WSP's personal carbon trading scheme gathers pace

WSP’s personal carbon trading scheme has gone from strength to strength. Several London boroughs, Invensys Rail, Aviva Investors and Good Energy have all taken it on, as an integral part of their carbon cutting agenda. David Carr reports

The London European Partnership for Transport is focusing on transport emissions (credit: LEPT)Environmental consultancy WSP has become something of a leader in personal carbon trading. Its Personal Allowance Carbon Tracking (PACT) scheme was one of the world’s first such schemes to be run by a business for its own staff (ENDS Report, February 2008

Now into its third year, it is driven by David Symons, director of WSP Environment and Energy. PACT’s genesis stemmed from discussions he held in 2007 with a number of carbon reduction action groups (CRAGs) – community-based organisations with a low-carbon vision.

Mr Symons developed the concept of a staff-based scheme and PACT was born. He explains why WSP was so keen to introduce it: “Consultancies are good at advising clients, but as a sector, we should have a better story to tell on carbon reduction.

“We wanted to do something more leading edge, push the boundaries and set ourselves a serious challenge.”

WSP’s board gave fast-track approval and the project was launched. “Rather than spending a long time strategising, we wanted to take action, gain momentum and run with it,” said Mr Symons.

PACT itself is a web-based platform, where individuals can measure, monitor and focus on their personal carbon footprints. It financially rewards carbon-cutting behaviour and penalises emissions-intensive activities. And its bottom-up approach encourages voluntary action from individuals, rather than imposing a blanket policy on people.

“PACT is engaging, it has a ‘can do’, rather than ‘can’t do’, ethos and wide staff appeal,” says Mr Symons.

It focuses on participants’ domestic electricity and gas use, their travel-related carbon emissions and those stemming from holidays taken. Linked to emissions factors, each participant’s carbon footprint is calculated. This provides a baseline, from where quarterly carbon emissions may be tracked, against an agreed annual allowance.

For WSP’s UK staff, the allowance is currently five tonnes of carbon dioxide. It was initially six tonnes, before being lowered to 5.5 tonnes in year two and is now at a level Mr Symons considers “achievable, but not too easy”. Staff whose annual carbon footprint is below this will be paid 5p per kilogram of CO2, up to a maximum of £100. Those exceeding the allowance will be ‘fined’ accordingly, up to £100.   

Quarterly accounting allows progress to be benchmarked and gives the scheme a sense of continuity. And, for a programme aimed at helping staff to reduce their carbon footprints, the early results were encouraging. PACT delivered a 10% carbon cut in its first year among participating staff.

But Mr Symons sees scope for its reach and influence to grow. “We want to ensure further emissions cuts in future years and share best practice and good ideas,” he says. “We want to provide longevity to the programme.”

Initially, only staff in WSP’s UK environment and energy division took part. Some 30 staff were involved from the start, rising to 80 by the second year. And by the end of 2009, the scheme had gathered momentum.

Its heightened profile means some 700 staff in WSP’s environment and energy divisions, in seven countries, now participate. Staff in the UK have been joined by those in Sweden, Germany, Abu Dhabi, Australia, the US and South Africa. Interest is also growing across WSP’s other divisions.

“PACT is but one element of our wider CSR and sustainability strategy, but it is a programme that is gaining profile,” said Mr Symons. “We’ve now made it available to 4,000 of our 10,000 staff and 17-18% of those who can take it up, have done so.”

But widening its geographic reach has meant some refinements have been necessary. “We’ve had to adapt the tool, to ensure that the underlying science is right for that particular region or country, to account for different grid emissions or country-specific factors,” explained Mr Symons. He cited the example of Sweden, where much domestic hot water is sourced from combined heat and power systems, significantly affecting participants’ carbon calculations.

Different countries have adopted different carbon allowances accordingly, but sharpening its accuracy has raised the robustness and credibility of PACT, as well as its ­applicability.

PACT pioneers

But why stop there? Building on WSP’s success, several other organisations have adopted the scheme (ENDS Report, February 2010). Its flexible nature makes it appropriate for large and small organisations and those in both the public and private sectors. Mr Symons describes it as “a scheme in a box that can be rolled out in about eight weeks” and something that can be adapted to suit an organisation’s particular circumstances.

To date, 11 ‘PACT pioneers’ have taken it on, including Invensys Rail, Cisco, Green Power Conferences, Good Energy and several London boroughs. Further afield, the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Institute has also adopted PACT. Interestingly, it has included water use in its scheme.

