One important change we’ve seen in recent years is the growing expectation for organisations to publish a broad range of data that may be relevant to their stakeholders. In particular, we’re thinking about ‘ESG reporting’, which covers environmental, social and governance data. There are many frameworks from which organisations can pull the exact ESG metrics they report upon, including the UK Corporate Governance Code, Global Reporting Initiative, and the GHG Protocol, and we’re increasingly seeing industry regulators and/or membership organisations mandate minimum standards for ESG reporting.

ESG reporting and carbon emissions

ESG reporting is quickly becoming standard practice. For many of our customers, it is now mandatory for them to report carbon emissions resulting from their organisation’s activities. This falls under the banner of ESG reporting, primarily environmental reporting, and typically falls into 3 categories:

  • Scope 1 emissions: These are the emissions resulting from the organisation’s activities and/or from any assets owned or controlled by the organisation. For example, this would include any fuel used in company owned vehicles to transport products from A to B
  • Scope 2 emissions: These are the emissions resulting from energy that it purchases for use in the business. One example of scope 2 emissions would be the emissions resulting from electricity purchased from the national grid
  • Scope 3 emissions: are those indirectly resulting from company activities, but not directly through the creation of its products or provision of its services. This is a very wide ranging category, but some examples include employee commuting, business travel, waste disposal and the emissions from leased properties.

For many organisations, ESG reporting is voluntary, although it may fall under or provide a suitable framework for a UK based company to meet its corporate governance and/or stakeholder reporting obligations.

For some of our customers in the higher education (HE) sectors, it’s a critical part of their annual reporting. Most notably, as part of their annual HESA submission, there is a section in the HESA Estates Management reporting called ‘Environment, energy, emissions and waste’ which captures a number of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions totals.

Scope 3 Commuting Emissions for HESA Reporting

HESA do not provide specific rules on how HE institutions should calculate their scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions as part of their annual submission. Therefore, it’s generally recommended that HE providers should follow industry standards. There are a number of frameworks or standards available, but the one that is recommended and used by the UK government is the GHG Protocol. These are a set of standards (standardised metrics) and guidance documents that have been created by governments and organisations around the world, with the sole aim of creating one way of reporting on emissions. Therefore, it’s very common to find organisations, including HESA reporting HE institutions, using the GHG Protocol guidance and standards for their reporting.

The GHG Protocol provides 3 ways to calculate or estimate emissions from staff commuting. This guidance can then be applied to the calculation of student commuting emissions, an additional HESA reporting requirement. The 3 ways the GHG Protocol recommends commuting emissions are calculated are through the fuel-based, distance-based and average-data based methods:

  • The fuel-based method uses the amount of fuel consumed during commuting to calculate total emissions. Whilst this method works well for scope 1 emissions, because the volume of fuel purchased is more readily available, it doesn’t work as well for scope 3 commuting emissions which would require employees to submit the amount of fuel used for commuting to the organisation.
  • The average-data method uses average national commuting data to estimate emissions for the relevant organisation. It’s the simplest method, but isn’t specific to the organisation in question, so is not necessarily the most helpful information. This is especially relevant if the organisation intends to influence those carbon emissions, for example with a ‘cycle-to-work’ scheme, as it would would be difficult to identify pre- and post-scheme emissions.
  • Finally, the best method on balance would seem to be the distance-based method, which uses employee commuting distances and travel mode to estimate carbon emissions. By capturing data from a sample of the employee population, it’s possible to get a better understanding of commuting at the specific organisation and then extrapolate that data to represent the estimated scope 3 commuting emissions of all employees.

How to Calculate Scope 3 Commuting Emissions for HESA Reporting

In order to calculate the scope 3 commuting emissions of a sample population and create the figures needed for submission to HESA, an HE organisation would need to follow these steps:

  • Capture the travel method
  • Capture the travel distance
  • Capture the number of days commuted each year for that person
  • Use the government’s emissions conversion factors to estimate the emissions per person
  • Multiply the totals for each category up to represent the entire workforce and student population. This gives the total tonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide (t CO2e) by method to submit for each ‘Scope 3 carbon emissions from staff commuting by air/rail/trams…’ item
  • Separately, calculate the percentage of staff and students commuting via each method (with slightly different categories to the above). This gives the estimated percentage to submit for each of the ‘Percentage modal split for commuting by staff single occupancy car journey/car share/bus…’
  • This would need to happen for both staff and students

The Challenges of Calculating Scope 3 Commuting Emissions: Additional Data and FOI Requests

It sounds relatively easy, and in some ways it is. Organisations need to send out a survey to staff to collect the above data, do a few calculations, then submit those numbers. However, the calculations can end up being quite complex, not only because some travel methods require institutions to submit FOI requests to train operators or run airports through online calculators or complex mathematical equations to create distances, but also because running all of those calculations through a spreadsheet quickly gets messy and unwieldy, making it incredibly prone to error.

