Carbon Literacy

The ultimate guide

The ultimate introduction to Carbon Literacy: what it is, who it’s for and how it helps organisations become stronger, fitter and more attractive.

Carbon reduction and sustainability are skills that are in demand like never before. If you want to develop those skills within your workforce, Carbon Literacy could be for you.

If you decide it is, you would be in fine company. There are now over 74,000 certified Carbon Literate individuals and over 200 Carbon Literate Organisations in the UK.

Together, these employers have avoided an estimated 268,000 tonnes of carbon through training their employees in all things carbon. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of around 55,000 cars.

But what exactly is Carbon Literacy, and is it right for your business?

Table of contents

Table Of Content
Carbon literacy project

Terms we use in this guide

> Back to table of contents

We try to keep jargon to a minimum, but there are a few technical terms we use in this guide that are worth defining before you read on:

Carbon

Short for carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, but used here as shorthand for greenhouse gases in general.

Carbon Accounting/Footprinting

The process of measuring the greenhouse gas emissions you are directly and indirectly responsible for, usually expressed in metric tonnes.

Carbon Reduction/Decarbonisation

The process of reducing your carbon emissions by avoiding or reducing activities that emit greenhouse gases.

Climate Change

The long-term, large-scale changes to Earth’s weather patterns due to global warming.

Global Warming

The rise in average temperatures caused by humans through the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Gas

Gases, like carbon dioxide, which prevent heat from escaping the Earth’s atmosphere (a process known as the ‘Greenhouse Effect’).

Sustainability

Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (e.g. by causing environmental harm).

What is Carbon Literacy?

> Back to table of contents

Let’s start by defining exactly what we mean when we talk about Carbon Literacy.

The term was originally coined by a UK charity called The Carbon Literacy Project in 2013.

As you might expect, Carbon refers to carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming and the climate change the world is experiencing as a result.

Literacy refers to the ability to read, write and understand.

Just as being literate in English is a crucial skill today, being literate in the language of carbon is an increasingly crucial skill in and of itself.

The formal definition of Carbon Literacy is:

“An awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis”

In other words, Carbon Literacy is about gaining the foundational knowledge you need to understand, communicate and take action on climate change at home and at work.

As you can see below, the more employees that have these skills within a business, the more engaged your workforce will be in your sustainability activities, and the better positioned you will be to navigate the challenges and opportunities of a low-carbon future.

 

Carbon Literacy training course
Ultimate guide to carbon literacy pdf

Read in your own time, or share with colleagues

Get a PDF version of our Ultimate Guide to Carbon Literacy straight to your inbox.

What are the benefits of Carbon Literacy training?

> Back to table of contents

We’ll explain more about what Carbon Literacy training actually involves later in this guide, but for now let’s look at the benefits.

Why should you even consider climate training for your workforce?

There are a huge number of reasons why Carbon Literacy could be ideal for your organisation. Yes, it’s a recognised certification that can boost your reputation as a responsible business partner and employer.

But the real value of Carbon Literacy is how it empowers your people to fuel, contribute to and champion all of your other sustainability activities.

1. Cut carbon and save money

Behavioural changes through Carbon Literacy can lead to significant cost savings.

Did you know that two-thirds of the emissions reductions we need to make as a society require individuals to change the way they do things, in one form or another?

Well, it’s true.

Changing people’s behaviour is a massive part of tackling climate change.
Businesses are very much the same. If you want to decarbonise your business and hit your sustainability targets, you need everyone to muck in.

Thankfully, there are real win-wins from doing so.

For example, simple behavioural changes like turning things off and using equipment more efficiently can reduce energy consumption by 5-20%, avoiding carbon and saving money in the process.

Efficiencies can also be achieved in other areas like water, waste and consumption of materials.

Carbon Literate employees are perfectly primed for these sorts of activities. Their training gives them the knowledge and the motivation to change not only their own behaviour, but encourage others to do so as well.

