A lighter footprint
Adoption of 100% renewable energy proves worth of carbon offsetting

by Suresh Kumar — Originally published in the April 7, 2016 issue of FMWorld

Many companies feel that they have reached an impasse on the green agenda, thinking what can they do to improve the operational performance of their businesses, and at the same time promote a healthy work environment for their employees.

In April 2014, Tata Consultancy Services, provider of IT services, digital and business solutions, set itself the objective of improving the health and productivity of its offices while becoming net carbon zero in the UK.

TCS’s approach is that each office must work for everyone; the buildings must not waste energy, suffocate their inhabitants, nor dull them into a state of laziness. The offices are flexible and operate intelligently in terms of energy usage, water, fire, security, and communications, and this helps to create an enjoyable, safe and healthy workspace for employees.

The steps introduced to improve the performance of the offices in the UK include:

  • Reducing energy demand through a variety of behavioural change initiatives, and the introduction of new products and innovations;
  • Becoming zero-waste-to-landfill through encouraging behavioural change, redesigning waste areas and introducing new recycling methods;
  • Adopting 100 per cent of renewable energy (54 per cent wind, 21 per cent solar, 21 per cent biogen and 4 per cent hydro) and buying offsets where required;
  • Introducing new ways of working and innovative space ideas to sweat the office asset while boosting people’s wellbeing productivity through better layout, maximising natural light and other concepts;
  • Engaging employees throughout the process; and
  • Becoming a Net Zero Carbon organisation.

Ska rating coup

One example of this project at work is the Tithebarn House office in Liverpool. The building offers spacious accommodation capable of a high-level user occupation and was refurbished in 2013. It has since won a Ska Rating Silver award for its environmental specification.

The space has been designed to provide excellent natural and artificial lighting. The office also uses 100 per cent renewable energy, which lowers the facility’s carbon footprint and supports the government’s strategy for zero carbon buildings.

The adoption of renewable energy at Tithebarn House was a logical next step for the business, which employs 319,000 people across 46 countries, with 4,800 people in the UK, working out of 15 offices. The business case for renewable energy is becoming clearer and much more straightforward. TCS accepts that it needs to pay a premium for this energy, but knows that grid parity is close and costs will become significantly lower than current prices over the coming years. Across TCS’s infrastructure, it has been determined that the more renewable energy there is on the grid, the more the prices come down – over the past two years the average price for renewable electricity in the UK has reduced by 12 per cent.

100% renewables

Buying renewable energy does not always guarantee that the delivered energy consumption is 100 per cent from carbon neutral sources. In England, Wales and Scotland, businesses and consumers get their actual electricity from the National Grid. The electricity comes from a mix of sources. In the past year, that mix was coal (38.4 per cent), natural gas (27.7 per cent), nuclear (20.6 per cent), renewables (11.3 per cent) and other (2.0 per cent).

TCS works with its energy brokers to ensure that it only uses 100 per cent renewable energy. When you buy green electricity from some providers, you are paying for a commitment by your supplier to put green electricity into the grid, in some proportion of what you use. This is done by procuring renewable energy from power plant owners or building their own capacity for the future. For the business case to support TCS’s climate change strategy the business only wanted to invest in 100 per cent renewable energy. So TCS works through an energy broker to ensure that it meets this corporate responsibility. An experienced green energy broker allows TCS to build a renewable energy solution that uses fixed and variable electricity and natural gas products, and green energy products including solar and wind options.

Into the forest

As well as buying 100 per cent renewable energy, TCS calculates its carbon footprint and offsets business travel and other emissions using voluntary offsets. TCS does not have to purchase government-regulated carbon credits, so the offsetting programme is based on voluntary offsets.

This allows the business to invest in local projects and offset the carbon dioxide emissions (CO2e) that it produces through forestry and resource conservation projects. As an example, at the moment TCS is supporting the Mersey Forest Project, a growing network of woodlands and green spaces across Cheshire and Merseyside with the purpose of creating a healthier, more prosperous society and environment, and planting 1,725 trees. Overall, the Mersey Forest project is carrying out groundbreaking work, including working with the forestry sector to plant more resilient woodlands for our changing climate, and planting more heathland and reed beds for species such as dragonflies.

The credibility of carbon offsets is sometimes questioned by the media, especially when the money is invested in projects thousands of miles away. But TCS has decided to invest in local community projects that have a clear goal because social responsibility plays a big part in the organisation’s sustainability strategy. TCS’S evidence of its offsetting programme can be seen in a number of projects, and is even evidence through the counting of trees that have been planted.

Into the forest

Furthermore, the organisation’s carbon footprint is calculated and verified using external experts, and the business encourages its employees to get involved with the projects so that they actually get their hands dirty – as well as offset emissions. TCS is a member of the Business in the Community ‘Give & Gain Promise’, pledging to give 503,300 hours of volunteer support to their communities during work time. This means that TCS employees carry out many volunteering tasks, from planting trees to teaching children about the benefits of supporting the local environment.

As a business, TCS has been innovative in the way it has simplified its approach to investing in renewable energy and carbon offsets, demonstrating a clear strategy in combining this programme with the CSR strategy and operational office energy goals.

The longer-term vision is to decouple business growth and ecological footprint from its operations to address the environmental bottom line. The green approach is embedded in its internal processes and services offerings – from green buildings to green IT to a green supply chain, TCS’s mantra is to grow sustainably and help its customers to achieve sustainable growth through green solutions and service offerings.

Suresh Kumar is head of administration at Tata Consulting Services.

Launched in 2004, FM World aims to keep the profession – and others interested in facilities management – up to date with workplace and property issues, providing a forum for topical debate. The magazine, published every month in print and sent automatically to members of the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), is also available to others through an annual subscription.

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