Sustainability | 5 December 2022

five ways one person could have a big impact when it comes to cutting carbon 

Coutts have identified five key areas where an individual could further reduce their carbon footprint and help the environment.



Every pound we spend has a carbon footprint so, by making changes to spending and investing, one person could create a big difference. As more and more of us look at how we can make changes to help the climate, we’ve brought together some exclusive research on how Coutts clients could reduce the amount of carbon that enters the atmosphere.

In collaboration with fellow B Corp Cogo, an expert in carbon footprint management, we’ve identified five key areas where an individual could further reduce their carbon footprint and help the environment. 


1. Flying & Travel

  • Aviation makes up 10% of total UK CO2 emissions (1).
  • But it makes up 22% of the carbon footprint of high-net-worth individuals (HNWs) who often have to travel for business (2).
  • Take the train

    Of course, this isn’t always possible but, domestically, a train journey releases 77% less carbon than a short-haul plane journey (3).

  • Utilise technology

    The pandemic has shown us the time, money and carbon we can save via online meetings but if you do have to travel, plan efficiently to reduce airtime. Replacing even one flight with alternative transport or technologies, can collectively make a huge difference.

  • Limit flying by private jet

    Although they have undeniable benefits of flexibility, privacy and confidentiality, private jets have a significant carbon footprint.

    On a per-passenger basis, a recent report from the European Federation for Transport and Environment, entitled Private Jets: Can the Super Rich Supercharge Zero-emission Aviation? shows that private jets are around 5-14 times more carbon-intensive than typical commercial planes, and 50 times more than trains due to their lower load factor, lower fuel efficiency of aircraft and frequent empty returns (4).

2. Fashion

  • As at 2019, the fashion industry and its supply chain generate approximately 2% of all UK consumption greenhouse gas emissions (5).
  • Fashion and clothing make up 20% of the average HNWs carbon footprint (2).
  • Globally, approximately 85% of all textiles go to landfill each year: every second the equivalent of a bin lorry of clothes is sent to landfill (6).
  • Buy from genuinely carbon conscious brands

    A brand that publicly commits to reducing its carbon footprint through reputable certification and reporting organisations and has plans and processes in place to deliver against those commitments.

    • The brand is B-Corp certified or holds the Positive Luxury Butterfly mark.
    • Invests in providing fair wages and working conditions to workers throughout the supply chain.
    • Recycles and upcycles materials and garments.
  • Buy vintage

    Wearing pre-worn clothes reduces the carbon footprint of every pound spend on fashion by 75% (2).

  • Wear for longer

    According to a 2019 survey carried out by Censuswide on behalf of UK charity, Barnardo’s, Britons intended to spend a staggering £2.7 billion in one season on pieces of clothing that will be worn only once (7). Wearing for longer and mending rather than replacing can have a big impact over the long term.

  • Donate and resell

    By directly recycling this way we can reduce the amount of clothes being burned or going to landfill as well as supporting charities.

3. groceries

  • As at 2019, food production and consumption represent around 13% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions (5).
  • Groceries account for around 14% of the total carbon footprint for a HNW individual (2).

Food production can be complex in how it impacts the environment but there are ways to eat well and more sustainably.


  • Eat less meat

    Even swapping out or reducing beef can make a big difference. Eating less meat takes pressure off the environment because:

    • Livestock emit methane directly, but also their manure causes emissions (8).
    • It reduces the emissions involved in producing food for livestock to grow and mature (8).
    • Farm animals are also inefficient energy converters: they consume a lot more food than they produce, which shifts land use from edible crops to feeding crops.

    According to a 20-year EPIC-Oxford study, running up until 2019, there is strong evidence that there are several health benefits associated with adopting a more plant-based diet including lower blood pressure, a healthier heart, and it may decrease your risk of cancer from eating processed meats. Plant-rich diets are also high in fibre, vitamins and contain complex carbohydrates (9).

  • Avoid freight to fork

    Although imported vegetables are more environmentally sustainable than local beef, typically it’s best to eat food that hasn’t travelled far. Anything out of season that has been flown in (i.e. berries) will have a very high carbon footprint. 

