Micro Business Case Study – Econcertive
At Econcertive, being the people we are, we have a great interest in becoming more sustainable in our day-to-day lives. We segregate our waste for recycling and composting; we try to ensure lights and appliances are switched off when not needed; we try to minimise our use of the tumble drier; and so on. All good stuff.
To help us focus our efforts, we measure our carbon footprint. This gives us the ability to evaluate how well we are doing and where next we can best invest our limited time and money.
All EcoMerit certified organisations measure their carbon footprint as a matter of course. This case study aims to demonstrate how you can use this as a simple tool to improve the long term sustainability of your business or indeed your home.
Carbon Footprint Measurement
As Econcertive is a home-based business we find it best to measure the combined carbon footprint of the business and the home together. For us, it is easier and more meaningful to do it this way.
For simplicity, we measure the carbon footprint for our energy use only. We don’t try to measure the embedded carbon impact of the food, services and materials we buy (even although we know these are also significant). Instead we focus on the things we have the greatest ability to control.
The graph below shows the Econcertive carbon footprint over recent years.
To put this into context, our premises are an old farmhouse cottage with stone walls three feet thick and a slate roof. When we moved in (see photo above), it had oil central heating, single glazing and three open fires. We are located in a rural area, two miles from the nearest shop and not served by public transport of any sort. We are a two car family, with business mileage accounting for a significant proportion of our overall mileage.
If you aren’t an EcoMerit Community member it is still easy enough to measure your energy carbon footprint. The carbon emissions associated with different types of fuel are readily found on-line. A summary of the most common fuels can be found on the SEAI website. For the emissions performance of the national electricity grid, look at the back page of your most recent electricity bill. If you know the quantities of each fuel used it is easy to calculate your carbon footprint.
The starting point of our journey was when we first calculated our carbon footprint back in 2008. It totaled 25.9 tonnes.
The most striking feature was that home heating (oil, coal and peat combined) accounted for more than half of our total footprint. We were burning 3,600 litres of kerosene per year, which is a high usage for a house of relatively modest proportions.
A little investigation soon revealed why. Three quarters of the roof area was completely un-insulated. The remaining quarter had minimal insulation. The single glazed windows and un-insulated stone walls didn’t help.
This pointed us to upgrading the insulation at every opportunity as we gradually renovated the house. Over a period of years we re-roofed each part of the building and incorporated a high insulation specification. We replaced the single glazed windows with triple glazed units. The last of these was installed in 2017. We are still in the process of dry-lining the walls, area by area.
The combined effect of these measures was to gradually reduce our annual kerosene usage from 3,600 litres in 2008 to a more respectable 2,100 litres in 2015.
We installed a solid fuel stove in one of our fireplaces to improve fuel efficiency. With an open fire, two thirds of the heat is lost straight up the chimney. With a solid fuel stove, two thirds of the heat goes into the room.
At some stage we will probably do the same with a second fireplace. The third fireplace has been taken out of service. We fuel the fires extensively with waste timber from the ongoing renovations and timber thinnings from around the premises. These are carbon neutral. We have discontinued the use of peat and (more recently) coal.
When we re-roofed the main part of the house we installed solar thermal panels for hot water heating. This allows us to minimise the use of the central heating system for summer water heating in particular. We received SEAI grant support to assist with the cost of this installation.
While our electricity usage was a modest part of our footprint, we nevertheless made improvements. Whenever an electrical appliance needed to be replaced, we made sure to buy an energy-efficient model, which is always cheaper in the long run. We progressively replaced the lighting with LED units.
The combined effect of these measures was to reduce our annual electricity usage from 15 kWh per day in 2008 to a little over 13 kWh per day in 2015. Further reductions have been achieved since.
The chart above shows the combined effect the changes since 2008 had made to our 2015 carbon footprint. In comparison with 2008 our overall footprint had reduced by 10%. Heating was no longer responsible for half of our footprint. It was now down to about one third.
However, on the negative side, the emissions from our diesel cars had increased significantly, due to the growth of the business and the consequent increase in business mileage. Our cars were now responsible for half our footprint, and this pointed us to the next challenge. Also, improved knowledge of the harmful effects of diesel emissions made it more important to tackle this.
In 2008 we were driving 28,500 miles per year. By 2015 this had increased to 42,000 miles per year. Our increased mileage had severely compromised the positive effects of all our other improvements. Clearly, transport had to be our next priority.
Our next car replacement, in 2016, was a radical one. We bought an electric car. This car has 57% lower emissions than the diesel it replaced, and is 80% cheaper to run. Our remaining diesel car became very much the ‘second car’ and we used it as little as we could. In 2019 we went on to replace this diesel car with a second electric car.
Our move to electric transport has had the biggest impact on our carbon footprint of all our measures to date.
Our plan was always to eventually replace the oil boiler with a woodchip or wood pellet boiler, which would be almost carbon neutral. However, when a gas transit line was laid outside our front door in 2016, we could not turn down the opportunity to tap into the national gas network.
We invested in a new gas central heating boiler for our heating and hot water needs. We also installed a gas cooker. Although gas is a fossil fuel, and therefore not ideal environmentally, it results in significantly less emissions than burning oil. It is also much cheaper. Add to that the much improved burn efficiency of the new gas boiler, and we have another significant step change in our carbon footprint. We received SEAI grant support to assist with the cost of the gas boiler.
Summary to Date
In 2008 our energy carbon footprint was 25.9 tonnes. By 2019 we had managed to reduce this to 10.2 tonnes – an overall reduction of 61%. This was achieved against a backdrop of ever-increasing business mileages.
This biggest individual improvements resulted from our change to electric cars and the move to mains gas. Although both required significant investment, they also resulted in major reductions in our annual energy costs.
We will continue to be informed by our carbon footprint when making lifestyle and investment decisions. In the short term, we plan to replace our ageing fridge-freezers with a more energy-efficient fridge and freezer.
We aim to continue dry lining the remainder of the house and more than likely we will replace the remaining open fire with a solid fuel stove.
Solar PV panels or a wind turbine for electricity generation are high on our ‘wish-list’ although these are still hard to justify financially. Eventually, we would like to install an electric heat pump to replace the gas for space heating, especially if we are generating our own electricity on site.
It is quite a simple matter for any business, or household, to measure its energy carbon footprint. This provides a valuable tool to;
- help promote positive change in day-to-day habits
- help evaluate capital investment options
- provide some balance to traditional finance-based evaluations
- measure progress on sustainability improvement
If you don’t already do this for your home or business, try it!