Clean Air’s ambition to be carbon neutral by 2023
By Will Perrott
We have come a long way since we started our Environmental Committee in May 2019. At the time, we were over-subscribed with volunteers joining the Committee – the whole company was engaged and together, we agreed on our vision:
Clean Air will lead the fume cupboard industry in environmental responsibility, reduce its carbon footprint, and educate users to choose products that will cause less climate damage.
We also committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2023.
Fast forward four years, and it’s 2023. We have come an incredibly long way since our first meeting. Between 2017 and 2022 we have reduced our Scope 1&2 carbon emissions by two thirds, even as our turnover has doubled.
We have worked hard to become carbon neutral as a company with regard to our fume cupboards, ventilated enclosure, and extract system manufacture. Among other initiatives, on our journey, we have:
- Fitted solar panels to our roof – generating 164,000 kWh of clean electricity between July 2019 and January 2023.
- Encouraged our clients to consider energy efficient Variable Air Volume (VAV) and auto sash controls for their fume cupboards to reduce their carbon emissions. VAV and auto sash fume cupboards can achieve energy savings of up to 75% or greater.
- Replaced one petrol and two diesel company vehicles with electric vehicles – To January 2023 we have already covered 29,500 miles between the three and reduced tailpipe emissions by over 10 tonnes CO2e.
- Replaced our vans with mild hybrids on a rolling basis. Our teams travel all over the UK with a heavy payload, installing and commissioning fume cupboards and ventilated enclosures. We are awaiting the technology to make electric vans with the load capacity and range suitable for our requirements.
- Worked harder to recycle our waste, monitoring our waste services suppliers’ performance and swapping as their competitors improved. None of our waste has gone to landfill since before 2017.
- Supported the circular economy by prioritising using local companies and suppliers for goods and services.
- Purchased the most sustainable equipment wherever possible, for example, our company clothing now comes from an environmentally friendly supplier (Banana Moon).
- Invested in responsibly managed, sustainable forestry to offset our emissions. We recognise that offsetting is not ideal, but currently, it’s the best option to mitigate what we can’t remove. We’ve investigated seaweed, peat and other schemes and eventually chose the Sustainable Timber and Energy Limited Partnership (LP).
Since February 2020, our shares in 69 UK forest sites, planted with 12,000 hectares of commercial conifers and 1000 hectares of mixed broadleaf trees, have sequestered approximately 147 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
The big but…
Unfortunately, the nature of our business makes it difficult for any organisation offering fume cupboard testing to be truly carbon neutral.
Testing fume cupboards to the British Standard (BS EN 14175) means using a tracer gas (SF6), a greenhouse gas. While some fume cupboard manufacturers subcontract this work and do not include the carbon emissions generated in their calculations, we undertake the testing in-house. This approach allows us to educate our clients and use as little gas as possible. However, it also contributes to our carbon footprint, making it extremely difficult to be carbon neutral.
We could just sub out this work or make this side of the business into a different company and greenwash our actions. Or we could buy more forestry and say, ‘We’re carbon neutral!’. But that was never the point of our ambition to be sustainable – we really wanted to improve and make a difference in climate change.
We continue striving to be the best we can be, continually improving our operations to minimise our impact.
In 2023 we have introduced our ‘Plant a Tree in ‘23’ initiative to engage our clients in the carbon discussion. We’ve chosen a scheme which supports biodiversity in the UK by planting only UK-native tree species in community woodlands, nature reserves, community farms and urban areas.
We also intend to add to our electric vehicle fleet. And we are looking at more offsetting – maybe even investing in the seaweed!
What Is Scope 1&2?
Scope 1&2 is the simplest part of a company’s footprint to measure. It’s the electricity and fuel (gas for heating, plus petrol and diesel for company cars and vans) used by a business. It’s a simple, at-a-glance tool to see how your company performs yearly.
It’s so easy to monitor that there’s no excuse for organisations not to monitor it. After all, if you don’t measure something, how can you improve it?
We’ve also started monitoring Scope 3 results, including other items such as water, waste and other travel. Our Scope 3 footprint is also reducing each year.
Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)
The tracer gas specified by BS EN 14175 used to measure containment in these tests is sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). SF6 is the most potent greenhouse gas currently evaluated, with a Global Warming Potential of 23,900 times that of CO2. It has an estimated atmospheric lifetime of 800 – 3200 years.
A fume cupboard type test normally emits 3.25 tonnes of CO2 e for each face velocity tested. An on-site inner plane test typically emits 1.75 tonnes of CO2 e, and an on-site robustness test emits 0.9 tonnes. These amounts need to be multiplied by the number of cupboards tested. These figures are based on testing a 1.8m or 2m wide cupboard. Inner plane tests on 1.2m and 1.5m cupboards emit slightly less.
There is currently debate in the UK and internationally about the most appropriate approaches to carbon offsetting. The evidence base is still emerging, and there are many factors to consider in developing carbon offsetting systems in the UK. No particular method is perfect, so at Clean Air we did our research and chose a company which owns and manages its woodlands in the UK.
More information from the Environment Agency about offsetting is available here.
Variable Air Volume (VAV)
A fume cupboard extracts the heated or cooled air from a laboratory and discharges it outside. This conditioned air must be replaced, and it is the energy required to cool or heat the air which causes carbon emissions and increases costs.
The energy-saving technology in a VAV fume cupboard reduces the volume of air it pulls through from the lab. With VAV controls, as the fume cupboard sash is moved, the position of a damper is adjusted. This controls the face velocity and reduces the amount of air to be replaced.