U.K. Households Cut Their Carbon Emissions By 33 million Tonnes Last Year, According to Accenture

Reduced spending on eating out, transport and clothing were some of the biggest drivers in the fall in emissions

LONDON; Oct. 15, 2021 – U.K. households cut their carbon emissions by an estimated 33 million tonnes in 2020 as people spent less during the pandemic, according to new research by Accenture.

The collective amount of CO2 produced by U.K. households’ consumption of goods and services fell by 10% to 295 million tonnes CO2 in 2020 compared with 328 million tonnes CO2 in 2019.[1] The 33 million tonne fall is equivalent to over a tonne per household and is the same amount of carbon produced by seven million cars on average each year.

Accenture’s annual U.K. Carbon Consumption Index - the first of its kind to look at how the nation’s consumption habits play a role in changing carbon emissions - shows that the fall in carbon emissions in 2020 was driven primarily by reduced spending on transport, hospitality and clothing.

Household energy consumption increased as people spent more time at home, but more renewables in the generation mix meant that electricity-related emissions fell. Gas and electricity consumption continued to represent the largest source of household emissions, with a share of 43%.

The biggest fall in carbon emissions was caused by a reduced amount of spending on transport as people stayed at home, cutting the average household’s weekly emissions in that category by 23% to 39kg.

The second biggest cause was a fall in spending specifically on restaurants and hotels, with emissions from this category slashed by 53%, to 7kg of carbon per week.

With nowhere to go but the living room for many, spending on clothes also fell by 12%, which led to a further fall in emissions.

Peter Lacy, Accenture’s Global Sustainability Services lead and Chief Responsibility Officer, said, “While the pandemic forced much of this consumption change, it has shown how big an impact individual households can make in cutting carbon emissions. But it’s not all down to consumers. Businesses have a significant role to play too, by accelerating innovation – findings ways to design, make and supply net-zero products and services and educating consumers about ‘greener’ options on the shelf.

As we approach COP26, the mounting pressure on businesses to embed sustainability across their operations and lower the carbon intensity of goods and services isn’t going away. It’s only by working together – across business, society and government - that we’ll reach our net-zero targets.”

Nations, Regions and Age

The South East of England produced more emissions per household than anywhere else in the U.K., generating 230kg of carbon per household per week – 13% higher than the national average. The next highest emitting region was London, where the average households’ expenditures generated 217kg of carbon per week.

Age too had an impact. On average households with people aged 75 or above generated 107kg per week per household member, making them the age group with the most carbon-intensive spending habits. However, this is because older people spend a significant amount of money on gas heating and electricity. If this is excluded, the age group whose consumption results in the greatest amount of carbon emissions is instead those aged 50 to 64, who generate 52kg per week per household member.

Most Carbon-Intensive Products Inside the Home

The research also found that as consumers swapped their spending on nights out and new clothes for evenings in and home improvements, the top five most carbon-intensive products in 2020, across food, recreation, household goods and clothing, were (CO2 emissions per household per year):

The decreases seen in the furniture and pet food categories were caused by a reduction in the carbon-intensity of the supply chain.

Lauren Ing, managing director, Sustainability, Accenture U.K. and Ireland, concluded, “Despite households spending more on heating and electricity during the national lockdowns, spending less in other areas like clothing and travel has contributed to an overall drop in carbon emissions. It is also encouraging to see that lower carbon supply chains had a positive impact in some product areas, such as pet food, which grew in demand as people bought more pets, but the carbon emissions were reduced because of greener supply chains.

But the pandemic has not only had a major impact on consumptions levels. It has also opened consumers’ eyes to the impact their purchasing decisions have on the environment and society. Concrete commitments to sustainability initiatives will be one of the most important drivers of competitiveness and growth for businesses in the coming decade. Brands with vague, green promises that fail to capitalise on the demand for lower carbon and more sustainable offerings risk losing consumer trust and loyalty in the years ahead.”

Further Information

Research Methodology
Accenture commissioned Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) to produce the research. To calculate the level of emissions generated by each specific product, the average weekly spend by UK households on that product is multiplied by the estimated level of embedded CO2 emissions generated by a £ worth of spending on that item. Data on average weekly spending across different categories is sourced from the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Living Costs and Food Survey, while the levels of CO2 emissions per £ of spending are based on the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) published estimates. These emission estimates capture the carbon footprint of the production of any goods and services that are consumed in the UK, regardless of where in the world these emissions are generated. Crucially, this means that imported emissions are included in the research results. With this methodology, the emissions associated with a car produced in Germany and purchased by an individual in the UK are reflected in UK consumers’ total emissions, on the basis that the emissions are generated on the behalf of the UK customer. Since a kilogram of CO2 generates the same amount of global warming, irrespective of where it is generated, the inclusion of imported emissions is necessary in painting a complete and representative picture of UK consumers’ carbon footprint.

Cars’ Carbon Consumption

Breakdown of CO2 emissions for UK consumers
The average UK households’ spending generated 204 kg of CO2 emissions each week. This equates to 10,617 kg per household per year, which collectively amounts to an estimated 295 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020. In 2019, the average UK household generated an estimated 227 kg of CO2 emissions each week. This means that CO2 emissions were 10 percent lower in 2020 than they were in 2019. A major driver of this reduction in emissions between 2019 and 2020 is the Covid-19 pandemic, and more specifically the changes in consumer behaviour and spending habits precipitated by lockdown restrictions. These figures capture the CO2 emissions from the consumption of goods and services by UK residents, regardless of whether these items were produced in the UK or internationally. These estimates differ from territorial estimates of CO2 emissions which only include emissions generated domestically.

About Accenture
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