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Popular topics this year have included carbon measuring and management. Voluntary carbon footprinting is a useful way for companies to understand and manage their emissions. The data and calculations are different from the emissions trading scheme (NZ ETS).
A carbon footprint is actually quite easy to do - the hard part is perhaps obtaining the data. The Ministry for the Environment Manatu Mo Te Taiao has a series of useful publications to enable organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand to measure and report on a voluntary carbon footprint*.
The Carbon Footprint was developed through a partnership of two global associations; the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The result of this partnership is what is known as the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, which claims to “supply the world’s most widely used GHG accounting standards” (ghgprotocol.org).
The website is a treasure trove of GHG information and helps with compiling a carbon footprint through online training, reports and online tools. In addition, the reporting standards are more formalised through guidelines developed through the International Standards Organisation and in particular the ISO 14064 series. These have a cost associated with downloading the standards.
In Aotearoa New Zealand there are some simple tools available to estimate GHGs; for example, the Sustainable Business Network uses Catalyst (sustainable.org.nz/annual-carbon-emissions-calculator/) and ECCA has a calculator**.
However, calculating emissions yourself means that you know where they derive from and then can focus on those key areas for improvement.
The carbon footprint measurement includes the main greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide - in the form of global warming potential and reported as CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This takes into account that, for example, methane has 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.
The carbon footprint is divided into three scopes.
The first scope of activities includes those emissions that the business has the most control over. These include those activities that are owned or controlled by the organisation - for example, a boiler unit or car owned by the organisation.
The second scope includes indirect emissions from the purchase of energy - usually electricity - and the third scope includes other indirect activities that occur as a result of the operations of the organisation, for example air travel and taxi journeys.
Altogether, these three scopes comprise the organisational carbon footprint.
To measure the CO2 emissions, the first step is to measure the impact. For example, in scope 1 an impact is travel in vehicles owned by the company. The measurement can be in either litres of fuel or distance travelled, with litres being more accurate.
Once the measurement is known it then needs to be multiplied with the emission factor for that impact. To find out the emission factor, visit the Ministry for the Environment website and check the freely available document there.
These guides provide the emission factors for most of the carbon impacts involved in a carbon footprint of an organisation. It’s an easy document to navigate and you can soon find the emission factors to convert your measurements to CO2e.
After you have worked through all of your key carbon emitting impacts across the three scopes you can then covert them all to CO2e, add them up and create your carbon footprint. The first year is what is known as the baseline, and it provides the first step in understanding and moving to being lower carbon.
The measure provides another insight into business processes. It can help in the investigation of efficiencies in operations, justify the purchase of low-emission vehicles and help in the preparation towards low carbon 2050.
As the world moves towards addressing climate change through low carbon economies, understanding and acting on carbon footprints is becoming normal business practice. While it is easy to see this as another layer of compliance, I suggest we take the opportunity to see measuring and managing carbon emissions as building resilience in business processes towards creating capabilities organisations will need for the turbulent future ahead.
Typical sources of emissions
Scope / Source of impacts
Scope 1 • Fuel (including stationary combustion)
Scope 1 • Refrigerant use
Scope 1 • Agriculture, forestry and other land uses
Scope 2 • Electricity usage (kilowatt hours)
Scope 3 • Travel, business travel and freight
Scope 3 • Transmission and distribution line losses
Scope 3 • Materials and waste
Scope 3 • Water supply and wastewater treatment
Sara Walton is an associate professor of sustainability and business at the Otago Business School, University of Otago. Each week in this column, one of a panel of writers addresses issues of sustainability.