Carbon Footprint Measurements: Understanding the Basics

Carbon footprint is a term commonly used to describe a company’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions level.  The footprinting process, AKA a GHG inventory, is a method of measuring and documenting emissions from a company’s operations, including those operations owned and operated by a company and extending out to include an organization’s supply chain. 

Calculating a business’s carbon footprint can provide a wide variety of benefits and is one of the first steps companies can take toward reducing their contribution to climate change.  It is rapidly becoming standard business practice to conduct an annual GHG inventory.

A comprehensive, commercial carbon footprint measures the emissions that result from numerous sources, including: electricity, natural gas, petroleum, diesel, and other energy consumption; waste generation; employee commuting and business travel; refrigerant gas; and other sources.

While not all GHG emissions are carbon dioxide, it is standard when conducting a GHG inventory to use the global warming potentials of various gases to deduce the carbon dioxide equivalent of those emissions.  For example, another GHG—methane—is a considerably more damaging gas.  Releasing one tonne of methane is equivalent to releasing 21 tonnes of carbon dioxide.  Varying conversion calculations related to emission factors can make completing a business carbon footprint challenging, even for the very sustainability savvy.

Using a business carbon footprint calculator can streamline the process considerably while simultaneously making the data easier to digest and use for climate-related decisions.  The increasing popularity of carbon accounting software platforms speaks to the value of making use of technology and tools when completing the GHG inventory in order to conduct the most accurate inventory possible.  These types of software platforms use carbon calculators to convert various business metrics (such as energy used or air miles traveled) into the carbon footprint.  This single metric—typically given in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e)—can then be used to compare or benchmark facilities internally, across the operation or supply chain, or externally across industries or competitors.  This metric can also be validated by a third-party or reported via Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) to increase your transparency and trustworthiness as an organization.

Carbon emissions are directly correlated with energy and other business inputs.  Conducting a comprehensive business carbon footprint can help you identify bottom-line savings in the form of operational, process, and technological inefficiencies.  It can also draw the attention of investors, the press, and others, helping you to improve the overall profile of your organization in the public eye.  Finally, as climate change concerns continue to grow, knowing your carbon footprint gives you a competitive advantage as more and more companies are being asked to provide this information to potential business partners, investors, and customers.

Author: Amy Haddon, VP of Communications for Renewable Choice Energy

Image: Carbon footprint toward sustainability from Shutterstock



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