On Purpose’s Path to Net Zero

In 2019 On Purpose declared a climate emergency. As part of that declaration we committed to measure, reduce and, as a last resort, offset our environmental footprint. 

Over the past two years we have been learning how best to do this. This article shares what we have learnt on our journey. We hope you find it useful on the journey you are on.

Assessing our carbon footprint

On Purpose’s core activities focus on recruiting organisations and individuals to our learning and development programmes, and then delivering those programmes.

The core areas of our carbon footprint are as follows:


We partnered with Climate Partner to give us a tool in which we could calculate our emissions. Each of our cities used Climate Partner’s framework to go out and collect the relevant data.

Whilst it was useful to have a framework to steer us on what data we needed to collect, the process of collecting the data was hard. For example, we had no system to pick out train, plane and car journeys within our financial data, and it was hard to get information around electricity and heating providers and usage from some of our serviced office providers. As an organisation that operates in three cities - London, Paris and Berlin - we had different challenges to contend with in each country.

These issues mean the results we got are directionally helpful rather than a precision calculation, so should be used as a guide rather than a set of instructions. Whilst imperfect, having an imprecise calculation of our footprint is better than having no calculation at all.

What we found


Putting the information we collected through Climate Partner’s framework gave us the following results:

  • In 2020, On Purpose’s total scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon emissions across our three cities were 21.2 tons (1 ton = 1000 kgs). This compares to the average person in Europe whose annual footprint would be about 6.7 tons.
  • Our 2020 carbon footprint was 36% lower than in 2019. Whilst some of that is driven by covid, some of that also comes from changes we have made to our behaviour as a team.
  • Our biggest sources of carbon emissions are, perhaps unsurprisingly, train travel, flights, remote working, employee commuting, and electricity and heating and their associated emissions.
  • In 2019, train travel and flights made up 52% of our total emissions. That fell to 28% in 2020, with flights almost eliminated - under 1 ton across the year.
  • Covid also meant the footprint of our team’s remote working increased from 1.9 tons in 2019 to 6 tons in 2020, but the footprint of our commuting fell from 2.8 tons to 1.6 tons.
  • The electricity and heating at our offices caused 7.1 tons of emissions in 2019, compared to 5.1 tons in 2020 when we reduced the size of the office space we used London and Berlin

We think this tells us the following:

  • What we do as an organisation is inherently light in terms of its carbon emissions. Our product - learning and development - has pretty much no embedded emissions, just the use of buildings, and, where relevant, travel. We are based in major cities where public transport dominates both work travel and commuting vastly reducing the emissions we are responsible for. This makes the starting point for our carbon footprint lower than other organisations.
  • Most of our “easy to change” emissions come from travel between cities and to our all team gatherings - these made up 52% of our emissions in 2019 (28% in 2020)
  • The emissions we are responsible for from our offices are higher than we expected. Because we use shared office spaces on a day-to-day basis we have no immediate control of what electricity and heating those buildings use.
  • Again, we were also surprised by the impact of remote working on our footprint - it was about 30% of our emissions in 2020 driven by emissions from home office equipment and heating.

What's next for On Purpose?

We are going to use this information and learning as a springboard for further action.

Firstly we will be offsetting all of both our 2019 and 2020 emissions using these two projects, which we believe are high-quality offsets.

  • Clean cookstoves in Nyungwe, Rwanda - this project enables households to reduce their wood consumption. The project introduces efficient cooking stoves made of local clay and sand which are produced by a local cooperative and consumes two thirds less fuel than the three-stone fire. The stoves are offered at a subsidized price so that low-income households can afford them. This is a Gold Standard-certified verified emission reduction.
  • Biomass in Soacha, Colombia - nearly all of Columbia's brickworks use coal to fire their kilns. The Santander brickyard has installed modern, energy-efficient kilns which use up to 80% renewable biomass. This way, the brickyard saves 18,000 tons of carbon emissions each year. In addition, this project prevents biomass from rotting in the open air, reducing methane emissions. This is also a Gold Standard VER.

Purchasing these offsets will make us carbon neutral as an organisation, 6 years ahead of schedule.

However, we recognise that offsetting must be treated as a last resort, so we will also be looking at how we can both retain the reductions that covid has given us and find new and additional ways to reduce our impact on our world.

We continue to investigate where we can reduce our footprint further, for example:

  • This December our team day will be held in Cologne allowing all three of our city teams to travel there by train in under 6 hours end-to-end and, for the first time, eliminating the need for any team to fly to our all team gathering.
  • We will be reviewing how we can support our team to reduce the carbon emissions in their own home - in particular we will be looking at how we encourage our team members to choose a green electricity supplier for their home.
  • When we review our serviced office locations the choices potential providers have made about electricity and heating will be a factor in our decisions. We will also lobby our existing office providers to make low-carbon choices for their electricity and heating.
  • We are thinking carefully about when we need to travel between our cities and when a meeting can be held virtually
  • We will also continue to speak up with our participants and partners to try to persuade them to be positive actors for environmental change in their lives and work.

There are also broader questions for us to ask ourselves as an organisation in terms of our influence on the wider economic system, particularly in terms of the placement organisations we work with and how we can influence their behaviour, and whether we would expect a minimum level of environmental commitment from a potential placement partner in order to become a partner.

Like many other organisations we are learning as we go, and our focus will be on continuing to move in the right direction year on year. We look forward to seeing what further impact we have made on our footprint in 2021.