In fact, Carbon Literate individuals (or those having completed similar courses) have been found to achieve carbon savings of 5-15% per person.

2. Transform your company culture

Carbon Literacy cultivates a culture where individuals are motivated to be proactive.

At its most fundamental level, Carbon Literacy is about culture. By ‘culture’, we mean climate awareness and carbon reduction becoming part and parcel of how your organisation thinks and operates.

When you cultivate a culture of sustainability in a business, individuals are motivated to proactively take measures that reduce carbon emissions.

People don’t need to be told, they become problem solvers and lead the change themselves.

This is important because efforts to change behaviour in a workplace don’t last long without ongoing support and motivation.

According to one study, 50% of the initial energy savings achieved through behavioural change programmes are lost within 6-12 months because people always tend to revert back to the old way of doing things.

In other words, if you want staff to act sustainably, they need to be empowered to continue taking action long-term and find opportunities for continuous improvement. You need it to be part of your culture.

Well-designed Carbon Literacy training can be just the ticket.

3. Upskill teams and individuals

Carbon Literacy can help develop personal skills in areas like strategy-building, innovation and risk management.

Being well-versed in carbon reduction and sustainability supports a number of cross-cutting skills that can boost your organisation’s resilience and competitiveness.

For example, having a good understanding of climate impacts, policies and trends can be helpful in mitigating risks in areas such as regulatory compliance or supply chain management.

A solid understanding of sustainability also often sparks innovation as employees and stakeholders brainstorm and collaborate on ways to decarbonise.

These could take the form of new ideas to optimise operations, or even ideas for a new eco product or service that solve an unmet customer need.
On a more strategic level, developing a long-term vision for your organisation and planning for the future requires an understanding of what the future world may look like.

This is something that is covered in depth in Carbon Literacy training.

4. Generate pride and attract talent

More and more employees are looking for climate-related training opportunities like Carbon Literacy from their employer.

Training your employees in carbon reduction and sustainability is an effective and proven way to create pride in your organisation and increase morale in the workforce.

If you need proof, here are the numbers. 93% of UK workers say it is important for their motivation and wellbeing at work to feel they are playing a part in addressing climate issues. But without some form of training, half feel they will be unable to do so within their teams.

As well as leading to higher engagement and workplace satisfaction, providing training like Carbon Literacy is an increasingly important way to attract and retain talent.

This is especially true if you want to attract the growing pool of Millennials and Gen Z workers (Millennials will make up three quarters of the working population by 2025).

Here are some more numbers:

5. Increase your brand reputation

Carbon Literacy is a recognised commitment to sustainability enhances brand perception.

It goes without saying that a recognised badge like Carbon Literacy, showing a commitment to training staff in sustainability, has huge brand benefits for any organisation.

Every learner that successfully completes a Carbon Literacy course will achieve formal certification as a Carbon Literate individual.

This is a lifelong accolade that demonstrates their knowledge and passion for climate action. It’s a valuable personal development tool and looks great on a CV.

For organisations, the accolade on offer is a prestigious Carbon Literate Organisation award, which we explain in more detail further down this guide.

This award is no mean feat. It shows that your business is truly committed to engaging its people on climate change. As such, it’s perfect for demonstrating environmental and social value credentials to prospective customers.

The ever-growing list of organisations certified as Carbon Literate includes universities, government bodies and major corporates like pwc and ITV. Esteemed company indeed.

Carbon literacy training

6. Bring teams closer together

Climate training can be an enjoyable team-building activity for co-workers
Last, but by no means least, it’s worth highlighting that a good Carbon Literacy course is a great team-building exercise in its own right.

At Litmus, we strongly believe that the most engaging, memorable training courses – the ones that really stay with people and inspire change – are the ones that generate a bit of fun and laughter through teamwork.

And sometimes that’s exactly what we need to keep us afloat when dealing with something as serious and existential as climate change.

