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Carbon calculators: simplifying the journey

Shankar Arumugham, from NatWest’s Future Mobility Group, evaluates the unfolding variables of using carbon calculators as a solution to the current challenge.

Last updated: 03 Aug 2020 4 min read

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Just how sustainable are our lifestyles? With CO2 emissions contributing to global warming, businesses and individuals are looking for a simple tool to help them make an informed decision on their carbon consumption. This is where a carbon calculator can help.

Few doubt that electric vehicles (EVs) are better for the environment, and while they are generally the cleanest option when compared with many vehicles, EVs are not entirely carbon-neutral. 

Firstly, there is the issue of weight. EVs need to be light in order to accommodate heavy battery packs, which means manufacturing a chassis from high-performance metals and composites. This can result in manufacturing emissions being as much as 68% higher than an equivalent petrol vehicle.

Secondly, EVs are only as green as the energy they use. They also have huge chemical batteries, which need to be disposed of cleanly once they are outdated, although researchers are seeking low-impact, environmentally friendly solutions to recycle them.

So how does one make an informed decision on their total carbon footprint?

This is where a carbon calculator helps. Over the past few years, both individuals and businesses have used calculators for a variety of purposes. A mortgage calculator is a good example, where a homebuyer can calculate their expected monthly mortgage payment, based on a variety of predefined inputs. A carbon calculator is similar, considering the evolving variables, along with your personal or business inputs, to produce an approximate carbon emission figure.

The advantages

As well as giving a good indication of your environmental footprint, a carbon calculator is useful in several different ways.   

Accessibility. Carbon calculators are designed to be accessible to all audiences. They can be tailored to provide explanations against each input question, to guide the user towards easy completion. Once populated with data, the algorithm synthesises a wealth of information quickly, to produce an easily digestible, user-friendly output of where the user sits against a carbon consumption ‘target’ (the 2020 target as set by the UK government).

“There is also no such thing as one-size-fits-all for businesses. This highlights that carbon calculators can be tailored to different audiences to be most effective”Shankar Arumugham, associate director, Future Mobility Group, NatWest

Minimal cost, maximum return. Not only do carbon calculators require minimal cost to use, they provide a wealth of factorial information in return, while being easy to maintain.

Multiple uses. Carbon calculators can be used for a variety of purposes. This includes on a small, individual scale to determine sustainability choices, or they can be tailored to use for business decisions.

Flexibility with figures. Depending on how complex their design, a carbon calculator can take in numerous adjustments, so will evolve with you along your journey to improve your carbon footprint.

Engaging. Though carbon emissions are a global problem to solve, these calculators, and the informed actions taken as a result, will make you part of the longer-term environmental solution.

The pitfalls

Carbon calculators, however, are not perfect, and users need to bear in mind some of their drawbacks. 

Ballpark figures. If the purpose is to use these figures for actual business value, carbon calculators can be less effective. This is because the calculator provides a snapshot of your carbon footprint in a given scenario, so could be less effective at showing this over the long term when there are a number of variables. The degree to which this matters depends on the underlying algorithm, but it should be kept in mind that a carbon calculator can be an effective tool for showing how a business, or individual, can be more sustainable.

Oversimplification. There is an inherent risk that producing simple outputs could also result in simplicity of the underlying design. Simplicity is, however, a key selling point for making carbon calculators accessible to all audiences, so they must strike a balance between the underlying assumptions and creating a user-friendly output.

Line of ‘best fit’. To accommodate the majority, a line of best fit method is applied. However, this cannot cover all the possibilities of a person’s life over a period of time. Also, inputs are likely to be ‘guesses’, which can result in approximation of figures. Similarly, there is also no such thing as one-size-fits-all for businesses. This highlights that carbon calculators can be tailored to different audiences to be most effective.

The long view

In order to pursue sustainability and slow climate change, our economies need to emit less carbon. To reach this aim, businesses and individuals need to measure their carbon footprint and track positive actions against their baseline. This is where carbon calculators can simplify the journey towards carbon neutrality.

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