Experts from consultancy Best Foot Forward assess recently released CSR and sustainability reports from a range of industry organisations in the first of a new exclusive series of reports for Building Sustainability

How do you best measure your environmental impact? Are there definitive means and measures to assess your carbon footprint? With a raft of bodies now issuing sustainability and CSR reports we have commissioned respected consultancy Best Foot Forward to run their expert eyes over four recently released documents from organisations ranging from a manufacturer to a consultant and two clients. In the next part of the article the firm draws out key conclusions and lessons for any company looking to carry out similar such assessments. Summaries of the assessments are at the bottom of the page.

Cement Sustainability Initiative

In its most recent report, the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) concentrated on accomplishments in reducing ‘specific CO² emissions’ since its ‘Agenda for Action’ was released in 2002.

Sounds great – and improvements in efficiency are to be applauded – however a quick look at absolute emissions graph shows an increase of 30% since 1990, as compared to 10% reduction in CO2 per tonne over the same period.

This highlights the problem with the current model of ‘sustainable construction’; constructors commit to become more efficient at project level, or per unit produced, but these efficiency gains are wiped out by increased levels of building at national/global levels.

Unfortunately for us, international targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050 are absolute, not specific – and global cement production is predicted to rise by 500% on 1990 levels by the middle of this century.

On a more positive note, the CSI’s ‘Getting the Numbers Right’ initiative - a database of CO2 emissions from over 700 cement kilns – could be an excellent source of information, enabling a more accurate assessment of building project impacts and procurement options.

Of course, this is dependent on the data becoming publicly available, and it is unclear from the literature whether this will be the case. Past form in this area by other industry organisations suggests that a global average emissions factor per tonne of cement – or perhaps regional average – may be released for use in life cycle studies.

However, individual cement companies might be willing to release product-level data where their interests could be served. At least they have a process for collating this data, unlike many sectors.

global cement production is predicted to rise by 500% on 1990 levels by the middle of this century

cement production

Also, in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the CSI has produced a cement industry version of the greenhouse gas (GHG) corporate reporting standard – this should mean that comparison between producers can be made more confidently as similar organisational and study boundaries will be adopted. Members' CO² data must also be assured by an independent third party.

Tube Lines

A major highlight of the company’s 2007 environmental report is the calculation of its carbon footprint and the setting of a target to cut emissions by 6% in a year – a significant, but necessary, reduction.

In terms of carbon reporting performance, their chosen accounting method includes good coverage of ‘embodied carbon’ of purchased materials – this is optional under the major greenhouse gas corporate reporting standards. Commendably Tube Lines recognises it would be disingenuous for such a materials-intensive company to just report on their energy-related emissions.

Recycling a greater proportion of the hundreds of tonnes of free newspapers

However there are plenty of areas for improvement. In particular BFF feels that publicly available information was poor on exact footprinting methodology, study boundaries and where in the business the emissions actually occur. Although some organisations are reluctant to fully disclose such information, Tube Lines could definitely improve on their levels of transparency in this regard.

Their plans to meet most of its 2008 carbon reduction target of 5,000t CO2 by recycling a greater proportion of the hundreds of tonnes of free newspapers left by passengers each day stands out.

Although a laudable goal, it seems strange that a resource and energy intensive company should target reductions in an incidental area of its business. Best Foot Forward would argue that as the distribution and littering of papers is not under the direct control of the company they should not net these savings off their main emissions account – but rather report them separately as something positive they have influence over.

From the information available the report seems to be CO2 only, so underestimates total greenhouse gas emissions from, for example, metals manufacture (a potential source of methane and PFCs). Emissions data is improving in this area and so could be incorporated in the future. This is not a major issue as the overwhelming majority of their emissions will be fossil fuel-derived CO2.

