The carbon footprint caused by COWI’s day-to-day operations went down several sizes in 2020, compared to previous years.
The bottom line of COWI’s carbon report for 2020 is bright green. Total CO₂-eq. emissions dropped by more than 55 per cent compared to 2019. This means that the company has come much closer to achieving the targets of reducing CO₂ emissions by 70 per cent before 2030 (compared to 2008) and of becoming CO₂ neutral by 2050.
The large reduction in CO₂ is mainly due to a significant decrease in travel activity, but less energy consumption and less commuting also impact the result.
“2020 meant a positive tailwind for our decision to reduce the CO₂ emissions caused by running our business. I am very pleased to see that we already have achieved our 2030 goal – even though it is caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Next step is to show that we can stay below our 2030 target, when the pandemic releases its form grip of our societies,” says CEO, Lars-Peter Søbye.
He recognises that the extraordinary circumstances and travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 lockdown have impacted many of the activities and that the 2020 situation with extremely low travel activity cannot be a permanent scenario for an international company with customers around the globe.
“But one thing is for sure – we will never fly to the same extent as we did pre-COVID-19. 2020 showed us that we can maintain strong relations with our customers with less travel activity. We will build on these learnings and seize the opportunity to extend climate-conscious ways of working,” he says.
Past analyses of COWI's carbon footprint have pointed to business travel as the single biggest contributor to CO₂ emissions. In 2020, emissions related to business travel were reduced by 68 per cent compared to the year before. The average business travel distance by air was reduced from 6,300 kilometres flown per employee in 2019 to 1,900 kilometres in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and restrictions have also impacted commuting patterns and facility management. Across the world, many employees have been asked to work from home – thus reducing the need for commuting to and from the office (28%), and for facility management (45%), which includes emissions from purchased food and beverages, office equipment, generated waste and consumption of electricity at COWI premises.
Altogether, this lowered the company’s CO₂ emissions to 10,558 tonnes in 2020. In 2019, they amounted to 23,518 tonnes, and in 2008 (baseline year) they were estimated at 61,240 tonnes CO₂-eq. per year.
The emissions in the carbon report vary from country to country due to large differences in the number of employees, energy sources and consumption patterns.
Many ordinary office activities were also affected by the lockdown. Employees made 3,400,000 fewer prints in 2020 compared to 2019. The CO₂ emissions related to electricity were reduced by 48 per cent. Actual electricity consumption fell by 22 per cent due to employees working remotely, and a general decrease in CO₂ emission factor (CO₂ per energy unit) contributed to lowering the output further.
Overall, the CO₂ emission per COWI employee went down from 3.2 tonnes of CO₂-eq. per employee in 2019 to 1.5 tonnes in 2020. The additional electricity use from off-site consumption, for, e.g., lighting, and charging of devices, is not included in COWI's carbon report.
COWI’s carbon report consists of a variety of data gathered from all COWI offices. It follows the widely recognised Green House Gas (GHG) protocol standard and includes the indirect Scope 3 emissions stemming from, e.g., purchased goods and business travel.
In the years to come, COWI will maintain the reduction targets for 2030 that were in place before the pandemic: Air travel for internal meetings will be cut by 50 per cent and air travel on projects by 25 per cent, compared to 2019 figures. Where possible, inspection cars will be converted to electric cars, and COWI's company car fleet will be converted to electric or hybrid cars.