  • Reducing food waste

    On average 74kg of edible food per individual per year is wasted across the globe (10). According to the UN Environment Programme, it is estimated that 17% of total global food production may be wasted (10). By wasting less, we can produce less and therefore reduce our carbon footprint. In addition, food waste rotting in landfills emits greenhouse gases and further contributes to global warming.

    Some ways to reduce food waste include:

    • Meal planning which helps you use up what you already have and avoid buying more than what you are going to eat.
    • Composting food waste instead of sending it to landfill emits 70 times less greenhouse gas and keeps the carbon stored in the food waste within the soil (11). Composting works by combining food waste with carbon-rich materials like scrap paper, wood chips or dry leaves.  

4. motoring

  • Motoring accounts for 9% of a HNW individual’s annual carbon footprint (2).
  • Go electric

    People will always need to travel so reconsidering journeys is not always feasible – the best option might be to use an electric vehicle (EV).

    Though they have a much smaller carbon footprint, the construction of EVs does still produce carbon so, equally, you may want to drive your current petrol car to the end of its functional life before making the switch to electric.

    Save money:

    • Electric charging infrastructure is continuing to expand across the country while petrol prices have experienced record highs (12).
    • EVs benefit from a zero rate for Vehicle Excise Duty and provide free access to Low Emission Zones in many city centres (13).
  • Journey efficiency

    By sharing journeys, we can see significant efficiency savings and a reduction of cars on the road.

5. home energy

  • Home energy accounts for 7% of a HNW individual’s annual carbon footprint (2).
  • Use solar panels

    • A typical home solar PV system could save around one tonne of carbon per year, depending on where you live in the UK (14).
    • You don’t typically need planning permission to install solar panels, you just need to register it with your Distribution Network Operator (DNO), which your installer would normally do.
  • Improve your home insulation

    Cost saving depends on the type of insulation and the size of house. The Energy Saving Trust gives a general overview of different insulation types and how they might perform within a range of scenarios.

  • Smart meters

    • The average UK home could save around 10% on their heating costs for every degree they reduced their heating temperature by (15). A comfortable home is typically around 18-21C, depending upon people’s needs.
    • Smart thermostats allow temperature management according to your needs, times of day and room occupancy. This can help you only heat the spaces that need it, saving energy, carbon and costs.

What is Coutts doing to lower their carbon emissions?

  • Our operations are now net zero.
  • We’re a B Corp, meaning we’re externally scored on how we improve our environmental standards in order to maintain this certification.
  • We’re working to further reduce the carbon our investments create, engaging with the funds and businesses we invest in.
  • We’re a member of the Net Zero Asset Managers’ Initiative, which has so far moved committed $61.3 trillion of assets to net zero carbon investment.
  • We’re a signatory of the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment.

If you would like to learn more about our approach to sustainability, please contact your private banker or wealth manager.


Methodology, Key Assumptions AND SOURCES

  • Emissions factors

    Emissions factors, which Cogo uses to calculate your carbon footprint, assume you buy an average mix of products when you shop. Sometimes this might inflate your footprint; other times it will understate it. This is imperfect, but it’s the best solution currently available to help provide a gauge on these variables.

    Home energy: non-renewable energy assumes a dual-fuel split of 43% gas and 57% electricity (which is based on the energy mix up to March 2022).

    Grocery emissions factors assigned to categories such as supermarkets, convenience stores and general grocery purchases are taken from a model based on the ONS basket of household spend and assumes no specific diet such as vegetarianism. Categories such as Duty Free and Department Stores are assigned a modelled average emissions factor, as these transactions can cover a wide range of products. Despite considerable effort, the emission factors still only represent the average emissions for purchases and doesn’t reflect basket composition of each specific transaction.

  • Collective Carbon Footprint

    The footprints in this report have been calculated using the total spending of all active Coutts Private banking customers. Anonymised and secure data from personal accounts and cards has been used to estimate footprints by key spending categories. It does not reflect individual Clients’ spending patterns. Where average Coutts Client footprints are mentioned, they refer to total collective footprint divided by the total number of active clients. The data used is encrypted and completely anonymous, no transaction details or any personal data has been shared with Cogo or any other external party.

