What is it?
Simply, carbon-budgeting is exactly what it sounds like, it’s having a predetermined figure or target in mind that defines a limit for how much carbon emissions a project should aim to produce.
It’s used on a grand scale, to define how much CO2 the whole of humanity can afford to emit whilst still limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. This is one of the conditions of the famous Paris agreement.1
But if you’re not an environmental scientist or a government official, carbon-budgeting can be used to begin to understand and assess your projects emissions, where they come from and give your teams a tangible target to aim for.
Throughout the technology sector and beyond. Digital production teams are used to using metrics like site speed, first input delay and user testing results to see where they could improve their approaches. We already know the benefits of having financial budgets, time budgets, and holiday budgets to ensure we get the right amount of rest and where possible, avoid bankruptcy. We approach those budgets with nuance and flexibility when needed, but understand the importance of the boundaries they set and how it enables us to reach our most critical collective goals.
The key here is being open to experimentation, success and failure.
It’s unlikely that all your projects will instantly fit the recommended carbon budget targets you set out for. By simply measuring a project’s carbon emissions, and taking time to assess where the bulk of it is being spent, we can consciously and strategically decide where we and our stakeholders are willing to cut back and where they feel it’s necessary to splurge.
Maybe it’s not necessary, or beneficial enough to users, to load and auto-play a 4k video about your company’s last team building day skiing in the Alps. Which, if streamed, adds up to roughly 55gCO2e of emissions per hour. But maybe your product’s landing page needs to deliver a major impact, and drive your most critical business leads - then an animation skillfully explaining your product makes sense. It’s all about being strategic, and discerning.
Businesses that show they care, get cared about.
Why should I care?
Whilst being mindful of greenwashing, it’s not hard to find examples of businesses that reap the rewards of making an effort to record and then share their carbon-budgets. Oatly is an oat drink brand that has risen to house-hold staple status, with their revenue projected to be between $880 and $920 million — representing between 37% and 43% growth in 2022. Partly through marketing their carbon-emission budgeting efforts, whilst calling for other companies to follow suit.2 Their budgeting isn’t perfect, and their emissions aren’t zero, but they are transparent.
Additionally, depending on your own context in the world, you may well be affected by the climate gap. The carbon gap, explains Oxfam’s study, “Extreme Carbon Inequality”, describes the way that the poorest half of all communities worldwide produce far less of our global emissions (around 10%), but suffer far more of the consequences. Meanwhile, the richest 10% in the world produce 50% of global emissions. Carbon budgeting ensures that your organisation takes stock, and responsibility for its part in building a fairer world.
What gets measured, gets managed.' Or one of a dozen equally accurate quotes about the importance of setting targets and measuring. It sets clarity on the direction of travel, it educates and informs, and it helps a team have more productive and aligned conversations around a clear goal.
Jenny Kitchen, Chief Executive Officer
What can I do right now?
Experiment internally to get it right.
Like anything else, transparency is always great, but your budgets don’t need to be public straight away. It’s better to take the time to experiment with it, and learn, then to avoid innovative approaches altogether for fear of the necessary trial and error. Don’t forget that you don’t have to sacrifice delight and innovation, and tools like carbon offsetting can give you the flexibility to make an approach that works for your organisation’s specific needs.Read about Yoyo’s approach to sustainability
A gram for gram carbon budget may not be a realistic place for your organisation to start, but there are smaller steps your team can take to begin to notice and scale back the impact of your projects. An example might be aiming to reduce emissions in two ways in your next project, and three in your next, and so on. Starting is always better than not.
If you need inspiration, there’s lots to be found, in places much less famous for innovation. Including a small rural Church in Birmingham, that has achieved net zero carbon with carbon budgeting.
Don’t start from scratch.
A great way to make your carbon ‘spending’ to your wider team is by offsetting your project’s carbon using a provider like ecologi, and then telling your team the cost of this. You can then seek to reduce this cost in the next project by introducing design changes like the ones listed on this site, such as content audits, sustainable development practices and green hosting. Money talks, and it’s a language we all speak - when more sustainable projects mean more profitable projects everyone wins.Try the business carbon-calculator
- The Paris Agreement / United Nations Climate Change
- Oat Drink with Carbon Dioxide Equivalents / Oatly
- SME Carbon Footprint Calculator / the Carbon Trust
- Carbon Offsetting Profile - Yoyo Design / Ecologi
- Oatly Investors News / Oatly
- The Scientific Background / Carbon Cloud
- Carbon Budgets Explained / Carbon Tracker
- Yoyo’s approach to sustainability / Yoyo Design
- Budgeting Carbon Like We Budget Money / Bhavya Reddy
- The Carbon Budget Explained: How much CO2 can we emit and still save the climate? / LifeGate
- Reduce your Website’s Environmental Impact With a Carbon Budget / Michelle Barker
- The Carbon Impact of Video Streaming / The Carbon Trust