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National Trust develops model to take complexity out of its carbon reporting


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Hand holding a CO2 cloud
Image source: Sukkasemsakorn

How the organisation has used the Alteryx Analytics Gallery to provide staff with a dynamic, granular view of carbon emissions

Given the National Trust’s role as a conservation charity it is inevitable that it takes environmental issues seriously, with one of its priorities being to reach net zero for carbon emissions in its activities by 2030.

It has recognised that this requires an effective means of tracking its progress, taking into account all of the sources of carbon emissions and the carbon sinks – features that take CO2 out of the atmosphere – on its estate to create a detailed view and identify where it needs to take further action.

The organisation’s business intelligence product manager, Oliver Janson, outlined its approach at the recent UKAuthority AI & Data4Good conference, emphasising the importance of the Alteryx Analytics Gallery as a key element of the effort.

It has identified an array of carbon sources in its preservation of the countryside and management of farmland in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These include food production, waste production, energy consumption, travel by its staff and visitors, its usage of land and enteric fermentation – the release of stomach gas – from livestock farming.

Building a baseline

A first step was to establish a baseline for the carbon impact, which was a challenge in itself as the organisation was using data systems set up years ago without any focus on reporting on the carbon impact. They covered line of business factors such as energy and water consumption, visitor numbers, purchase data, travel expenses, item weights and livestock inventories, some from in-house systems and others from supplier data.

The organisation worked with a third party on combining these with external datasets such as Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs conversion factors, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports and the conversion factors on the Quantis tool to establish the baseline.

“We have been able to assign different weights of carbon for different areas of the business so we could look at what we already had available through a different lens,” Janson said.

“This was a great first step but only produced an annual report. What we really wanted was a way to refresh the data regularly and respond to any emerging concerns or trends as soon as possible.”

That was where the National Trust turned to Alteryx, using its Analytics Gallery cloud platform to pull the disparate data sources into a single view with a daily workflow scheduled to produce a wide range of reports without any manual intervention. The workflow incorporates key points where the data is being pulled in, manipulated, joined to other sources then summed up or placed in groups.

Single view

“It brings all data sources into a single carbon reporting view, with an output into different formats, the key one being our instance of Tableau Server, to produce carbon reports that multiple users can pull out for insights as they do their jobs,” Janson said.

He made the point that not all of the data is updated daily, but it is automatically pulled into the model when it changes, and is presented to users in a way that enables them to drill down to a granular level to understand what they need to do within their responsibilities to improve the carbon picture.

In addition, the workflow has been developed on a modular basis so elements can be added in or stripped out over time to keep the picture as accurate and relevant as possible.

Janson highlighted the example of enteric fermentation – or “gassy cows” – which begins with the collection of figures on land use and livestock, taking into account National Trust and tenant farms with distinctions between arable and pasture land. These are combined with IPCC figures on methane generation for different species to calculate the expected level of gas emissions, and can be added to figures on others sources of CO2 to tidy up the data, which is then fed into the Tableau Server platform to produce a carbon report.

“End users can review carbon impacts on properties or regions and work with carbon advisers to work towards net zero by 2030,” Janson said.

Big benefits

This has produced a number of benefits, including a big time saving for the organisation’s analysts, who are freed from much of the preparation work to concentrate on producing insights, and a reduction in the complexity of data from a wide range of sources, making it easier to understand.

Others are that the automation of the processes ensures the latest data is always available, which in turn enables National Trust staff to react and adapt to situations as they arise, and the modular approach provides the scope to change elements as different systems and approaches evolve.

Overall, it has provided a valuable tool for the organisation to work towards its net zero goal and reinforced its activities as a national guardian of the countryside.

Contact Chris Howarth, local government lead, here to find out more about how organisations are using Alteryx’s low-code analytics platform to tackle climate change. Use cases include: retrofitting and energy performance improvement; lowering transport carbon emissions; using spatial intelligence to confirm EV charging point locations; and decentralised energy projects. Learn more about Alteryx here 

You can view the presentation by Oliver Janson at AI & Data4Good 2022 below:  


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