  • Benchmarking

    We use Cogo consumer app data to provide benchmarks for average footprints by category. Cogo customer base may not be representative of the general population due to the nature of the service. Cogo app users can connect several bank accounts which gives a more complete picture of their spend than only analysing spending from a Coutts account. Therefore, the benchmarks are provided indicatively. Their purpose it to highlight the potential of the carbon footprint reduction that Coutts Private Clients have.

    For benchmarking flying, motoring and home energy against UK greenhouse gas emissions, we have used data from: UK Gov: Final UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions National Statistics: 1990 – 2019, 2019 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Final Figures – data tables (Excel) and have used the following assumptions:

    • Flying – includes ‘civil aviation’ (cruise, domestic, landing and takeoff) and ‘international aviation bunkers’ to calculate the total percentage of UK greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Motoring – includes ‘passenger cars’ only to calculate the total percentage of UK greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Home energy – includes ‘residential combustion’ only, which covers emissions from residential properties, including from consumer product use. This primarily consists of fuel combustion for heating/cooking and garden machinery.

    For fashion and groceries, we have used UK Government, UK and England's carbon footprint to 2019, UK full dataset 1990-2019, including conversion factors by SIC code and have used the following assumptions:

    • Fashion – includes ‘clothing’ and ‘footwear’ to calculate the total percentage of UK greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Groceries – includes ‘food’, ‘alcoholic beverages’ and ‘non-alcoholic beverages’ to calculate the total percentage of UK greenhouse gas emissions.

    Therefore, these benchmarks are provided indicatively, based on UK Government data.

  • Footprint Calculation

    To calculate your carbon footprint, Coutts first assigned a category to all spending transactions for all Private banking clients. Those categories were matched by Cogo with their carbon intensity groups based on Cogo defined emissions factors for each category.

    An Emissions factor (EF) is the amount of CO2e emissions produced by £1 of spend, for a particular type of business. For example, a trip to a supermarket will on average produce 1.04 KG of CO2e per £1 spent. Cogo works with market leading environmentally extended input-output (EEIO) models and industry experts, such as Mike Berners-Lee and Small World Consulting, to define emissions factors that are as accurate as possible. The Emissions factors were applied to the aggregated spend data to derive total carbon emissions of all active Coutts Private Clients.

    Please note: No transaction details or any personal data has been shared with Cogo or any other external party.

  • Sources of information

    (1) UK Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. 2019 UK greenhouse gas emissions: final figures - data tables (Excel), Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990 to 2019. Available via this link.
    (2) Cogo data modelling, 2022
    (3) UK Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Conversion factors 2022: condensed set (for most users), Greenhouse gas reporting: conversion factors 2022. Available via this link.
    (4) Transport & Environment (2021). Private jets: can the super-rich supercharge zero-emission aviation? Available via this link.
    (5) UK Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. UK full dataset 1990 - 2019, including conversion factors by SIC code, UK and England's carbon footprint to 2019. Available via this link.
    (6) World Economic Forum (2020). These facts show how unsustainable the fashion industry is. Available via this link.
    (7) Barnardo’s (2019), Barnardo's calls for people to think 'pre-loved' before buying new clothes. Available via this link.
    (8) UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (2020) All consuming: Building a healthier food system for people and planet. Available via this link.
    (9) Oxford Population Health (2019). Are plant-based diets good for your health and the planet? Available via this link.
    (10) UN Environment Programme (2021). UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021. Available via this link.
    (11) UK Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. UK full dataset 1990 - 2019, including conversion factors by SIC code, UK and England's carbon footprint to 2019. Available via this link.
    (12) UK Government Department for Transport. Electric vehicle charging device statistics: October 2022. Available via this link.
    (13) UK Government HM Revenue & Customs (2015). Vehicle Excise Duty. Available via this link.
    (14) Energy Saving Trust (2022) Solar Panels. Available via this link.
    (15) Energy Saving Trust (2021) New research finds 96% of UK homeowners are concerned about their home energy efficiency. Available via this link.