Cambridgeshire County Council and University College London: Procurement tools to measure and reduce carbon emissions

Delivery of net zero requires significant systemic change in the ways in which local authorities (LAs) procure the goods and services they rely on. These goods and services are often the largest and most complex source of emissions (“scope 3”) and will require LAs to work transparently with their suppliers to reduce these emissions. This project works to produce two tools to aid in scope 3 emissions reductions: a quantitative Carbon Calculator and a qualitative Code of Practice. Together these provide a standardised, transparent mechanism to measure emissions, along with a trajectory for best practice to effectively communicate the Council’s ambitions to its suppliers.


As of 17 January 2023, the Waste Emissions Calculator was launched. This has been developed through the LGA Net Zero Innovation Programme, by Cambridgeshire County Council and UCL: Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool - Local Partnerships.

The challenge

Scope 3 emissions are derived primarily from a LA’s procurements. For Cambridgeshire these emissions represent 96 per cent of all our organisational emissions, and we have set a target to half these emissions by 2030.

The challenge to achieving this target is three-fold:

  • we have no transparent, uniform and robust mechanism to measure emissions across the range of goods/services delivered and therefore no mechanism to leverage carbon reductions from procurements.
  • there is no mechanism to enable suppliers to clearly see the Council's expectations on the environment and demonstrate their contributions.
  • there is no mechanism to enable council officers to make procurement decisions based on environmental or carbon considerations (outside of the often-vague benefits derived via social value).

Without the above mechanisms it is difficult to leverage our procurements to bring about carbon reductions as we are unable to make decisions or comparisons between suppliers based upon environmental or carbon criteria.

The solution

The solution is provided via two tools: a Carbon Calculator and a Code of Practice, enabling integration of emission quantification (Carbon Calculator) and qualitative sustainability criteria (Code of Practice) into the procurement process. Improved accounting and reporting of the council’s scope 3 carbon emissions will be realised through the carbon calculator. These will aid the Council in reducing its scope 3 carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. This approach will provide transparency of the Council’s expectations of its suppliers; enable carbon emissions to be quantified and reduction KPIs integrated into evaluation and contractual processes; and enable Council staff to understand and reduce environmental implications of their procurements and services.

The impact

As the tools are not fully implemented, it is too soon to see environmental/carbon impact, however the project has:

  • Commenced the conversation internally across LA departments at both a senior strategy level and practical level (e.g those officers drafting procurement specifications) around the importance of our procurements as a mechanism to reduce emissions and improve the environmental profile of LA procured services. Already we are having increasing numbers of conversations around how to improve our environmental and carbon reduction requirements within specifications.
  • Enabled understanding of the challenges and issues facing suppliers for delivering  carbon reductions. Many of these challenges are around capacity for smaller suppliers or on smaller contracts, which will help to frame how we go about implementing in the future. Similarly, it has triggered wider discussions with suppliers around their capacity and impacts of such requirements – especially where the LA is a captive market due to a combination of statutory duties and limited suppliers (e.g in social care), which make leveraging change through procurements challenging.

How are the project outcomes being sustained?

Our outcomes are:

  • to provide a mechanism to enable Scope 3 emissions to be measured
  • to develop with suppliers a standardised mechanism to demonstrate carbon reductions
  • to provide CCC staff with another indicator to support procurement decisions based on carbon emissions
  • to establish working relationships between suppliers and the council aimed at reducing council scope 3 emissions and enable suppliers to demonstrate their contributions
  • to provide a mechanism for CCC staff to make decisions based on environmental considerations e.g. air quality impact.

These outcomes have been realised through the 6 months of the Net Zero Innovation Programme and will be sustained via:

  • Further expansion and testing of the carbon calculator – The calculator has been developed for two supply chain types to date: Waste Management and Highways Construction and Maintenance. Both these calculators are in their first iterations and further testing with suppliers will be required to develop them further. For now, they provide a mechanism to collect data, and further work will be required to fully integrate them into the Council’s procurement processes.
  • New calculators can be developed - It is hoped that further calculators can be built taking the learning from this project. For example, creating a Construction Calculator for schools, buildings etc should be reasonably straight forward, building off the Highways calculator due to the synergies in types of materials.
  • Engagement and sharing the tool with other LAs - Throughout the project there has been a lot of interest, particularly in the calculator, from other LAs. It is hoped that these tools will provide a basis to aid other LAs in reducing emissions via procurement, and we are working with the LGA/Local Partnerships Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool to integrate our carbon calculator to maximise benefits.