This is why we design our innovative Climate Jams to be as interactive and enjoyable as possible. While we don’t want to disparage other Carbon Literacy training providers, we think we’re the best on the market for this. We guarantee a good time, as well as a productive time.

%

carbon reduction can typically be achieved per person through Carbon Literacy (or similar) training

%

of people say playing their part in climate action is important for their motivation and wellbeing at work

%

of people are prepared to leave their employer for one that offers sustainability training

Who is the Carbon Literacy Project?

> Back to table of contents

Now that we’ve covered the benefits upfront, we can take a look at what Carbon Literacy actually entails. But before we do that, a quick history lesson!

The Carbon Literacy Project, who first launched the concept of Carbon Literacy in 2012, originated in Manchester. The Project is run by a charitable trust whose initial mission was to offer everyone who lives, works or studies in Manchester a day’s worth of Carbon Literacy training.

However, Carbon Literacy has gained so much traction that it has expanded nationwide and is even being delivered internationally.

Its growth has been huge – it now exists in 25 countries and over 74,000 people have been certified. 

What does Carbon Literacy training cover?

> Back to table of contents

As we explain later in this guide, every Carbon Literacy course is different.

Some focus almost entirely on understanding climate science and what actions you can take to reduce carbon emissions.

Others, like our Climate Jam, bring in wider elements around business strategy and innovation. But all courses must meet the same core tenets of the Carbon Literacy Standard.

These are:

Awareness

Knowledge about how human activities, especially the use of fossil fuels, contribute to carbon emissions and subsequently climate change.

Responsibility

Acceptance of individual and collective responsibility to reduce carbon emissions.

Action

The necessary skills and motivation to take proactive steps in reducing carbon emissions, both on a personal and organisational level.

The Carbon Literacy Standard ensures the underlying fabric of all training courses remain consistent, so no matter who your provider is, you will always come out with a sufficient understanding of Carbon Literacy.

What separates them is the manner in which they are delivered and the skills of the facilitators.

Learn more about the curriculum covered by most Carbon Literacy training courses below.

What will carbon literacy training teach me

Upon completion of your training, you will be asked by your training provider to complete a short survey to demonstrate an understanding of what you have learned (don’t worry, it’s not an essay!).

You will also be asked to make at least two pledges:

Individual pledge: A significant action you commit to as an individual to reduce your personal carbon footprint

Collective pledge: A significant action involving other people that tackles the collective footprint of your workplace or community.

Your form and survey will then be submitted to the Carbon Literacy Project on your behalf by your training provider, and you can expect your certificates to be issued a few weeks afterwards.

 

Is Carbon Literacy difficult?

> Back to table of contents

We wouldn’t be doing a good job if Carbon Literacy was hard, confusing or boring! Anyone should be able to successfully go through, and enjoy, a Carbon Literacy course.

There are no prerequisites.

You don’t need to be a rocket (or climate) scientist to participate. As long as you bring an interest and a willingness to learn, your training provider should do the rest.

That said, it isn’t a ‘sit back and relax’ sort of experience.

It does require some effort – our Climate Jams include lots of interaction and collaborative work so you can get the most of your learning as a group. Carbon Literacy is not an individual training course for good reason – we can only hope to make a difference when we work together.

To gain formal certification, you will have to demonstrate at the end of the course that you have engaged and have an understanding of what you have learned to gain your certification.

Crucially, the individual and collective pledges you make require some thought. They must be actionable, meaningful and significant to your individual and collective footprints.

But don’t worry, your trainer and colleagues are there to help. Litmus has a 100% success rate – nobody has failed to gain certification through our Climate Jam to-date.

 

What kind of Carbon Literacy training is right for my business?

> Back to table of contents

Carbon Literacy training can technically be delivered by anyone. Rather than delivering training courses itself, the Carbon Literacy Project is an accreditation body.

Training can either be delivered in-house by colleagues and peers, or outsourced to dedicated and experienced trainers (like us!).

Because of this, Carbon Literacy courses can take many forms.

