Sizing Up Your Carbon Footprint

Jan. 9, 2009
Consumers, legislators, and shareholders are all demanding greater corporate social responsibility — including more sustainable and “environmentally friendly” products

Phil Kingston
Linden Consulting Partnership
Lichfield, Staffordshire
England

Consumers, legislators, and shareholders are all demanding greater corporate social responsibility — including more sustainable and “environmentally friendly” products — with a growing number of companies now assessing their organization’s impact on the environment. While the focus has been on raw materials, waste, and air pollution, concerns over climate change and high fuel costs mean energy now plays a key role when conducting a life-cycle analysis (LCA).

A carbon footprint looks specifically at the global-warming aspect of LCAs and is becoming the standard format for expressing environmental impact with regards to climate change. It not only takes into account emissions from energy use, but also other gases said to play a major role in climate change (CO2, CH4, N2O, PFCs, HFCs, and SF6).

Carbon footprints usually show greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions for products or organizations, but can also document those for events, specific sites, or individuals. When calculating a footprint, GHG emissions fall into one of three categories based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol covered by ISO Standard 14064.

Scope 1, direct emissions. A company has “direct” control over these emissions, such as gas used for space heating or as part of a process. This should also include emissions from company-owned vehicles.

Scope 2, imported power/heat/steam. Most organizations use electricity and, while some may come from renewable sources, fossil fuels still supply the major portion. Although a company cannot control off-site emissions, it is still indirectly responsible for CO2 produced by power stations.

Scope 3, indirect emissions. The most challenging classification includes emissions upstream and downstream of a product or service. A carton of milk, for example, produces indirect GHG emissions from a number of sources including transport, packaging, processing, refrigeration, waste disposal, and animals on the farm.

Calculating a footprint is clearly complex and many companies look for outside help. The level of detail ultimately depends on requirements, and a company calculating its own footprint as part of sensible internal energy management may decide on a more-basic approach than required for a product or third party. However, it is important to clearly identify the terms of the footprint, including sources of GHGs not included in calculations. Also note factors such as shared office space and rented buildings which may impact who is responsible for emissions. This not only provides transparency, it also lets companies update the figures over time.

In Europe, carbon footprints have already started appearing on some major brands:

Tesco recently announced details would be shown on 20 products.

Walkers Crisps shows figures across their entire range.

Boots Pharmacy provides point of sale information on the carbon footprint of Botanics shampoo.

Note that a carbon footprint provides a figure relating to energy use and emissions. The ultimate aim is to reduce this number. The real benefits of calculating a footprint come from identifying ways to reduce environmental impact and achieve significant cost savings along the way. MD

Linden Consulting Partnership (linden-consulting.com) is a multidisciplinary team of environmental consultants specializing in energy and environmental management.

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