Wednesday, January 19, 2022
What should be included in emission calculations when the goal is carbon negativity?
When a company decides to take climate action, the first step is to take a good look at the operations in order to identify what the main emission sources are. The process follows the same principle as accounting – anything that is needed to run the business should be included. Flights, electricity, real estate, and any purchased products such as computers and mobile phones are a great starting point because they are usually easy to track using the numbers from bookkeeping. "The more specific data you have, the more precise the calculations and estimations are. If there is no primary data available, a conservative estimation is a good start. We at Compensate always include more rather than less just to make sure we are not making unrealistic claims," says Katri Kallio-Koski, our Sustainability Lead, who has been developing our online calculators and regularly assists our partners along their journey. It's easy to think that when the calculations are done, the job is done, but actually that is just the beginning. The basic principle of going carbon negative is to always reduce the emissions as much as possible, and only overcompensate what is left. Another misconception is that the process is very complex and difficult, but it isn't, Kallio-Koski assures. The most important thing is to get started. "Companies should be open about what they are including and what has been excluded, and why. Emission calculations can always be improved, and in that sense they are never complete. You will learn by doing, and the next year you have better data available."
The difference between direct and indirect emissions
Different types of emissions can be divided in three scopes as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which is the standard that we use as our guide in our calculations API and Compensate Plus calculators. Scope 1 emissions, or the so called direct emissions, are often quite easy to figure out because they are the most visible. The smoke you see coming through a chimney or an exhaust pipe as a result of your actions is the most concrete example, but everything that the company owns or has control over belongs to scope one; how much and what type of fuel you put into a company vehicle for example. Scope 2 contains indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling. A simple way to reduce these emissions is to switch to renewable energy. Scope 3 includes all the other indirect emissions from the company's value chain including purchased goods and services, business travel, and daily commuting to and from work. While some scope 3 emission sources can be harder to control, there are many things that can be done such as replacing business trips with remote meetings, or if traveling is necessary, deciding to take direct flights instead of stopovers, which use a lot more fuel. "The emission sources are not always visible. If the company uses renewable, emission-free energy, there are still embodied emissions that occur when building the wind power farm, generating the electricity, transmission and distribution losses, and so on. That's why we should still pay attention to how much electricity we use," Kallio-Koski says. The same emission sources often appear in different parts of several value chains. Let's say that a restaurant uses cheese in their pizzas, and purchases the product from a cheese manufacturer, who sources raw ingredients from a milk producer. If each party prepares a detailed emission calculation then the carbon footprint of the cheese should show up in all of them. In theory the one who has the most control over the matter should take responsibility, but Kallio-Koski says that we should all take action where we can. "It is not a problem when something is compensated many times, the problem is when nobody takes responsibility."
Three steps towards emissions calculations
1. The main thing is to get started. Concentrate on the biggest emission sources, and start with those. 2. When the initial inventory is done, see what can be reduced and what is unavoidable. Take action to reduce, then overcompensate for what is left. 3. Let experience be your guide. The goal is not to be perfect but to communicate openly. Understanding your carbon footprint is a learning process, and that’s ok.
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"It is not a problem when something is compensated many times, the problem is when nobody takes responsibility."