The digitisation of tax has seen HMRC reduce emissions by two thirds in a decade and slash paper use, helping them to exceed some of their environmental targets for 2020
HMRC has reduced emissions by 61% since 2010, which is equivalent to the energy saved by switching more than four million old-style incandescent bulbs to LED. The greenhouse gas emissions target combines emissions from buildings and business travel, according to the 2018-19 sustainability report.
One of the biggest changes has been in the use of paper. It has already exceeded the target set for 2020, reporting a 76% reduction in paper purchased in 2018-19 to 205,000 reams, equivalent to 102.5m sheets of paper, This compared to a 65% reduction in 2017 which saw the tax office using 90,000 less A4 reams of paper than the previous year.
Over the last decade the figures are even starker with aper consumption cut from 727,000 reams in 2010-11, with annual use of 363.5m sheets of paper, not to mention the envelopes and related postage.
This achievement is a result of HMRC introducing more digital platforms, particularly the move to online self assessment and the rollout of Making Tax Digital for VAT pilot for half a million taxpayers.
Only 6% of taxpayers – 10 million – completed a paper self assessment tax return in 2018-19, with the majority opting to file online.
Travel emissions were reduced by 11% which was achieved by a reduction in air, road and rail miles with many face-to-face meetings replaced with audio or video conference calls.
There was a 36% reduction in domestic flights which represented 19,579 journeys, with nearly half (48%) of domestic flights on travel to Northern Ireland.
Although the number of flights taken fell slightly in the last reporting period, there continues to be a risk of not hitting the Greening Government Commitments’ (GGCs) target. Close monitoring of data and the promotion of travel alternatives, such as audio and video conferencing, should help mitigate this risk, HMRC said.
One of these alternatives is the Car Club, an HMRC trial which is set to replace traditional pool cars, as the average CO2 of the entire fleet is below 100 grams of CO2 per kilometre.
The targets for better sustainability are set by the Greening Government Commitments’ initiative which sets out goals for central government and its agencies to make reductions in operational consumption and waste, as well as standards for transparent reporting on sustainable procurement and key sustainability areas, including biodiversity, climate change adaptation, sustainable food and catering, and sustainable construction.
These commitments also form part of the UKs contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
HMRC said: ‘We contribute to the SDGs through for example our work on tax-free childcare, recruitment of a diverse workforce, meeting the government’s environment targets and overseas assistance to developing countries.’
One vital challenge for the future is single use plastics. HMRC is working towards meeting the target for government departments to eliminate the use of avoidable consumer single-use plastics by January 2020.
By incorporating requirements for the removal of single-use plastics into HMRC’s new offices, which are part of its long-term restructuring programme to reduce the number of regional and local offices.
Successes so far include the removal of plastic stirrers, plastic straws, some cleaning products and a reduction in the use of single-use coffee cups due to the implementation of discount schemes at many of HMRCs sites.
However, the challenge is to make sure that the replacement products have a lower environmental impact than the substitutes.
‘We had around 170 offices across the UK in 2015,’ HMRC said. ‘By 2023 we will be operating from just 13 modern regional centres, five specialist sites, a head office in Westminster, and until 2027-28 eight transitional sites.
It has agreed new facilities management contracts for the regional centres and is working with existing suppliers for the legacy estate.