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Exploring corporate engagement with carbon management techniques


Piper, Katherine (2021), Exploring corporate engagement with carbon management techniques, Dryad, Dataset,


This paper explores the different ways of managing carbon in organisational settings.  It uses a sequential mixed methods approach – literature review, discussions with sustainability thought leaders, and online survey and interviews with company sustainability leaders – to consider and critique the use of the carbon management hierarchy (CMH) by selected corporate bodies in the UK.   The derived empirical evidence base enables a triangulated view of current performance and potential improvements.  Currently, carbon management models are flawed, being vague in relation to the operational reductions required prior to offsetting and making no mention of Science Based Targets nor the role corporations could play in wider sustainability initiatives. An amended CMH is proposed incorporating wider sustainability initiatives, varying forms of offsets, the inclusion of accounting frameworks and an annual review mechanism to ensure progress towards carbon neutrality. If such a model were to be widely used, it would provide more rapid carbon emissions reductions and mitigation efforts, greater certainty in the authenticity of carbon offsets, wider sustainabilityimpacts and a faster trajectory towards carbon neutrality. 


The uploaded content reveals the online survey responses from eight organisations. The survey formed a part of research into corporate engagement with carbon management techniques.

For the paper, an explanatory sequential mixed methods approach was employed using data gathered via textual, anecdotal and empirical evidence. Initially information was gathered via a literature review and discussions with sustainability thought leaders. That information then formed the basis of an online survey (the results of which can be seen within this repository) which was sent to the 32 UK companies whom have adopted Science-Based Targets. Once the survey results were received, a stratified sample of company sustainability leaders were interviewed about their carbon management practices. This empirical evidence was then triangulated and synthesized in order to inform the inductive reasoning used to suggest an updated carbon management hierarchy. The amendments to the hierarchy were discussed with three respected sustainability consultants and adjusted accordingly.

The online survey was created via the University of the West of England’s BOS online survey tool. A ‘total survey design’ strategy was employed to ensure that all aspects – the frame, the size, the design, the quality of the questions, the response rate and the mode and quality of the data collected– were considered at design stage. Having a statement of purpose helps the survey designer to keep on track and respondents to quickly gain an understanding of the area under research. For this research, the statement of purpose was as follows: The research will critically appraise whether there is a role for voluntary carbon offsetting, carbon onsetting and carbon insetting as carbon management techniques for UK companies which have adopted Science-Based Targets”.

The use of closed questions ensured ease of use for respondents and less ambiguity about the response meanings. There were, however, free text options to allow respondents to answer accurately if the suggested responses did not suit their situation. Ordinal levels of measurement were also used to help ascertain the extent of challenges or opportunities that were afforded by offsetting/onsetting/insetting techniques.

Pre-tests or pilots are essential in the survey design process to ensure appropriateness of questions. The survey was piloted by both a sustainability consultancy responsible for SBT-setting and a company which has adopted SBTs. The survey closed by explaining that it was stage one of a two stage process, alerting respondents to the possibility of further information gathering via interviews.

The survey was sent out to all companies within the UK whom had taken action on Science-Based Targets (SBTs). The SBTi keeps an online record of any companies taking action on SBTs. This online database was filtered to show just those companies which are UK-based; 32 companies at the time of enquiry (2018). Grounded theory research samples typically number twenty to thirty (Creswell, 2014) and so surveys to 32 companies were deemed sufficient provided a high response rate was achieved. To limit risks around low response rates, personal email addresses were then sought via company websites, phone calls, LinkedIn searches and the use of contacts/networks. Despite this, the majority of surveys had to be sent to a generic email address (45%) or via online contact forms (30%).

Given the novelty of SBTs, a small number of responses from these early adopters was a possible outcome, but having followed guidance from Biggam (2015) and Fowler (2002) regarding how to ensure the best possible response rate, a survey was still deemed the best way to proceed. Indeed a response rate of 25% was achieved and helped draw the required conclusions.

Usage Notes

All the survey questions and responses are contained within the uploaded content.