

The UK public sector spends £150 billion each year on procurement. Efficiency and value for money are essential considerations. The government's sustainable procurement task force report, Procuring the future, outlines how the procurement of more sustainable goods and services in the public sector can play a key role in efficiency gains, if whole-life values and accounting are used rather than lowest cost.

Although our annual budget is only £11 million, we have a key role to play in stimulating the market for more sustainable goods, services, buildings and places.

We also want to demonstrate how other organisations of our size can improve. We employ around 120 staff and occupy one floor (approximately 1,600 square metres) of a seven-storey 1960s office building in central London. We hope that what we do to improve our performance will provide useful pointers for others.

We are repeating the audit to track our progress. We will report the results of this audit in summer 2009


Sustainability audit results 2006

The largest negative impacts of our work came from office materials and waste, business travel (with flights having the largest impact), office electricity use and publications.

  • Air travel alone makes up 15 per cent of CABE's ecological footprint, and 19 per cent of our carbon emissions. Some 40 per cent of the total impact of our air travel was from 14 long-distance flights. Without them, CABE’s carbon emissions would have been 8 per cent lower. While the value of CABE's work lies in visiting places and meeting people face to face, travel by aircraft should be a last resort.
  • CABE's publications were calculated to be responsible for 9 per cent of its carbon emissions, but 14 per cent of our ecological footprint due to the amount of land needed to grow trees to produce virgin paper (our paper choice until 2007 was Starfine, which uses 50 per cent sawmill residues. See ‘what did we do next’ for an update on paper and print)...
  • Office water use - an area where we have already been active - makes up just 0.1 per cent of CABE's ecological footprint (although this does not take into account the separate issue of water availability in the south east of England).
  • Ten per cent of CABE's ecological footprint (and 5 per cent of its carbon emissions) comes from purchased office paper products. A further 5 per cent comes from journals, newspapers and junk mail passing through the office, and another 6 per cent (2 per cent of carbon emissions) from cardboard waste.
  • Waste sent to incineration accounts for 11 per cent of CABE's ecological footprint, and 10 per cent of its carbon emissions. This is largely due to the embodied energy which is lost when materials are incinerated; only a small fraction of this is recovered as heat, making incineration only slightly better than landfill.

Comparisons, including that of Best Foot Forward's office, which demonstrates the achievability of sustainable practice in the workplace, are listed in the table.

Comparison of ecological footprint and annual carbon emissions between five different workplaces


Ecological footprint per office worker (gha)

Annual carbon emissions per office worker (tonnes)




BFF office



Office 1 (HQ of food company with 22 staff)



Office 2 (a membership org with 4 offices and 200 staff mostly in London)



Office 3 (global HQ of major multinational, 2,950 staff)



Download the full carbon and ecological footprint report from Best Foot Forward (Adobe PDF, 590KB)

What did we do next?

The aim of the audit was to establish a baseline of technical data. This was to allow us to monitor, evaluate and reduce our environmental impact .It has also provided the basis for a comprehensive operational sustainability action plan for the period 2008 - 2010.

Practical ways in which our carbon and ecological footprints can be reduced involves involve training and awareness raising for CABE staff and family, changes to our procurement policies and simplifying what sustainable development really means for people working in architecture, urban design and public space.

CABE’s operational sustainability action plan 2008-2010 commits us to over 80 specific practical actions. Some of these actions have already been implemented:

  1. launch of in 2009; a resource giving local authority decision makers expert advice, clear priorities for action and examples of good practice in sustainable urban design and management
  2. review of CABE’s design review process to allow for more precise information on the strategies for sustainability embedded in the design of the schemes examined
  3. expansion of the CABE enabler skills base to include experts with more environmental sustainability knowledge and experience
  4. organisation of Green Day 2009, a one-day event for schools about climate change, sustainability and the built environment (more than 30,000 pupils participated in Green Day 2008)
  5. production of guidance for the adaptation of the public realm to climate change
  6. organisation of a Park City conference on green infrastructure
  7. ensuring that all CABE-organised or funded events to meet compulsory minimum standards for sustainability with a sliding scale for improvement
  8. reduction of the number of CABE printed publications year on year
  9. introduction of a new standard paper for all publication printing. Our choice, Revive, has strong environmental credentials (it is 100% post-consumer reclaimed material; its pulp is bleached using an elemental chlorine free process; it is Forestry Stewardship Council certified; it has been awarded the National Association of Paper Merchants recycled mark; and it is produced at a mill that is certified with ISO14001 environmental management standard)
  10. we have introduced new guidelines for printers working for us. Any printer producing materials for CABE must be: ISO14001 certified, or have the Greenmark standard, or belong to eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS), Green Dragon, BPIF environmental assessment scheme or Forestry Stewardship Council chain of custody. (In addition, printers working for CABE should do at least two of the following: adopt measures to reduce energy consumption, such as using voltage optimisers on the presses, driving fuel-efficient delivery vehicles; switching to green electricity suppliers; reduce water usage by waterless printing; recycling the water used on the presses, and for example, by using sprinklers and pressure taps; recycle or reuse waste such as wooden pallets, plastic wrapping, ink and ink tins, paper (especially off-cuts) and glass; avoid using IPAs (isopropyl alcohol), which release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), through converting to waterless or alcohol-free technology; use ink that contains vegetable oil instead of petroleum
  11. installation of smart energy monitoring and sustainable procurement of goods and materials from accredited, non-toxic, low volatile organic compound content and ecologically sound ingredients
  12. hosting, and funding, of a joint Sustainable Development Commission/CABE senior policy advisor specialising in the sustainability of the built environment
  13. provision of £300 per CABE staff member for training relating to environmental sustainability.

Calculating our environmental impact

The audit measured our impact using carbon and our ecological footprints.

An ecological footprint is one way of measuring how your lifestyle impacts not only on the planet, but also on other people. It is measured in global hectares because it calculates how much productive land and sea is needed to feed us and provide all the energy, water and materials used. It also calculates the emissions generated from the oil, coal and gas burnt, and it determines how much land is required to absorb the waste generated.

A carbon footprint measures the carbon dioxide emissions associated with activity including travel, water use, electricity and oil use, direct land use, office catering, resource use and waste production. Burning fossil fuels releases the carbon dioxide stored millions of years ago, the most important of the greenhouse gases causing global warming. The government's target of a 60 per cent cut in CO2 by 2050 is based on the amount in the atmosphere that scientists say is safe to avoid dangerous climate change. Global warming is already responsible for a series of existing problems, including fewer cold days, hotter nights, intense heatwaves, floods and heavy rains, droughts and an increase in the strength of hurricanes and tropical storms.


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