10 Questions to Ask your Climate Partner when Measuring Logistics and Transportation Emissions
It’s clear that being sustainable isn’t just good for the planet. It’s good for business too.
As we wrote in our previous blog post, sustainability can help you build competitive advantage, stand out as an employer, and drive business efficiency, to name just a few benefits.
If you’re a freight and logistics company getting started on your journey to Net Zero, you might not know where to begin. There’s a lot of data to analyse, regulations to adhere to and frameworks to consider. That’s why many companies turn to third party solutions for support. But with a vast range of sustainability consultancies and software solutions now on the market, it’s important to conduct your due diligence. We’ve compiled 10 important questions you should ask a prospective climate partner.
1. What emissions factors do you use?
There are several different ways to calculate CO2 emissions depending on the information that you have at your disposal. The most accurate method is using primary data from your carrier, such as the amount of fuel consumed, or the exact distance travelled by your shipment. Unfortunately, this kind of data is difficult to obtain, and it’s hard to maintain consistency between different carriers.
If you don’t have access to primary data, there are default values that can be used for measurement. An emission factor is a coefficient which allows you to convert activity data into GHG emissions. It is the average emission rate of a given source, relative to units of activity.
Emissions factors come from multiple sources. GLEC is the most widely-used source in Freight and Logistics, but there are others which are more specific to given areas. EPA Smartway is commonly used for US-related emissions, DBEIS (formerly DEFRA) is used for UK emissions and ADEME for France.
Asking your climate tech partner about the emission factors they use is important, to confirm that their calculations are based on reliable sources.
2. What methodologies do you adhere to?
In order to calculate the footprint of a specific shipment, your climate partner has to combine the previously mentioned emissions intensity factors with several other data points using a specific calculation methodology.
The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol is one of the most commonly known approaches. It recommends combining the distance travelled, the weight carried (when relevant) and the emissions intensity factor for the corresponding vehicle, fuel type and geography.
Domain specific methodologies are also available. For air transport, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) developed an emissions calculation approach which is well recognised.
While there are multiple ways to calculate carbon footprint, not all these methodologies are robust and can be trusted. Being able to verify the source of the calculation conducted by your climate partner is essential.
3. Can you clearly explain the results?
In a world in which transparency is particularly important, you need to make sure that you understand the measurement data that your climate partner outputs, and that you’re able to confidently report on it to your shareholders, clients and other stakeholders. This can be particularly important if you have to combat accusations of ‘greenwashing’ — i.e. giving a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products or services are environmentally sound.
4. What modes of transport can you support?
If your business uses a range of different transport modes, you don’t want to end up using different measurement partners for each one. That’s why checking your partner’s modal coverage is important before you commit.
5. Do you use vehicle or vessel identifiers to make your measurements more accurate?
The International Maritime Organization number (IMO), a unique identifier for ships, is useful for emissions calculations, particularly when it comes to filling in missing data. If your partner uses IMO numbers, they will be able to retrieve any data about a given ship, including its type and weight — which are important factors for accurately calculating emissions. They can also correct any mistakes in an imported data file. All of this means that the measurement produced will be far more accurate.
For Air freight, airline and aircraft codes can be used to accurately identify an aircraft model and its corresponding layout. Having access to these plane specific details is important as it impacts how the aircraft load factor and fuel consumption is derived. This allows your climate partner to use calculation methodologies that go beyond the GHG protocol baseline and don’t rely on average emission intensity factors. In addition, flight numbers can be used to retrieve the actual distance flown by the aircraft, to give a more accurate output.
6. Do you do routing and distance calculations?
Maintaining a good level of accuracy is very important in emissions measurement, particularly when you don’t have any primary data to hand. As mentioned previously, most formulae include the distance travelled, the weight carried and the emissions factor.
With Google Maps and similar road mapping tools, land transport is relatively easy to estimate if you know the start and end points of each journey. But the same isn’t true of shipping or rail, which are not covered by widely-used routing services. It’s important to ask your climate partner how they manage their routing and distance calculations, as it’s relatively easy to obtain a highly inaccurate estimate. The direct distance (as the crow flies) between a sea carrier’s starting point and its end destination will be widely different to the true distance that it needs to travel to avoid land mass.
7. Are you accredited by a recognised independent standard?
As mentioned above, there is a range of methodologies out there for measuring emissions, which means that it’s sometimes difficult to know which climate partner to choose from. That’s why it’s worth checking whether they are accredited by a recognised independent body, which verifies that their calculations are accurate.
8. Can we sign-up and get started straight away?
One of the major benefits of using a climate tech partner, as opposed to a consultancy, is the speed at which you should be able to get started. The onboarding process and general user interface should be effectively set up to guide you through your first steps of using the platform.
9. Is it easy to integrate and share data?
It’s useful to ask your climate partner how data exchange occurs. If you have an in-house team of developers, an API would probably be your best option, as it allows you to embed emissions estimates into your customer journey. But if you’re a smaller company with no in-house technical support, you may prefer a basic CSV import. This method is also useful if you want to trial the platform before committing to long term use. It provides a useful check that everything is working as it should.
10. What happens when we can’t reduce our emissions further?
Reduction of emissions is crucial in every company’s sustainability journey. But most companies reach a point where their carbon emissions can’t be reduced any further using conventional carbon reduction methods. Offsetting is a viable solution for addressing any residual or unavoidable carbon emissions. And this is where many companies reach out to third parties which partner with offsetting projects around the world. But imagine if you could access such projects in the same platform in which you conduct your measurements?
On the path to a fruitful relationship
Asking the above questions will set you up for a successful partnership with the right climate partner for your business. Remember that transparency around factors, methodologies and scope is key, as is ease of use.