What is a Carbon Footprint?

Carbon footprints measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which are a result of your activities.

There are many carbon footprint calculators offered on the Internet from private companies and some may try and lock you in with them so they can sell you consultancy services and carbon offsets.

The problem for businesses if you use an online carbon calculator is that you may not know the actual the standards and emission factors that you are using. You are supposed to document which method and emission factors you are using to conform to GHG accounting principles.

Government regulations coupled with pressure from consumers means that companies that do not pay close attention to their carbon footprint may not be competitive in the future.

Some of the competitive advantages of lowering emissions are:

  • reduced production costs due to the application of energy saving practices
  • reduced cost of inputs
  • minimization of the production of waste.

Companies should also have an emission reduction program

Organisational carbon footprint

All the activities across an organisation are measured for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as the energy used in buildings and company owned vehicles.

It may also measure indirect emissions which are outside an organisation’s own operations. This ‘value chain analysis’ looks at every step a business goes through, from raw materials to the eventual end-user.

A product/service carbon footprint measures emissions over the life of a product or service from the extraction of raw materials and manufacturing, through to the eventual disposal of the product.

Individual carbon footprint

If you google “carbon footprint calculator”, or go to the app store, you will see a large number of personal calculators, mostly free to use. Some can be very complex, requiring a lot of information such as how many people are vegetarian, or how much they recycle.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency provides a free personal footprint calculator and spreadsheet – click here

Standards

Standards provide guidance on the principles and requirements for reporting GHG emissions and verification. There are internationally recognised standard such as ISO 14064 part of the ISO series of International Standards for environmental management and ISO 14067 for reporting GHG emissions associated with the entire lifecycle of different products and services.

You will need to select standards which are most relevant for your organisation. It depends upon the data that you have collected and what you plan to do with the findings.

The institute recommends the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard. More than 9 out of 10 Fortune 500 companies reporting to CDP use the GHG Protocol and enables them to properly document the procedure and standards that they are using.

Footprint calculation tools for business are available on the GHG Protocol Initiative website (www.ghgprotocol.org) .

It is an emissions accounting tool used by many businesses and organisations worldwide.

Types of emissions

There are three categorises or scopes of emissions:

  • Scope 1 (direct emissions that result from activities within your organisation’s control);
  • Scope 2 (indirect emissions from any electricity, heat or stream purchased); and
  • Scope 3 (other indirect emissions from sources outside your direct control).

Emission factors

You choose the appropriate emission factor for each emission source in order to calculate the tonnes of CO2 emitted. Data must be consistent for the time period so if you were doing an annual footprint then all data must have the same boundaries.

Carbon footprints are normally measured annually. Data will need to be gathered from different departments including finance, travel, logistics and operations.

Essential data includes transport, energy bills and waste generation.

The Business calculator from University of California, Berkley is from 2012 but is still useful in identifying opportunities for emission reduction. It can be found at: https://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/business-calculator

The final element involves offsetting some or all of your the remaining emissions. These are impossible to eliminate or not economic to do so entirely. You can purchase carbon offset certificates from the Climate Change Institute which are accredited by internationally recognised standards.