How can we measure our current environmental impact?

The adoption of new technologies may support your initiatives to ‘go green’ and reduce your environmental impact. Which are the key areas to focus on that will enable your organisation to become more environmentally sustainable? This guide explores where the biggest impacts may be felt for your organisation and what methods you might use to measure your existing environmental footprint.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
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Image courtesy of VisitBritain © Alicia Paige

How can we measure our current environmental impact?

1. Environmental impact assessments and your organisation

It is essential that organisations measure, plan and minimise activity that might have a negative impact on the environment.

Socio-economic activities have already created enormous environmental imbalances and population growth continues to contribute towards the depletion of natural resources. This has led to:

  • Global warming.
  • Climate change.
  • Loss of biodiversity.
  • Ocean acidification.
  • Environmental displacement.

Introducing the ‘Emissions Gap Report, 2021: The Heat Is On’, Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), emphasises the urgency of implementing policies immediately to address global climate change:

Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a ‘now’ problem. As we saw this year, devastating impacts are spreading across the globe and growing ever stronger […] We need to go firm. We need to go fast. And we need to start doing it now.

Quote by Inger Andersen

Responsibly and ethically run heritage organisations must respond to the rapidly evolving crises by measuring their current impact and implementing policies to further reduce their environmental impact.

An environmental impact assessment will help your organisation to:

  • Identify ways to avoid or reduce environmental damage.
  • Prevent adverse environmental impacts by requiring implementation of feasible alternatives or mitigation measures.
  • Foster transparency and cooperation and co-ordination with external partners.
  • Enhance public participation.

A glass globe lying in a fern-filled glade

2. How can I get started?

Our expert, Dr Ruth Daly, University of Leeds, takes you through several actions your organisation can take to assess your environmental impact and begin to make changes.

Environmental data analysis

Use metrics, reports, carbon footprint calculators, energy star ratings and checklists to help you collect and analyse environmental data. Environmental data analysis will help you to identify opportunities for improvement and drive environmental sustainability.

Carbon footprint calculation

Carbon footprint calculation is a standard method of measuring and reporting the environmental impact of your organisation. You can use the following three reliable tools to calculate your organisation’s carbon footprint:

1. The MacKay Carbon Calculator provides a model of the UK energy system that allows you to explore pathways to decarbonisation, including net-zero by 2050.

2. The Carbon Trust has created the Carbon Footprint Calculator to assist small to medium-sized UK based businesses and organisations in measuring their corporate emission footprint following Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) Guidance. GHG Protocol is an organisation which establishes tools and frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions.

3. MyCarbon allows you to calculate your carbon footprint, reduce your environmental impact and offset your remaining emissions. If you sign up to their service, you receive personalised advice and through a monthly subscription you can offset your admissions through the exchange of carbon credits. Carbon credits are permits which allow the owner to emit a specified amount of greenhouse gases.

A hand holds a lit lightbulb emitting environmental symbols against a leafy green background

Sustainability checklists

Sustainability checklists will help your organisation to develop and enhance long-term resilience and contribute to the goal of a net-zero future. Checklists allow you to evaluate your current environmental impact, determine what improvements need to be made and monitor the impact of planned and completed improvements.

A good sustainability checklist will contain categories that group checklist items and scores. Categories might include references to water usage, biodiversity, travel, energy usage or approaches to building works. Checklists and checklist items can include specific projects and tasks to be implemented to achieve the score for the checklist item.

Download West Oxfordshire District Council’s useful checklist for heritage organisations and traditional buildings (PDF file, 298kb).

Download Harlow and Gilston Garden Town’s Environmental Sustainability Guidance (PDF file, 7.08MB). The guidance contains useful information on how to implement an effective sustainability checklist.

A view of the Earth next to a huge ball of cloud connected together by blue and green streaks symbolising greenhouse gases

3. Points to take away

It is important that heritage organisations measure, plan and minimise activity that might have an adverse impact on the environment. As you have seen, there are several actions you can take to start this process.

Use the resources explored above to:

  • Complete an environmental data analysis which will help your heritage organisation to identify opportunities for improvement and drive environmental sustainability.
  • Use a carbon footprint calculator to assess your environmental impact.
  • Use a sustainability checklist to develop long-term resilience and contribute to the goal of a net-zero future.

Measuring your organisation’s environmental impact will allow you to implement environmentally focused policies.

Further resources:

More help here

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Digital leadership – Heritage, digital and the climate crisis

How can digital capacity and tactics be leveraged in heritage organisations to address the climate crisis and to meet your heritage organisation’s environmental goals?  The sixth and final online seminar in the Leading the Sector 2022 series talks about the role leaders need to play in understanding and leading change in this vital area of the heritage’s sector’s work.

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How to make your digital engagement activities better for the environment

In this resource, Katie Parry from digital agency and arts sector specialists, Supercool, provides a selection of practical actions to help you make your digital engagement activities better for the environment. Katie provides tips and suggestions that will help you make your organisation’s website, social media channels, emails and computers more sustainable.

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How can digital help us become more environmentally sustainable?

So you have established some key areas to help you improve your environmental performance: what next? This guide outlines how digital technologies can help you modify and adapt your business operations to be kinder to the environment.

Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "How can we measure our current environmental impact? (2022) by Dr Ruth Daly supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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