Create your baseline
Why you should take this stepTo achieve carbon neutrality – balancing your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with reductions and offsets – you need to know your starting point. That starting point is your baseline. Greenhouse gas accounting is the foundation for every other aspect of your carbon neutrality program, and this complex and time-consuming process should not be underestimated.
Questions on your mind
- Who should be responsible for GHG accounting?
- How are carbon emissions calculated?
- What data does my company have available?
- How do we start collecting missing data?
- How do we validate and improve data?
Activity data x Emission factor = Carbon footprint
Data on the activities that generate carbon emissions (e.g., the volume of electricity used to power an office building or factory, or the weight of the waste sent to recycling).
An estimate of the average amount of carbon emissions associated with one unit of an activity. For example, in the U.S. one MWh of electricity generates 488 kg carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Recycling one kg of wood generates 0.022 kg of CO2e.
The total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of your business’ activities, calculated by multiplying your activity data by an emission factor.
TipThe level of detail needed to construct your carbon footprint can feel overwhelming! Do not let the complexity stop you. While mapping your emissions, you will likely discover new aspects of how your business processes work which will help you identify areas for improvement.
TipOften activity data is captured in various parts of the organization rather than through a central repository. Investing in sustainability reporting software and setting up a regular data collection process could allow you to store all activity data in one system and to automate the carbon footprint calculation.
Emission factor databasesUnfortunately, there is not one, universally agreed upon and applied set of emission factors. Instead, a variety of factors live in different databases, such as DEFRA and EcoInvent. These databases house datasets for emissions resulting from specific processes, such as waste disposal, fuel consumption, business travel, electricity consumption and several other activities. Visit the GHG Protocol website for a useful overview of emission factor databases.
TipYour choice of emission factor database can dramatically impact your carbon footprint calculation. If you work with external experts, make sure to ask which databases they base their calculations on, to ensure their approach aligns with your ambition and your previous carbon footprint calculations.
When it comes to collecting data, don’t let perfect get in the way of good- Chris Berkhout, Sustainability Data Analyst
Things to consider
- Expect various measurement units if you operate globally.
- Local utilities may send a total energy bill, not the breakdown by energy source.
- Shared facilities may not have meters to show individual business consumption.
- You can create emission factors for specific activities if the standard factors don’t suffice – but thoroughly document your assumptions!