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T+1 and the Environment: Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Trading
7 min read

Green Trades: How T+1 Settlement Reduces the Financial Industry’s Carbon Footprint

The shift toward a T+1 (Trade Date plus One Day) settlement cycle marks not just a significant transformation in the efficiency and risk management of financial transactions but also heralds an unexpected environmental boon. As the financial industry edges closer to this new standard, the potential for reducing the carbon footprint of trading activities becomes increasingly palpable. This blog post delves into the multifaceted environmental impacts of the T+1 settlement cycle, evaluating the contributions of both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and individual brokerage firms toward a greener trading environment.

Streamlining Operations: A Leaner, Greener Approach

The move to T+1 inherently demands a leaner approach to trade settlements. This streamlining of operations translates to reduced energy consumption across data centers and office operations, as the need for extensive manual processing diminishes. Moreover, with transactions being settled more swiftly, the overall energy expenditure associated with maintaining and running these systems is likely to decrease, contributing to a lower carbon footprint.

Digital Over Paper: The Eco-Friendly Shift

A significant environmental impact of the T+1 settlement cycle is the accelerated adoption of digital documentation over traditional paper-based methods. This transition not only aligns with broader trends toward digitalization but also significantly reduces paper waste, the demand for physical storage, and the associated logistics, such as transportation and delivery of documents, all of which contribute to carbon emissions. Brokerage firms, in adopting electronic communication and documentation, play a direct role in this reduction, contributing to sustainability goals.

The Role of the SEC in Environmental Stewardship

The SEC’s advocacy and regulatory framework for the T+1 settlement cycle inadvertently position the agency as a catalyst for environmental change within the financial sector. By endorsing and facilitating a move that reduces operational inefficiencies and promotes digitalization, the SEC can claim a share of the credit for the environmental benefits that accrue. The transition to T+1, therefore, is not just a regulatory shift but a policy move with significant green credentials.

Brokers as Environmental Champions

Brokerage firms stand to gain considerable environmental credit from the transition to T+1. By reengineering their systems and processes towards more energy-efficient operations and embracing digital over paper, brokers are at the forefront of this eco-friendly shift. Their role in educating and transitioning investors towards digital receipt of documents further amplifies their contribution to reducing the industry’s carbon footprint.

Quantifying the Environmental Impact: The Math Behind the Savings

Quantifying the exact carbon footprint reduction resulting from the move to T+1 involves considering several factors, including the decrease in paper usage, energy savings from streamlined operations, and the reduced need for physical logistics. While specific metrics may vary across firms, the collective impact across the industry could be substantial. Brokerage firms, in collaboration with environmental consultants, can measure and report these savings, leveraging them not just for regulatory compliance but as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

By transitioning to digital document delivery with the T+1 settlement cycle, the environmental impact reduction can be significant. Here’s a closer look at the estimated savings based on our calculations:

  • Reduction in Paper Use: The switch from paper to digital for approximately 10 million trades annually, assuming an average of 5 pages per trade document, results in a CO2 reduction of approximately 250,000 kilograms (250 metric tons). This saving stems from the elimination of paper production and disposal processes associated with these documents.
  • Transportation: With the reduction in the need for physical delivery of documents, assuming delivery trucks would have driven 500,000 miles annually, we estimate a CO2 saving of about 200,000 kilograms (200 metric tons). This figure reflects the decreased fossil fuel consumption and emissions from the vehicles traditionally used for document transportation in both post production delivery and post use transport for destruction.
  • Storage and Destruction: By avoiding the physical storage and eventual destruction of paper documents, and estimating that 500,000 pounds of paper would be saved, we achieve an additional CO2 saving of 50,000 kilograms (50 metric tons). This reduction is attributed to less energy use and emissions from both the storage facilities and the paper shredding and disposal process.
  • Data Center Efficiency: With the implementation of T+1, assuming a 10% increase in processing efficiency in data centers that consume 50,000,000 kWh annually, we find a significant CO2 saving of 2,500,000 kilograms (2,500 metric tons). This saving is due to decreased energy consumption as a result of more efficient trade settlement processes.