Lessons learned

Lessons Learned have been split into two categories: those focused on delivery of a project under the Net Zero Innovation Programme, and those learned from our specific project.


  • Clear definition of scope and outcomes is needed from the start to ensure adequate project planning and progression. We found that diverging from the original outputs may be necessary as the project evolves but it is essential to stay mindful of the agreed outcomes to ensure these are still delivered.
  • Collaborative working with the university is possible and profitable in terms of outcomes if handled correctly with well defined roles and expectations.
  • Involving all key stakeholders in the project at the earliest stage to encourage buy-in and allow time for feedback and co-creation of tools is key. We found that starting those conversations with stakeholders with the bigger picture and high-level context for the projects helps them to find hooks to link to their own work – i.e. What the benefit of engaging is for them.
  • Regular communication, both formal (structured) and informal, is essential for developing and maintaining good relationships, particularly within the project team.
  • When needing to collaborate with third parties, additional time to allow for slower responses should be factored into the initial project planning – we must be mindful that they are essentially volunteering their time and the timelines of the NZIP project does not apply to them.
  • nstitutional barriers – contracts etc – takes more time than you think.


  • We found there was willingness from our suppliers to engage with the Council and share learning which was helpful for project progression and opened potential to exploit this for other projects in future.
  • Alongside this willingness to engage, it was really encouraging to see that all parties want to progress to net zero – the ambition is there but further resources to create and maintain the collaborative space is needed for progressing the transition.
  • Complexity of carbon calculation as a process was re-enforced through the project, especially when trying to create a streamlined tool that those at different stages of their carbon understanding could use, without losing the detail necessary for the tool to be fit for purpose.

Partnership development: synopsis

There was a fluid communication between the CCC and UCL from the start and throughout the project. Both sides demonstrated flexibility and agility when facing problems to solve. The complementarity of skills and interests made our collaboration smooth and fluid at all times. Shared access to knowledge, skills, experience, and contacts from both sides helped problem-solving and timely project delivery.

Both partners felt a strong ownership of the project, having co-designed it to ensure both sides had something to gain from taking part – this made for a true collaboration. This was vital to enabling progress as both sides wanted to achieve the outcomes and were willing to equally input to achieving those outcomes. Combined practical and academic perspectives enabled better decision-making.

How will the partnership be sustained in the medium and long term?

In the medium term, we will continue reviewing and updating the two GHG tools developed within this programme with supplier feedback. Both sides are keen to continue developing GHG estimation tools to cover the totality of LA scope 3 emissions. We will be seeking further funding to buy ourselves time to develop and refine these new tools. The university has offered helping LA further research needs through co-supervision of MSc students (if the timing is right for it).

In the long term, transition to net zero GHG emissions is a clear shared objective of the two partners and we are keen to set up and pursue further collaboration in new areas and topics of transition, e.g. local carbon dioxide removal opportunities to balance hard to decarbonise sectors, e.g. waste management.

Lessons learned (opportunities and barriers)


  • We are comfortable to knock on each other's doors more often to make the most of each other’s skills and networks.
  • Communicate further the results of this collaboration through both our networks to make the most of this project and start new collaboration projects, potentially with wider teams.


  • Admin barriers: flow of money between partners, time allocation to tasks/ accommodate better university rates. These were more onerous than anticipated and without an established programme to fall back on might become a bigger barrier to similar collaborations in the future.
  • We have the know-how but need new funding to secure time for refining the tools we have generated for CCC and for other LAs use. In the case of NZIP, the providing of funding enabled both sides to justify their time when prioritising this project over others.