Tackling carbon emissions: Where do we begin?

Helen Shaw and John Box FLS lay down the blueprint of our sustainability journey: Eliminate, Reduce, Substitute, Compensate

Published on 17th March 2021

Sustainability and carbon emissions have become increasingly important for organisations in the face of the planetary emergency. The Linnean Society has passionate staff and Fellows who frequently come forward with ideas for green improvements. Thanks to their enthusiasm, we have taken actions to improve our practices over the past few years.

What have we done so far?

The boiler at Burlington House was upgraded in 2019 resulting in a dramatic reduction in gas consumption from 33,765 kWh in 2018 to 19,620 kWh in 2019, and further down to 18,893 kWh in 2020. Light bulbs are also being replaced with LED ones when they need changing.

The Society is looking into moving to gas and electricity suppliers that use green energy sources. This will have a large impact on our carbon emissions. We will continue to examine all our suppliers, and include a sustainably component for our projects.

Other actions include further reducing our paper consumption and improvements to our equipment purchasing. Equipment will be upgraded to more efficient greener solutions as they reach their end of life rather than replaced prematurely. It takes more resources to create a new item than to fix an existing one.

Single use plastic

The plastic menace

Single use plastic is a key topic of sustainability. In 2018, we replaced the plastic wrapping of our publications with biofilm made from potato and maize starch. We stopped using single-use plastic bottles while catering for our room hire, which saves about 220 plastic bottles going to landfill every year. Other sustainable catering choices include bamboo plates and cutlery, and working with local companies who reuse delivery containers.

We have increased the variety of recycling facilities on site, including disposable coffee cup recycling through First Mile. This has historically been quite difficult because of paper and plastic components, but new technology is helping us reduce our waste to landfill.

Who do we have in the works?

The Society has formalised our commitment to Net Zero carbon in a Carbon Action Plan, created by Linnean Future, our new committee set up to help the Society tackle the planetary emergency. The plan includes a bespoke Carbon Footprint Calculator for the Society’s carbon emissions from 2018 at both Burlington House and Toynbee House. Activity data includes staff travel, energy and gas consumption, waste production, publication manufacture, and water use.

Our overall carbon footprint has reduced from 67.4 tonnes CO2e in 2018 to 57.6 tonnes CO2e in 2019. There has been a further reduction to 36.1 tonnes CO2e in 2020 while staff have been working remotely and Burlington House has been closed to the public.

The Society uses conversion factors provided by the UK Government in our calculator, as they are regularly updated and thoroughly researched. Activity data can be more difficult to identify and measure. For example, we found our water meter had been read infrequently over the past three years and an average of the data available had to be used for water consumption.

This carbon footprint data will be used in our CO2 offsetting scheme which we hope will make the Society Net Zero by 2022. The Society is committed to halving its current CO2 emissions by 2030.

The greenhouse gas management hierarchy is Eliminate, Reduce, Substitute, Compensate. The actions taken so far by the Society have involved the first three actions. Now we have to compensate by offsetting the unavoidable CO2 emissions. We are working on Work is underway through Linnean Future to determine appropriate principles in order to decide on options for a carbon offsetting scheme.

A large component of the Carbon Action Plan includes improving our transparency and reporting on this critical topic. Follow the Society on this vital journey and the actions taken on our Linnean Future webpage.

Helen Shaw, the Office and Buildings Manager for the Society, and John Box FLS are members of Linnean Future: The Planetary Emergency Response Committee of the Linnean Society.

Helen Shaw
John Box FLS