• Russell Burton

2020 reflections: Did you help to protect the planet? How to reduce carbon emissions further in 2021



Towards the end of the year, we often find ourselves reflecting on the past 11-12 months; the achievements, progress, key learnings, highs, and lows. You’ll likely be thinking about your home and work life, how you’ve felt this year, key events, and what you want to change/improve/sustain next year. Does the environment fall into your thoughts at any point? It may well do, since many of us are actively recycling, avoiding plastic-heavy products, and moving towards a locally-grown diet. But, have we done enough to protect the planet in 2020? I’d encourage you to consider if there is any more you could be doing at home or work to reduce carbon emissions. In this post, I’ll explain why and show you, through some case studies, that it is still possible to make an impactful change to save the environment around us in 2021.


This year, the global Coronavirus pandemic has shown us that it is possible to mitigate the effects of climate change. A pause on travel, transportation, and the fast-paced, sometimes excessive, lives we lead have contributed to a reduction in air pollution, as reported by the Evening Standard. The BBC also added that, in China, carbon emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. A similar story is playing out in the UK. However, this isn’t a long-lasting change, already we are seeing that there is a rumored plan for several countries around the world to make an economic come-back through the use of fossil fuels. What we must also consider is that the pandemic has also brought with it saddening deaths, job losses, and other stresses. This isn’t what is required and shouldn’t be a by-product of protecting the planet, but there are some key learning points we can take from it – one being that making changes in how we live can improve the quality of the natural world around us.


You’re probably thinking, how can I make that change alone? Or that it is going to take a drastic, overwhelming effort to even start to make an impact. The pandemic has shown us that a pause in transport, industrial activity, and consumption of fossil fuels does work to reduce emissions. The work we have done at Hillside Environmental Services expands on this and demonstrates how you can continue to combat climate change without breaking the bank or requiring irrational levels of resources.


At Hillside, we have become a carbon-neutral business, running on renewable energy and in a climate-friendly way without mass upheaval or unreasonable cost. It is possible to make the change sustainably for your home or business, by splitting it into achievable steps as we have done.


These are some of the activities we have undertaken to de-carbonise:


1. Carbon emissions reductions


During 2019, our net emissions of CO2e were 4.02 tonnes - a 77% reduction over 2018 and a 79% reduction since 2017. These improvements have arisen due to the technology investments made during 2019 and the changes to the business' operational boundary, involving a reduction in transatlantic flights from our activity. Towards the end of 2019, the business withdrew from North America activities, reducing the need for transatlantic travel, which will positively impact our transport emissions profile in the future.


Throughout 2020, the ongoing impact of pandemic lockdown has effectively removed all transport emissions, and our current emissions profile midway through 2020 stands at (-17.5 TCO²e). Our expectation of "new normal" will be a net negative of (-11 TCO²e) ahead of further investments into transport and on-site energy storage.



2. Environment


We are committed to reducing our operations' environmental impact by improving our energy efficiency, reducing the consumption of our natural resources, and managing our waste to progressively decrease our carbon emissions. In 2007 we planted 7,200 broadleaf trees and converted 3.2 hectares of arable land to natural woodland. This project has continued to thrive, improving biodiversity and establishing a natural habitat for wildlife to flourish, as well as sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, offsetting our carbon footprint. (ref Forestry Commission report "Forests, Carbon and Climate Change: the UK Contribution").



Deer and Buzzard spotted in Hillside woodland







3. Energy management


During 2019, we installed new technology to electrify our building energy requirements and converted our grid supply arrangements to 100% green energy, effectively net zeroing our energy-related emissions. Following a program of building energy efficiency improvements, covering controls, insulation, and lighting, we made further investments into the building energy system, installing:

A ground source heat pump system, removing 2,100 litres of heating oil from our annual energy mix

A Solar Photovoltaic array sized to meet some of the additional electricity loads of the heat pump system.

Contracted a 100% renewable electricity grid supply with Bulb Energy, ensuring all of our building energy needs were free of carbon emissions.


Completed part way through 2019, the impact on our greenhouse gas emissions profile has been immediate and significant, including generating a surplus of electricity exported to the grid. This export activity has established an annual offset opportunity that will further reduce our future greenhouse gas emissions. 2020 will be the first full year of system operation, and the targets set have already been achieved by September, with a forecast that our associated annual emissions form energy will be -1.5TCO²e.


You can read our full carbon report here.


As you can see, it is achievable to reduce the negative impact you have on the environment, particularly as a business where you have access to Green Finance and government grants to help the cost of the transition.


With our help, other organisations have followed suit and implemented a low-carbon plan, too. We supported Borders College, Galashiels in the implementation of a renewable heating system. They successfully adopted new-to-market technology and an economic business model to reduce their carbon emissions. Award-winning through both the Green Gown Awards and Scottish Green Energy Awards, Borders College has become an exemplar of technology possibilities, hosting more than 300 visits from interested parties. They are now efficiently heating their buildings using heat pumps, a technique that takes low-grade thermal energy and converts it into high-grade usable heat through heat exchange and compressor technology. An innovative commercial model was adopted whereby the commercial risk is taken by the technology provider and funding partners. The college continues to reduce carbon emissions over time by paying for heat supply at a rate competitive with their gas service. Read more about the Hillside and Borders College environmental project here.



Adopting renewable energy, low carbon practices and technologies, like Borders College has done, undoubtedly benefits the planet, but it can benefit you personally and in the workplace, too. Personally, you are protecting the planet for today’s youth and future generations; you are improving the air you breathe; you are increasing the biodiversity around you to defend the ecosystem that is essential to our health, quality of life, and survival. From a business perspective, your organisation can benefit from a competitive advantage, since your environmental credentials will set you apart from other businesses. You’ll also benefit from cost savings, since generating your own renewable energy via sources such as renewable heat pumps and solar panels means you rely less on the national grid. What’s more, you can sell the energy you produce back to the grid as a source of extra revenue.


So, how can you make the change in 2021 to reduce carbon emissions even further? Break it down into achievable steps, much like we have done at Hillside. Start with getting to know your own emissions, look towards an environmental consultant to help you measure how much you emit in terms of Scope 1, 2, and 3. Not sure what the scopes mean? Let me explain:


Scope 1:

· Fuel combustion (the fossil fuels you burn in-house to provide energy such as heat and electricity)

· Owned company vehicles such as lorries or company cars

· Fugitive emissions (those not caught by a capture system which are often due to equipment leaks, evaporative processes, and windblown disturbances)


Scope 2:

· Purchased electricity, heat, and steam (often from the grid)


Scope 3:

· All emissions produced within the supply chain from 3rd party suppliers


Now you can see the stages in which to tackle your emissions, you can make a plan to mitigate them one by one, rather than becoming overwhelmed trying to diminish them all at once. You can then consider investment options and build an economic model to ensure the project is commercially-viable, green finance and government grants are often available since the need to ‘go green’ is urgent.


At home, you can look at your energy consumption and emissions in the same way – break it down into what you do day-to-day and how you can change habits. Perhaps more importantly, encourage family and friends to do the same. Social scientists have found that when one person makes a sustainability-oriented decision, other people do too, which can have a profound, positive effect on the planet.


The government has demanded it of us, but can we reach net zero by 2050? Only with collective effort. Make sure you are part of the movement that saves the world we live in.


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