It is not clear whether the carbon impact of contractor work is included in the accounts. Depending on the business model used by the company, these indirect impacts could be significant. Gathering emissions data from third parties is notoriously difficult so is often ignored in corporate reports – it is also optional under the major greenhouse gas reporting standards. However by measuring contractor impacts, carbon-friendly procurement requirements can be included in future contracts.

Some areas appear to have not been accounted for. In particular, materials use and business travel seem to have been ignored for Tube Lines premises. Although they may be relatively insignificant, it would be useful to report these impacts as it would improve the understanding of the relative importance of all business areas.

the scope of the NHS study is broad and well documented – taking into account a broad sweep of direct and indirect impacts

National Health Service (England)

The first thing to say is that anyone attempting the footprint of one of the world’s largest organisations has to make some compromise on data collection: clearly it’s not feasible to start counting paperclips when attempting to measure the embodied carbon of its massive procurement activities (although reasonably good data does exist on energy purchasing and typical transport patterns). The crux of the issue, then, is how to measure the material consumption of an organisation that operates at the same scale as a small country.

This report from the Sustainable Development Commission uses a technique called Environmental Input-Output Analysis. This method combines data on financial spend in 178 sectors (e.g. ‘Construction of commercial buildings’) with an average carbon-intensity of each pound spent in that sector.

This provides adequate information to identify total impact and the main constituents. The main disadvantage of this method is that since it is based on high level averages, it does not facilitate benchmarking or diagnosis

An alternative approach involves accounting the actual physical flow of material – a technique preferred by Best Foot Forward and used in our 2004 ‘Material Health’ study of the NHS.

But aside from this methodological question mark, the scope of the study is wide and well documented – taking into account a broad sweep of direct and indirect impacts.


It is clear from their 2007 Sustainability report that Upstream take their environmental performance very seriously. As a service-based organisation it is not surprising they have only included business travel and office utilities in their footprint – but it is a shame they haven’t combined data gathered on waste management with procurement information to give a measure of the embodied carbon of purchased materials and services.

Also, staff commuting emissions (although modest because of high levels of bike use) have been excluded.

By drawing study boundaries to include these components they could more effectively understand and communicate total impact – and put their recycling and green travel initiatives in a carbon context.

In terms of reporting performance they have highlighted gains in carbon efficiencies per employee – and admit that absolute emissions are rising as the company expands. However, looking more holistically, this is one business you might be more forgiving of: growth in the energy efficiency sector should deliver much greater emissions savings in the wider economy. Although difficult to do, it would be interesting to give an indication of how many tonnes of emissions are saved for every tonne ‘invested’ in Upstream.

Finally, despite having five pages of the report dedicated to 25 sustainability targets, none address reductions in absolute – or specific carbon emissions.

Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI)

• Activities: The CSI is a global sustainability effort by 18 cement producers who account for 28% of the world’s cement production
• Total emissions: 440 million tonnes of CO2 in 2005
• Targets: None specified
• GHG Reporting Standard: The CSI has developed its own version of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development GHG reporting standard

Tube Lines

• Activities: Public Private Partnership contract with London Underground for the maintenance and upgrade of infrastructure on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines
• Total emissions: 78,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2007
• Targets: Cut 5,000 tonnes of CO2 (c. 6%) by 2008
• GHG Reporting Standard: Not clear in the report what standards have been used. Tube Lines have used an accounting method which splits emissions into two areas: ‘corporate emissions’ from own premises and ‘process emissions’ from their various activities on site e.g. track replacement. This is not common practice – but would probably allow them to more easily target emissions reductions by department/managers/business functions

National Health Service (England)

• Total emissions: 21.28 million tonnes of CO2 in 2004
• Targets: Not addressed in this report
• GHG Reporting Standard: No corporate reporting standards adhered to. Analysis relies on a variety of national (high-level) and corporate (low-level) data sources


• Activities: a small consultancy offering advice and research to property and building companies on their environmental impacts
• Total emissions: 14.3 tonnes of CO2 in 2007
• Targets: None set
• GHG Reporting Standard: Reference to World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) terminology