Efficiency Gains: Workforce and Facility Impacts

Integrating the human and infrastructural efficiency gains into our analysis further highlights the holistic environmental benefits of transitioning to a T+1 settlement cycle. This broader perspective encompasses not only the direct operational savings but also the indirect benefits related to workforce and facility management efficiencies.

Reduced Commuting Impact

With the acceleration of trade settlements to T+1, there’s an implication of higher efficiency per trade which potentially translates into fewer necessary working days or a leaner workforce. Assuming even a marginal reduction in commuting days due to streamlined operations, the environmental savings are noteworthy:

  • Assumption: If the T+1 implementation results in 1 less commuting day per week for 10% of the workforce involved in trade settlements,
  • Impact: Considering an average commute emits about 4.6 kg of CO2 per day, for a financial sector workforce of 10,000 employees, this equates to a CO2 savings of approximately 46,000 kg (46 metric tons) per week.

Building Operational Efficiency

brokers making echo friendly decisionsEnhanced trade settlement systems imply less physical paperwork and potentially reduced on-premises staff requirements. Energy consumption related to lighting, heating, cooling, and operating office spaces can see a significant decrease:

  • Assumption: A 10% reduction in energy use in office buildings due to fewer staff on-site and reduced paper storage needs,
  • Impact: For a medium-sized office building consuming 1,000,000 kWh annually, a 10% efficiency gain translates to a CO2 savings of approximately 50,000 kg (50 metric tons) annually, considering the average CO2 emission of 0.5 kg per kWh.

Food Consumption and Waste Reduction

Less time spent in office settings due to more efficient trade settlements might also lead to a reduction in the carbon footprint associated with food consumption and waste at work:

  • Assumption: A reduction of 10% in office-based food consumption and waste due to fewer in-office days,
  • Impact: Given the considerable variability in this segment, even a modest 10% reduction across a large organization can contribute meaningally to reducing the carbon footprint associated with food production, delivery, consumption, and waste management.

Comprehensive Environmental Savings

When factoring in these efficiency gains related to the workforce and facility operations, the environmental savings become even more pronounced. The transition to a T+1 settlement cycle not only directly reduces the carbon footprint through operational changes but also indirectly through the ancillary benefits of reduced commuting, lower building operational costs, and minimized food-related waste.

Overall, the total estimated CO2 savings from these combined efforts amount to 3,000,000 kilograms (3,000 metric tons). This considerable reduction underscores the broader environmental benefits of moving towards a T+1 settlement cycle, beyond the immediate advantages of increased market efficiency and reduced operational risk.

These calculations provide a tangible measure of the environmental credits that both the SEC, for facilitating this regulatory shift, and individual brokerage firms, for implementing these changes, can claim. By taking proactive steps towards sustainability, the financial industry not only contributes to its own operational efficiency but also plays a significant part in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions. ​

Looking Ahead: The Sustainable Future of Trading

New York Harbor greener because of T+1The T+1 settlement cycle is a stepping stone toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly trading ecosystem. As technology continues to evolve, future settlement cycles could see even greater efficiencies and environmental benefits. The SEC, alongside brokerage firms, has the opportunity to continue leading the charge toward not only a more efficient but also a greener financial industry.


The transition to a T+1 settlement cycle represents a win-win for both the financial industry and the environment. Beyond the immediate benefits of reduced operational risk and increased market efficiency, the move stands as a testament to how regulatory shifts can yield significant environmental benefits. Both the SEC and brokerage firms play pivotal roles in this transition, underscoring the interconnectedness of financial regulation, market operations, and environmental stewardship. As the industry moves forward, the T+1 settlement cycle will likely be remembered not just for how it changed trading, but for how it contributed to a more sustainable world.