As long as they meet the Carbon Literacy Standard, they can be tailored to any number of requirements and delivered in any number of ways.

What separates them is the manner in which they are delivered and the skills of the facilitators.

As a result, there is a rapidly growing range of accredited courses and providers to choose from.

Some courses are delivered over a single day, while others take place in smaller bite-sized modules. Some are designed for specific sectors, organisations or job roles, while others are more general.

Some courses are delivered entirely in-person, while others are delivered entirely online or take a hybrid approach.

To make things easier for organisations in some specific sectors, there are also a growing range of pre-accredited ‘Carbon Literacy Toolkits’ that can be used to make the training process quicker and easier.

Off-the-shelf courses already exist for the automotive, civil service, healthcare, local authorities, museums, social housing, sport and universities sectors.

It goes without saying that we think our Climate Jam offers something different and innovative to everyone else, but each approach has its own pros and cons.

Below is a simple breakdown that can help you decide what’s best for your organisation.

 

Compare which type of Carbon Literacy training is right for your organisation

Outsourced online training

Outsourced in-person training

Self-delivered (in-house) training

Pros

Outsourced online training

  • Delivered by experts
  • Low cost and easy to arrange
  • Can be delivered to large groups simultaneously

Outsourced in-person training

  • Delivered by experts
  • More opportunities for interaction and creativity
  • Easier for specific teams or departments to work together

Self-delivered (in-house) training

  • Low cost
  • Complete control over content
  • Suitable for specific teams or departments to work together
  • Great personal development for trainers
  • Delivered by experts
  • Super-flexible and tailorable to specific teams and job roles
  • Unique mapping approach that results in a take-home climate strategy
  • More focus on innovation and business development than other courses
  • Guaranteed team-building fun (no death by PowerPoint in sight).
Cons

Outsourced online training

  • Often ‘by-the-numbers’ and less tailored to specific businesses
  • Less opportunity for interactivity, creativity and team-building
  • Requires a lot of screen time

Outsourced in-person training

  • Not as cheap as online training
  • Attendees must be there in person
  • Less suitable for training large groups simultaneously

Self-delivered (in-house) training

  • Time and effort required to prepare an accredited course
  • Can suffer from lack of subject expertise or experienced facilitators
  • Less suitable for training large groups simultaneously
  • Not as cheap as online training
  • Attendees must be there in person
  • Less suitable for training large groups simultaneously
Carbon Literacy course

Make sustainability a catalyst for business growth

Discover our accredited Carbon Literacy Jam. An award-winning, business focussed climate training course.

How does Carbon Literacy certification work?

> Back to table of contents

Carbon Literacy certification exists on both an individual and organisational level.

Individual Carbon Literacy

Upon completion of an accredited Carbon Literacy course, and provided they have submitted suitable pledges at the end of the course, learners will become formally recognised as Carbon Literate.

Graduates receive a Carbon Literacy certificate to acknowledge their accomplishment. This certificate demonstrates that they have an understanding of the climate challenge and are committed to taking action at work and in their personal life that aids the shift to a lower carbon society.

Certification is a permanent, lifelong accolade – you won’t need to recertify again in future.

However, it is worth keeping your knowledge and skills up-to-date by attending other courses in future. Lots of organisations provide a rolling annual course for new employees, so these are good opportunities for existing Carbon Literate staff to refresh their knowledge.

Carbon Literate Organisation (CLO)

CLO certification is awarded to organisations that can demonstrate an exemplary commitment to the Carbon Literacy movement. Attaining this certification requires the cultivation, recruitment, and retention of a Carbon Literate workforce, as well as successfully embarking on actions to become more sustainable, and to communicate such initiatives to stakeholders.

Structured in four tiers – Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum – CLO certification offers varying levels of commitment among different organisations, providing a ‘badge’ that attaining organisations can use to demonstrate their achievement to stakeholders.