One of the larger pioneers is Invensys Rail. The rail signalling and controls group based in Chippenham, Wiltshire, employs 1,265 UK staff and 3,250 globally.

Inga Doak, its head of environment, explained the rationale for adopting PACT: “I was interested in introducing a personal carbon trading scheme for our staff but wasn’t sure when to start, so when PACT came along we jumped at the chance.

“I don’t see PACT as a golden egg, but it is a really important tool in our kit, towards our wider goal of carbon management and ultimately reduction. It demonstrates pro-active leadership and gives our staff an idea of what carbon management means, which complements the same journey being made by the business.”

Invensys decided to initially pilot the scheme with just a few staff. In February this year, 72 people were approached – just under half of  whom were Chippenham-based – with the rest working from the company’s other UK sites.

By March, 43 had signed up, though only 35 actually entered their baseline data. At the time of the first quarterly snapshot in June, 24 had entered further data and their carbon footprints were calculated.

As part of the pilot phase, Invensys has opted to reward carbon-cutting behaviour, but not penalise those who overshoot their allowance. It has adopted a challenging, yet still achievable, per capita carbon allowance of four tonnes.

It had been hoped that 5% of Invensys’ UK staff would participate, but at the moment Ms Doak is content with the lower take up. “By deciding on a pilot phase, we were unable to advertise PACT as a company-wide initiative and so the process had to almost be one of stealth,” she explained, “and participation in the scheme is entirely voluntary, so we’re pleased with the response, so far.”

But a sense of apathy was also apparent. Of those staff who chose not to participate, the majority provided no feedback as to their reason why. Others simply felt they had no time to participate. Nevertheless, the early findings were enlightening. “It was fascinating to see people’s perceptions of their carbon footprint and it helped to blow some carbon myths out of the water,” said Ms Doak.

It is also hoped the scheme will bring Invensys wider benefits, such as being able to differentiate itself as a greener, more sustainable company, compared with its peers.

Climate mission

But it is not the only Chippenham-based organisation to have enthusiastically embraced PACT. Good Energy, the renewable energy supplier, is another. It employs about 70 people in the town and Juliet Davenport, its chief executive, says PACT fits closely with the company’s mission on tackling climate change. “PACT is all about providing information on how to cut your carbon footprint,” she says, “and Good Energy is all about how you can do this”.

The company is now calculating how the scheme will work and rolling it out to its staff. “We wanted our staff to be able to access the benefits of PACT and to be able to financially benefit from reducing their carbon footprint, so we have integrated PACT into our bonus scheme,” added Ms Davenport. “We hope this mixture of information and incentives will be a real driver to get people to act.” 

Financial services firm, Aviva Investors, is another recent PACT adopter. Debbie Artingstall, its head of professional services, explained why the organisation took it on. “We wanted to raise the issue of personal carbon footprints with our staff,” she said. “Reducing our carbon footprint is part of our wider social responsibility role and we have an active sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) team at Aviva Investors, so PACT was a way of aligning with this and setting an example.”

But crystallising the concept with staff initially proved difficult. “‘Carbon footprint’ is something of a buzzword, but most people don’t understand what five tonnes of carbon per year entails,” she explained. “This is why we were keen to introduce PACT, to make people aware of their carbon footprint and to enhance what they can actually do, in order to reduce it.” 

PACT was introduced at Aviva Investors in early July and is set for full launch on 1 August. The firm has adopted a five-tonnes annual carbon allowance and will operate rewards and penalties around this target.

And the early indications are positive. There was much interest among staff and Ms Artingstall is hoping for a 5% take-up rate among the 1,050 staff at Aviva Investors’ two London sites.

She is also optimistic about the scheme’s chances of success. “I hope the first year will give us a good understanding of how we can assist our staff in reducing their carbon footprint,” she says. “I hope it will help staff to behave more environmentally responsibly, both at home and at work, and raise the level of thinking about being green and adopting green ideas.”

But there is scope for PACT to be expanded. If the wider Aviva group and its overseas offices were included, its reach could be increased ten-fold. “I hope, that within a year or two, we can greatly expand the scheme’s reach,” says Ms Artingstall.

It is a vision shared by Ms Doak, whose goal is to expand PACT by the first quarter of 2011 to all Invensys Rail’s UK staff and ultimately make it available to all Invensys’ sites and subsidiaries, comprising some 30,000 employees operating in 60 countries.

