As climate change becomes a more widely recognised issue and we are becoming increasingly engaged with the impact that we are having on the Earth, the phrase ‘carbon footprint’ is one that we are seeing and hearing more frequently.
So what is a carbon footprint?
The term ‘Carbon Footprint’ refers to an estimate of the amount of total greenhouse gas that is emitted by a person, organisation, event or product.
In terms of climate change, the use of the term footprint is a metaphor for the total amount of impact that something has and the term carbon is used to encapsulate all 6 greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most dominant man-made greenhouse gas; this is emitted into the atmosphere when we do things like burn fossil fuels. Given that a single activity can cause multiple greenhouse gases to be emitted to the atmosphere, it is also important to consider the others, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydroflurorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Nevertheless, when calculating a carbon footprint in full using all these different factors it could get confusing.
A carbon footprint is measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). By using a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) the greenhouse gases are able to be compared on a like-for-like basis relative to one unit of carbon dioxide.
By multiplying the emissions of all 6 greenhouse gases by its 100 year global warming potential (GWP), CO2e can be calculated.
Organisational Carbon Footprint
There are three main types of carbon footprinting that organisations need to consider
This involves the emissions from all the organisations activities – including energy usage and vehicles
- Value Chain
This includes emissions that are outside of the organisations operations – both suppliers and consumers. The value chain footprint measures direct and indirect emissions of an organisation.
This covers emissions involved in the entire life of a product/service – ranging from the extraction of raw materials to a products disposal.
Greenhouse gas emissions can also be categorised into three ‘scopes’ in reference to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol.
Scope 1 (Direct emissions) – fuel combustion, company vehicles, emissions
Scope 2 (Direct emissions) – Purchased electricity, heat and steam
Scope 3(Indirect emissions) – waste disposal, employee commuting, use of sold products, business travel
It is equally as important, albeit more difficult, to estimate your organisations indirect greenhouse gas emissions as it is your direct emissions.
Why bother calculating your carbon footprint?
There are typically two main reasons
- To manage and reduce emissions
- To report to a third party
Calculating a proper carbon footprint, taking into account all of these different factors, is a considerable task. However, it is important to understand your organisations carbon footprint and to be aware of all the sources of carbon produced via your company’s operations.
Beginning to look at your carbon footprint may enable you to identify ways to reduce costs and consumption, identify wastes and impacts of supply chain and ultimately improve processes.
Taking an interest in evaluating and reducing the impact that your business has on the environment and its contribution to global warming would also help towards becoming a good corporate citizen.
All companies incorporated in the UK and listed on the London Stock Exchange have a legal requirement to include carbon footprint in their company report.
Have you worked out your organisations carbon footprint?