Tag Archives: environment

How your organisation’s travel policy can impact the environment

Following on from updating our equipment policy, we’ve recently also updated our travel policy at the Endless OS Foundation. A major part of this update was to introduce consideration of carbon emissions into the decision making for when and how to travel. I’d like to share what we came up with, as it should be broadly applicable to many other technology organisations, and I’m quite excited that people across the foundation worked to make these changes happen.

Why is this important?

For a technology company or organisation, travel is likely to be the first or second largest cause of emissions from the organisation. The obvious example in free software circles is the emissions from taking a flight to go to a conference, but actually in many cases the annual emissions from commuting to an office by car are comparable. Both can be reduced through an organisation’s policies.

In Endless’ case, the company is almost entirely remote and so commuting is not a significant cause of emissions. Pre-pandemic, air travel caused a bit under a third of the organisation’s emissions. So if there are things we can do to reduce our organisation’s air travel, that would make a significant difference to our overall emissions.

On an individual level, one return transatlantic flight (1.6tCO2e, which is 1.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, the unit of global warming potential) is more than half of someone’s annual target footprint which is 2.8tCO2e for 2030. So not taking a flight is one of the most impactful single actions you can take.

Similarly, commuting 10 miles a day by petrol car, for 227 working days per year, causes annual emissions of about 0.55tCO2e, which is also a significant proportion of a personal footprint when the aim is to limit global warming to 1.5°C. An organisation’s policies and incentives can impact people’s commuting decisions.

Once the emissions from a journey have been made, they can’t be un-made anywhere near as easily or quickly. Reducing carbon emissions now is more impactful than reducing them later.

How did we change the policy?

Previously, Endless’ travel policy was almost entirely focused around minimising financial cost by only allowing employees to choose the cheapest option for a particular travel plan. It had detailed sections on how to minimise cost for flights and private car use, and didn’t really consider other modes of transport.

In the updated policy, financial cost is still a big consideration, but it’s balanced against environmental cost. I’ve included some excerpts from the policy at the bottom of this post, which could be used as the basis for updating your policy.

Due to COVID, not much travel has happened since putting the policy in place, so I can’t share any comparisons of cost and environmental impact before and after applying the policy. The intention is that reducing the number of journeys made will balance slightly increased costs for taking lower-carbon transport modes on other journeys.

The main changes we made to it are:

  • Organise the policy so that it’s written in decision making order: sections cover necessity of travel, then travel planning and approval, then accommodation, then expenses.
  • Critically, the first step in the decision making process is “do you need to travel and what are the alternatives?”. If it’s decided that travel is needed, the next step is to look at how that trip could be combined with other useful activities (meetings or holiday) to amortise the impact of the travel.
  • We give an explicit priority order of modes of travel to choose:
    1. Rail (most preferred)
    2. Shared ground transport (coach/bus, shared taxi)
    3. Private ground transport (taxi, car rental, use of own vehicle)
    4. Air (least preferable)
  • And, following that, a series of rules for how to choose the mode of transport, which gives some guidance about how to balance environmental and financial cost (and other factors):

You should explore travel options in that order, only moving to the next option if any of the following conditions are true:

  • No such option exists for the journey in question
    • e.g. there is no rail/ground link between London and San Francisco
  • This mode of travel, or the duration of time spent traveling via such means, is regarded as unsafe or excessively uncomfortable at that location
    • For example, buses/coaches are considered to be uncomfortable or unsafe in certain countries/regions.
  • The journey is over 6 hours, and the following option reduces the journey time by 2× (or more)
    • We have a duty to protect company time, so you may (e.g.) opt for flying in cases where the travel time is significantly reduced.
    • Even if there is the opportunity for significant time savings, you are encouraged to consider the possibility of working while on the train, even if it works out to be a longer journey.
  • The cost is considered unreasonably/unexpectedly high, but the following option brings expenses within usual norms
    • The regular pricing of the mode of transport can be considered against the distance traveled. If disproportionately high, move onto other options.

In summary, we prefer rail and ground transportation to favor low-emissions, even if they are not the cheapest options. However, we also consider efficient use of company time, comfort, safety, and protecting ourselves from unreasonably high expenditure. You should explore all these options and considerations and discuss with your manager to make the final decision.

Your turn

I’d be interested to know whether others have similar travel policies, or have better or different ideas — or if you make changes to your travel policy as a result of reading this.

Policy excerpt

How your organisation’s equipment policy can impact the environment

At the Endless OS Foundation, we’ve recently been updating some of our internal policies. One of these is our equipment policy, covering things like what laptops and peripherals are provided to employees. While updating it, we took the opportunity to think about the environmental impact it would have, and how we could reduce that impact compared to standard or template equipment policies.

How this matters

For many software organisations, the environmental impact of hardware purchasing for employees is probably at most the third-biggest contributor to the organisation’s overall impact, behind carbon emissions from energy usage (in building and providing software to a large number of users), and emissions from transport (both in sending employees to conferences, and in people’s daily commute to and from work). These both likely contribute tens of tonnes of emissions per year for a small/medium sized organisation (as a very rough approximation, since all organisations are different). The lifecycle emissions from a modern laptop are in the region of 300kgCO2e, and one target for per-person emissions is around 2.2tCO2e/year by 2030.

If changes to this policy reduce new equipment purchase by 20%, that’s a 20kgCO2e/year reduction per employee.

So, while changes to your organisation’s equipment policy are not going to have a big impact, they will have some impact, and are easy and unilateral changes to make right now. 20kgCO2e is roughly the emissions from a 150km journey in a petrol car.

What did we put in the policy?

We started with a fairly generic policy. From that, we:

  • Removed time-based equipment replacement schedules (for example, replacing laptops every 3 years) and went with a more qualitative approach of replacing equipment when it’s no longer functional enough for someone to do their job properly on.
  • Provided recommended laptop models for different roles (currently several different versions of the Dell XPS 13), which we have checked conform to the rest of the policy and have an acceptable environmental impact — Dell are particularly good here because, unlike a lot of laptop manufacturers, they publish a lifecycle analysis for their laptops
  • But also gave people the option to justify a different laptop model, as long as it meets certain requirements:

All laptops must meet the following standards in order to have low lifetime impacts:

All other equipment must meet relevant environmental standards, which should be discussed on a case by case basis

If choosing a device not explicitly listed above, manufacturers who provide Environmental Product Declarations for their products should be preferred

  • These requirements aim to minimise the laptop’s carbon emissions during use (i.e. its power consumption), and increase the chance that it will be repairable or upgradeable when needed. In particular, having a replaceable battery is important, as the battery is the most likely part of the laptop to wear out.
  • The policy prioritises laptop upgrades and repairs over replacement, even when the laptop would typically be coming up for replacement after 3 years. The policy steers people towards upgrading it (a new hard drive, additional memory, new battery, etc.) rather than replacing it.
  • When a laptop is functional but no longer useful, the policy requires that it’s wiped, refurbished (if needed) and passed on to a local digital inclusion charity, school, club or similar.
  • If a laptop is broken beyond repair, the policy requires that it’s disposed of according to WEEE guidelines (which is the norm in Europe, but potentially not in other countries).

A lot of this just codifies what we were doing as an organisation already — but it’s good to have the policy match the practice.

Your turn

I’d be interested to know whether others have similar equipment policies, or have better or different ideas — or if you make changes to your equipment policy as a result of reading this.