Council uptake

But even greater scope for PACT’s expansion stems from its adoption by several London boroughs. Their enthusiasm for the scheme followed concerted action by the London European Partnership for Transport (LEPT) a pan-London partnership, representing the 32 London boroughs and the City of London.

Its primary objective is to secure EU funding for London transport projects, particularly those with low-carbon and sustainable credentials.

Adrian Webb is LEPT’s senior European projects officer and has driven much of the momentum behind the boroughs’ adoption of PACT. “A personal carbon trading scheme is quite innovative,” he says. “We wanted to see how it could influence travel behaviour, energy use and CO2 awareness, and assess how local government can influence people in this area.”

LEPT’s project, Partner Initiatives for the development of Mobility Management Services – Transferring actions in sustainable mobility for European regions (PIMMS Transfer) has provided the conduit for PACT’s adoption by London boroughs.

The project runs for three years to 2011, with the aim of sharing best practice on sustainable transport among 15 participating partners and more widely.

The 15 comprise seven western EU cities and regions, seven areas in central and eastern Europe, and Erasmus University, in Rotterdam.

PIMMS Transfer features a number of pilot actions, including a personal carbon trading scheme. The London boroughs were invited to consider how they could deliver such a scheme. A number of alternatives were outlined and PACT emerged as the preferred option.

“There was a consensus in favour of PACT, because it is effective and is working,” explained Mr Webb. It also chimes with a number of councils’ wider objectives, such as those defined by the national indicators (ENDS Report, May 2010).

Earlier this year, LEPT pushed ahead with implementation of PACT, through the London boroughs. Initially, nine expressed interest. They submitted action plans, detailing how it would mesh with their existing carbon reduction policies.

Five then progressed towards scheme implementation, and by July 2010, much progress had been made. Camden, Ealing and Hounslow are all focusing the scheme on their staff, while Haringey and Lambeth are enacting it through residents in their low-carbon zones.

“Haringey and Lambeth are taking what WSP did, even further,” explains Mr Webb. “Haringey wants to deliver it through schools too, and, despite the cost implications, there are ongoing negotiations under way which they are keen to take forward.” But there have been teething troubles and the borough has yet to fully implement  PACT.

Nevertheless, Haringey’s and Lambeth’s approaches illustrate how PACT can be adapted to suit particular circumstances. Lambeth is focusing the scheme on residents in its low-carbon zone in Brixton. It ties in closely with the goal of promoting the zone and increasing involvement in, and awareness of, low-carbon initiatives. Here, particular socioeconomic factors have made a carbon allowance of 2.5 tonnes entirely appropriate and baseline monitoring is under way.

In contrast, Haringey’s PACT scheme focuses on the Muswell Hill low-carbon zone, which is considerably more affluent than its Brixton counterpart. Its carbon allowance is likely to be set at 4.5 tonnes.

Community rewards

But in contrast to the private sector organisations, the councils have faced the problem of being unable to reward participants financially. Instead, boroughs will recycle rewards back into the community, through various projects or will reward participants in the form of vouchers for sustainable and ‘green’ goods and services, such as bicycles and insulation.

Hounslow is the most advanced of the five boroughs in bedding PACT in. Its scheme is being delivered by Mark Frost, the borough’s senior transport planner. After an initial 20 staff had signed up by June, it is hoped up to 100 will be on board shortly. A series of drop-in sessions for staff have been arranged to communicate PACT’s benefits.

Ealing, meanwhile, recently began an engagement process. Baseline monitoring started in mid-July with 100 participants expected. Finally, Camden’s PACT scheme is also now proceeding. It links closely to the council’s review of its travel plan and its goal of raising staff engagement. Sign-up commenced in June with participants’ baseline carbon footprints being monitored in July.       

All the boroughs intend to run PACT for a year, initially, after which the outcomes will be assessed. Its effectiveness with respect to the environmental objectives will be weighed up and the relevant lessons learned.

And, it is hoped that successful implementation of the scheme will raise interest among other London boroughs and provide impetus for them to come on board. Further, and subject to the scheme’s success among the ‘pioneer’ boroughs, a London-wide carbon-trading scheme is envisaged. It could even be expanded to include other European cities, in time – further proof, if any were needed, that PACT has much potential to grow, from its humble origins as a staff-based scheme for 30 of WSP’s employees.

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