HESA do not expect the scope 3 commuting emissions to be re-calculated annually, however, it will still need to be done every 2-3 years and therefore, is something that can cause a real headache for many of our customers. That’s why we wanted to create a standard survey that would make this process much easier.

SurveyOptic’s Scope 3 Commuting Emissions Travel Survey

We have created a travel survey that new and existing SurveyOptic customers can use to make the process of estimating their scope 3 commuting emissions for both staff and students much easier. Whilst it has been designed with HE institutions in mind, it would be relevant for any customer looking to collect data on staff commuting, for the purposes of estimating their scope 3 commuting emissions.

The survey can be used for collecting information about staff and student commuting and term-time relocation behaviour. It includes sections on each, allowing institutions to separately estimate staff commuting vs. student commuting. Within each section, it also allows the capture of two travel methods, where they are combined for one journey to the university. It allows respondents to select their usual travel method from a selection of options, making it incredibly easy for them to complete. Depending on the travel method they use, they are presented with different questions, ensuring that it takes as little time and effort as possible to complete.

The survey has been set up to enable organisations to use more specific emissions conversion factors, or adjust totals based on car sharing, making the final estimate as accurate as possible. There are a few pre-provided demographic questions, but as the survey is entirely customisable, customers may choose to add further questions to help them better understand their workforce.

Once the survey results are in, we’re able to use the information provided by respondents to provide a total emission value per staff member and/or student, as well as breaking this down into the totals per travel method. With these respondent totals, and information about the entire employee and student population, we can build the total estimated scope 3 emissions from staff commuting in each category. Separately, we can also provide an estimated percentage for the number of staff/students travelling via each travel method. All of those pieces of information can then be submitted directly to HESA.

Working with SurveyOptic

This project was a particularly fun one for me to complete. Not only was it a brain-teaser when the maths got complex, but it also meant I got to really explore the capabilities of the SurveyOptic platform.

There were two particular features that made this survey even easier to create, whilst ensuring the end-user experience was smooth and painless. The first was our hint text feature. In SurveyOptic, customers can either use hint text or prompt text to add a small amount of text after the question, or after the answer choices, respectively. Whilst there are lots of applications for this, it came in particularly useful in the travel survey, allowing me to provide guidance for respondents in submitting their data. For example, on a question designed to gather information about car sharing, I was able to add hint text to guide respondents in counting how many passengers were in the car. This will increase the accuracy of those responses and therefore increase the accuracy of the overall estimate.

The most valuable feature for the creation of this survey was the logic editor, which allows the survey designer to hide or show different questions to respondents depending on their answers to other questions. This enabled me to tailor the survey to the respondent, only collect data related to their exact travel situation and gather more detailed information about their travel behaviour, in order to more accurately estimate their travel emissions. This got particularly complex in places, with logic being layered upon other logic. With some survey platforms, this would be impossible, but not with SurveyOptic. In fact, the logic editor is a feature I’m particularly fond of, as it can elevate surveys from both an administrator and respondent perspective.

Implementing Scope 3 Commuting Emissions Calculations with SurveyOptic

As we mentioned earlier, this travel survey and the calculations it can create have been designed with our customers in mind – not only those in the HE space who will require it to complete their HESA submissions, but also for other organisations who are looking for a simpler way to calculate their scope 3 emissions from staff commuting. We now have a template travel survey based around the GHG protocol which can be tailored to each organisation’s specific needs, and we are also able to assist with running the calculations, helping organisations to reduce time and stress invested in running their scope 3 commuting emissions calculations., and something for us to use in our own Net Zero journey.

This is just one way to use SurveyOptic to conduct surveys in your organisation beyond the typical employee and customer satisfaction surveys. The possibilities really are endless, but some other ways to use SurveyOptic include conducting 360° feedback on employees, or conducting employee exit surveys instead of interviews.

If you’re looking for an easier way to calculate your scope 3 emissions, or roll out other surveys in your business, we’d love to hear from you. You can book a demo through this form. We’d be happy to show you the SurveyOptic platform and tell you a bit more about our travel survey.

Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash