Measurement & Analytics

Your Sustainability Journey Begins with Measuring your Carbon Footprint

Article series:

1- Measure2- Reduce3- Offset

“We can’t fix what we can’t measure.” These are the opening words of The Carbon Call, a sustainability initiative designed to improve carbon measurement for businesses worldwide.

As we explored in our first blog in this introductory series, embarking on a journey to reduce emissions can be quite an undertaking. In the simplest terms, your emission data acts as a reference point from which any initiatives or activities can be measured against.

As with any initiative, before getting stuck in with the analysis stage, an overarching strategy is first required to agree on objectives and understand what the business wants to achieve. As we explore in this blog, the approach to measurement varies depending on how an organisation wants to pursue their sustainability goals.

Why measuring your carbon footprint is a critical early step

Without a foundation built on data, it’s impossible for organisations to understand which activities are leaving the deepest footprints. Effective carbon footprint measurement enables businesses to put a stake in the ground, understand their emissions and work towards achieving their reduction and offsetting objectives while being able to demonstrate quantifiable, transparent results.

Out of scope: defining and measuring your Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions

A business’s approach to carbon measurement may vary based on what it’s trying to achieve. For example, an organisation aiming to become net-zero with their emissions will have very different reduction and offsetting requirements to one looking to offer carbon neutral delivery to their clients.

Note: the difference between net-zero and carbon neutral is a simple yet important distinction to make. Carbon neutrality refers to the balancing of emissions with offsetting activities — the idea being that your carbon output is “compensated” by investing in established initiatives such as reforestation or engineered removals with high carbon sequestration permanence such as biochar. In contrast, net-zero programmes have a commitment to first reduce business emissions as much as possible, before offsetting the remaining carbon footprint through projects that remove CO₂.

Understanding the different classifications of emission, known as “scopes,” is a good starting point when planning carbon measurement. This breakdown allows businesses to categorise the sources of their emissions and develop appropriate strategies for tackling each source.

3 scopes of greenhouse gases.

As classified by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, there are three categories, or scopes, of business emissions:

  • Scope 1 emissions: Direct emissions. These emissions stem from sources owned or controlled by the company, for example from company vehicles

  • Scope 2 emissions: Indirect emissions from purchased energy for power, heating, and cooling.

  • Scope 3 emissions: Typically the largest business emission footprint, and the most complex to measure, Scope 3 includes all associated emissions indirectly related to an organisation. This covers the full length of the supply chain, such as suppliers, 3rd party logistics and even associated activity by customers. Due to the complexity and number of stakeholders involved in creating scope 3 emissions, accurate measurement requires contribution from multiple external sources.

How can businesses measure their carbon emissions?

There are many approaches organisations can take when looking to measure their carbon. For example, a business may opt to hire an external consultancy, or they can set up an internal team to manually collect, analyse and act on the results, or alternatively, implement software to automate the process.

For example, sustainability consultancies use analysts to collate and measure various data sources associated with emission production. These figures can then be cross-referenced against various frameworks and emission factors to deliver a snapshot of emissions. This report will be used to formulate a strategic roadmap of reduction and offsetting activities.

The software approach to carbon measurement offers a more efficient and scalable approach. Rather than manually compiling and reviewing data sources, multiple sources of data can be instantly imported into a platform, quickly providing an overview without extensive time needed to review and analyse data manually.

Why you should use technology to measure your business’s carbon footprint

The technology approach to carbon measurement offers several benefits when compared to traditional methods. As a manual process, consultation is error-prone, time-intensive (and as a result expensive), and only delivers a final footprint for a date that’s already in the past.

In contrast, the efficiency of sustainability software platforms allows organisations to get a figure in (almost) real-time which can be immediately actioned . This also leads to cost savings, greater accuracy, and the ability to integrate with additional systems and data sources throughout the entire value chain, in turn leading to more accurate emission reporting.

It’s worth noting that as a business scales, introduces new services, partnerships, and customers, its carbon footprint inevitably evolves with it. Due to its agility and flexibility, the software approach to measurement makes it easier to adapt to changes within the business, and provide a more accurate and dynamic view as the business grows.

Carbon footprint measurement is the first step on a journey to net-zero. It allows businesses to formulate strategies on reducing emissions, and subsequently offsetting any residual emissions. Maintaining a consistent, accurate measurement benchmark will help to ensure activities remain aligned with company targets and that true progress can be made across the entire supply chain.

Next: Carbon Reduction

With a firm foundation built on data, businesses can start to build successful carbon reduction strategies. In our next blog, we explore how companies can start reducing their carbon footprint, and the impact this can have from a commercial, CSR and employee satisfaction standpoint.