What is a carbon footprint and how can you measure it?

10 November 2015

Climate change brings significant risks to businesses and economies, so it’s important to minimise your own impact. The first step is to measure your emissions – read on to find out how.

With the next round of the UN climate talks commencing in Paris at the end of the month, the spotlight is firmly on climate change, with Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, asking why more isn’t being done to address it.

Measuring your carbon emissions offers a consistent, accurate and transparent look at the amount of carbon your business creates.  You can measure your emissions by calculating your carbon footprint, which is the total output of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organisation, event, product or person.  ‘Carbon’ is used as shorthand for all greenhouse gases as it is the most dominant,  although there may be other gases in addition to carbon dioxide (CO2) that contribute to your organisation’s carbon footprint.

Measuring your carbon footprint enables you to take some initial steps to adapting to a changing world and creating a more resilient business.  

How can you measure your footprint?

The Annual Carbon Emission calculator (ACE) was developed by Catalyst Ltd ®  to help measure your carbon emissions. It includes various different measurement options for each activity, to fit in with how you currently collect your data.

It is a simple Excel workbook with:

  • Monthly sheets for you to input your usage each month
  • Automatically populated graphs of cumulative annual emissions.

Simply input data on waste, energy use, refrigerant loss (if applicable) and travel (including by plane and taxi) into the appropriate month’s sheet to keep track of your carbon emissions.

The provided charts have pre-set destinations for air and road transport that help estimate distance travelled. Standard emissions factors are used to convert energy to emissions, meaning most emissions factors incorporate non-CO2 gases. These units are given in CO2 equivalent (CO2e).  For help on using ACE contact the Sustainable Business Network or Catalyst Ltd.

Five steps to calculating your carbon footprint

Step 1: Understanding why you are doing it

Your motivations for calculating your carbon footprint are important as that determines how and what you measure.  For example, if you only want to report internally in your business as a means of engagement this will be very different to reporting to a legislative framework for mandatory carbon accounting. 

Step 2: Defining your emissions

There are three agreed ‘scopes’ for considering and measuring carbon emissions:

  • Scope 1 measures the direct impact of your organisation, or emissions that are created by assets that your organisation owns. This includes things like company vehicles and fuel use on-site.
  • Scope 2 measures carbon you don’t create but consume, which includes electricity usage and natural resources.
  • Scope 3 measures the impact of your employees and contractors and the carbon they create. This includes: air travel, waste, contractor-owned vehicles, outsourced activities, or commuting.

Step 3: Reducing your emissions

Having calculated your emissions the next step is a strategy to reduce these emissions.  This brings broad benefits to your company with the most immediate probably being cost, since measurement enables you to identify areas of inefficiencies.  Not many organisations manage to get to zero carbon emissions, but there are many things you can do to reduce emissions.

We suggest you establish where you have the biggest impacts, e.g. transport, and set an annual reduction target: this will give you a goal to work towards and help you stay on track.

Step 4: Verifying your footprint

Because there are so many different things you could measure as part of your carbon footprint, getting your carbon footprint verified will assess whether or not you’re measuring the right things, if the information has been captured accurately, and help to identify how you can reduce emissions.

Some verification processes come with certifications, like CEMARS and carboNZero, ISO14:064-1, international certifications and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.   Catalyst Ltd ® can advise on who can provide assurance and verification for your carbon footprint.

Step 5: Reporting on your emissions

It is important to let your stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, board, etc) know about your targets and how you are tracking.  You might want to do this as part of a more complete sustainability report, internal report, on your website or in annual reports.  The important thing is being transparent and open with stakeholders so they can see the journey you’re on and help you achieve your goals. 

How do you get going?

The most important step is to start!  You can download ACE (for FREE!)  – have a look and if you have any queries on how to take the first step please contact us.