The benefits are significant – typically, a Carbon Literate Organisation will experience a reduction in energy and resource expenditure, an uplifted organisational profile, a happier and healthier workforce, an enhanced working environment, a more secure supply chain, diminished variable costs, boosted competitiveness, and reduced commercial risk.

Bronze Level

At least one leader or board member is Carbon Literate

Silver Level

A substantial portion of the workforce is Carbon Literate, Carbon Literacy is integrated into performance management and it is promoted visually on your website.

Gold Level

The majority of the workforce is Carbon Literate and you have taken two of the following: promote Carbon Literacy to others; collaborate with another Carbon Literate Organisation; develop Carbon Literacy materials with another organisation for others’ use; develop a cost-benefit case study; sponsor Carbon Literacy training for another group; or deliver Carbon Literacy to another organisation.

Platinum

At least 80% of the workforce is Carbon Literate and two further actions from the above list have been taken.

 

How much does Carbon Literacy training cost?

> Back to table of contents

This depends entirely on who your training provider is and what form your training course takes.

Some providers charge per head, particularly if the training is delivered online, whereas others have set prices.

We’ve done a bit of research and found that you can expect to pay anywhere from around £100 per head at the low end for online training, up to £2,000 for an in-person course.

Our Climate Jams are bespoke courses tailored to each business and group, so our prices can flex, but our workshops generally start at around £1,000.

There are also certification fees to cover. Individual Carbon Literacy certificates are a nominal £10-30 per head depending on your size, and are often absorbed into the price of your training.

If you want to certify as a Carbon Literate Organisation, there is an additional certification fee that varies depending on the award level and the size of your organisation.

This cost starts at £100 for very small organisations at Bronze Level, all the way to £16,000 for the largest organisations at Platinum Level.

When weighing up your options, bear in mind that Carbon Literacy should never just be seen as an educational tool.

You should experience real benefits as a result that vastly, vastly outweigh the cost. A good course, delivered by excellent facilitators, should deliver on all the benefits we listed at the start of this guide.

 

Conclusion

> Back to table of contents

Whilst Carbon Literacy is not enough alone for a business to become a sustainable, resilient and responsible enterprise, it can act as a catalyst for change, spurring a collective move towards sustainability and enhance the likelihood of a net zero strategy being successfully implemented.

This is why we recommend that all businesses go on some level of Carbon Literacy training, either as a formal Carbon Literacy accreditation or through Executive Education training programmes.

Whatever the mechanism, giving your employees and decision-makers the ability to make more competent decisions around climate risk and opportunity is vital, as is communicating the reasons for any changes to your stakeholders.

Our experts have developed courses for businesses across multiple sectors and have been training in Carbon Literacy for almost as long as it has existed.
The content and structure of Carbon Literacy courses differs depending on who has designed the course, however they usually look something like the below – what separates them is the manner in which they are delivered and the skills of the facilitators.

We work with flair and our approaches are uniquely tailored for the needs of the businesses we work with – not just focusing on individual actions that can make ‘people’ more sustainable, but organisational level changes that can make your entire business climate-fit and a business that everyone wants to work with.

At Litmus we offer a range of packages to help take you on this journey through our Climate Jams and Sprints.

If you are unsure about how or where to start, or would just like a chat more generally about your sustainability journey drop us a line to say hello.

Meet the author

Laurence Adams
November 10, 2023
Laurence is a sustainability and communications expert who has been working with businesses on climate communications and strategy since 2014. Laurence will help you design a winning climate strategy that not only improves your business, but influences others to follow your lead.

Let's discuss your sustainability journey

We understand the challenges of building and delivering a sustainability roadmap, that is best-suited for your unique business requirements.

Our team of sustainability experts have decades of experience, helping organisations of all sizes to turn sustainability into a catalyst for success.

We'd love to hear from you.

Carbon Literacy - Request more information

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We hate SPAM. We promise to only ever contact you with relevant, helpful sustainability guidance. You can opt out at any time. See our Privacy Policy for more information.