Carbon footprints: what every business needs to know
A deep dive into the what, why and how of carbon footprints.
As people around the world become more focused on living sustainably, environmentally conscious businesses become increasingly attractive to consumers, investors, and stakeholders. Although the best way to manage your environmental impact will vary depending on your industry, available resources, and your company goals, measuring your carbon footprint is always a good place to start.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is a measure of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by your business’s activities. GHGs enhance the greenhouse effect, which is the main driver of climate change. Therefore, measuring carbon footprint is a way for companies to see exactly what impact their business is having on the planet.
Carbon footprint measurement will include both direct and indirect emissions (more on this later) and offers a way for companies to analyse which parts of their business are having the biggest impact on the planet. Although the name “carbon footprinting” suggests only carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are measured, a complete carbon footprint measurement will include other GHG emissions including methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).
Why measure a carbon footprint?
Quantifying your carbon footprint allows you to understand your impact on the planet. This in turn can inform you of the most efficient ways to reduce your impact, but also allows you to report to your stakeholders that you are environmentally responsible and aware.
As well as this, high carbon footprints are often caused by irresponsible energy consumption. Finding and reducing emission hotspots within your business will help you save costs as well as reduce your emissions.
Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions
An organisation’s emissions can be split into scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions:
- Scope 1 emissions: the direct emissions that come from sources controlled by the organisation. An example would be the emissions that come from firing a cement kiln, or the emissions that come from producing the heat required to refine metal.
- Scope 2 emissions: the indirect emissions that come from using heat, steam or electricity produced offsite. An example would be the emissions that come from using electric powered lights.
- Scope 3 emissions: all other indirect emissions that occur down the supply chain of an organisation. These can include emissions from the transportation or use of goods, or employee commuting.
How to measure a carbon footprint?
The first step in producing a carbon footprint measurement is deciding what boundaries to set. For example, you may include emissions from the transportation of raw materials to your site, or you may include the emissions involved in mining those raw materials.
After deciding a perimeter, the most straightforward way of measuring your carbon footprint is by using an online carbon footprint calculator. The calculator will ask you to input data such as energy use and transportation distances, and then use emission factors to calculate the GHGs emitted from your company activities.
As different GHGs have different global warming potentials, an index is used to report all emissions as tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). For example, CH4 emissions are 28 times more potent than CO2 emissions. Therefore, 1 tonne of CH4 would be reported as 28 tCO2e.
What to do after measuring your carbon footprint?
After measuring your carbon footprint, reporting your findings to your stakeholders shows a dedication to continuous improvement. Making plans to reduce the environmental footprint of your company will mark your company as environmentally conscious, and potentially attract new customers.
When combined with ambitious sustainability goals, carbon footprinting is a vital tool. Setting clear and achievable targets is imperative to reducing your environmental impact. When emissions are higher than expected an emission reduction plan can be used in combination with carbon offsetting to achieve your goals and become a more sustainable business.