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DEFRA emissions factors update 2011 - what it means for you

The annual update to DEFRA’s official UK emissions factors has now been released. We explore here exactly what these intricate spreadsheets mean to anyone who cares about their climate impact, and highlight new changes this year.

Emissions factors are multipliers used to translate all sorts of activity into tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). It’s these numbers that carbon calculators use to calculate carbon footprints.

DEFRA uses extremely complex and detailed research and tests to see exactly what is pumped into the atmosphere for almost everything we do each day.

From the tonnes of CO2e emitted per flight to Brazil in a Boeing 747, to the carbon footprint of a kilo of potato peel, to the emissions per £1 spent on getting your business cards printed, DEFRA has it all worked out.

In the pursuit of accuracy (something we care a lot about), these emissions factors are updated every year. Carbon Retirement then takes a good look and updates all of our calculators. This means our clients get the most accurate indication of their impact, how far their reduction efforts have made a difference and how much they need to offset to become carbon neutral.

Sometimes changes are minor, but this year some larger improvements have been rung-in…

Waste factors have been expanded significantly, and now include more options for waste disposal, from combustion to anaerobic digestion. The number of options for materials being disposed of has also increased. You can now input a whole range of materials and items, from batteries and books, to textiles and televisions! The things we throw away can have a huge carbon footprint (and equally reuse and recycling can have a huge positive impact), so these inclusions are very welcome.

As the amount of electricity sourced from renewables varies between countries, companies and even by the month, the electricity factors also change. For example, twenty times as much CO2 is emitted per kWh when you switch the lights on in Australia compared to turning them on in Sweden.

We could go on, but if you’re fascinated by how these figures are calculated, and what they mean, have a read of the DEFRA methodology.

Best-practice carbon footprinting uses these government-issued figures, and keeps them bang up to date, giving businesses and individuals an accurate figure for what they emit.


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