10 Tonne Rule
Caution: This is a work in progress.
Andy Gove, the founder of Intel (one of the most successful companies of
our generation) once said "Whatever you measure, improves". 
The UK Government has declared a climate emergency  and had committed
the country to being carbon neutral by 2050 . Many activists would like to
see that happen sooner, perhaps as soon as 2025 .
In order to know how well we are doing towards becoming a zero carbon
economy we need to measure how much carbon is being released by the services
we buy. This is currently being done on a sector level  but we need more
fine grained measurement in order to improve. After all, what you don't
measure you can't control.
In order to reduce carbon emissions we need to choose solutions that use
less carbon over ones that use more for the same amount of money spent. The
only way to do this is if we measure how much carbon is associated with
different solutions but this is currently hard for providers to do accurately
because the skills and data are hard to obtain.
To create the right incentives for measurement, allow Government to make
good purchasing decisions and to begin to grow the necessary thinking and
action within the economy, we are proposing the 10 tonne rule to start within
government procurement as follows:
- Cabinet Office asks for minimum and maximum tons of CO2
released per year of the service, as well as cost estimates on all
Government procurement tenders
- Simple tools are provided to help bidders obtain a the range of
estimates of the CO2 associated with the delivery of their
- The range on the estimates can be as broad or narrow as the bidder
likes, they must make their own commercial decisions as to the effort to
put into the estimates
- Any estimate that has a range that overlaps 10 tons of carbon gets
reported transparently in an OGL  licensed spreadsheet on data.gov.uk,
much like the current £25K spend data
The columns of the spreadsheet might be:
- Name of supplier
- Description of service
- Number of years service is active
- Minimum CO2 released per year
- Maximum CO2 released per year
Seperate columns could be added for any offsetting that the bidder uses to
mitigate the impact, or the locations in the world where the CO2 is released
for example but the aim would be to report the raw impact of the service.
This is good because:
- Whatever you measure improves, and we'd be measuring tons of
CO2 until the number of tons is zero by 2050.
- Decisions can be made based on carbon as well as cost
- Interested parties can scrutinise the data and exert pressure where
they feel they need to
- Government can hold bidders to account if they are overly
- There is an exceptionally low barrier to entry. A bidder can simply
state a very wide range on their estimate for the delivery of their
service. For example a simple IT service could state a carbon impact of
between 0 and 1 million tons of CO2 (even if the real figure is just 5
tons) and that would be perfectly acceptable. Over time as skills improve,
some companies will provide more accurate estimates to gain a competitive
advantage. Another company might specify a range of 4-11 tons per year for
example. As more accurate estimates occur, journalists and the public who
scrutinise the 10 tonne spend data might well ask why Government chose a
service that could potentially release 1 million tons of CO2
when there are competing services available for 4-11 tons. Companies won't
want to appear vague for long, particularly as the trend to look as green
as possible continues, this will drive skills in carbon reduction in the
- Other Government departments would likely follow the Cabinet Office
lead - after all no department would want to be seen to be the least
- Once suppliers get used to thinking about and reporting on their carbon
impact they would be likely to choose lower carbon options themselves in
their own supply chains. Suppliers that offer lower carbon solutions would
be at a competitive advantage and might advertise their low levels of
carbon impact outside of Government tenders too. This would have a knock-on
effect in the wider economy.
Why might Cabinet Office get on board?
- The UK governement has been and continues to be a world leader in
Transparency and Open Data. We are also the first Government to announce a
date for a zero carbon econonmy. The opportunity to publish 10 tonne carbon
spend would cement the UK's position at the forefront of both the
transparency and climate movements and continue to set an example to the
rest of world.
What do you say Cabinet Office? Are you prepared to start this snowball
What do others think? Would the incentives envisioned here work the way
they are designed to in practice? What could be tweaked to ensure they
About the authors:
- James Gardner - An early advocate in the transparency
and open data movements who worked with Cabinet Office and Defra on
data.gov.uk before the establishment of GDS. Former lead of the CKAN open
data portal at the Open Knowledge Foundation that now powers over 200 Open
Data portals worldwide.
- Chris Adams - Your bio here!
To the extent possible under law, James Gardner
has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to 10 Tonne Rule. This work is published from: