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Carbon footprint measurement: the critical first step in business sustainability

Carbon footprint measurement is the most important step in any business’ sustainability journey. Yet, many businesses feel overwhelmed at the prospect and often put it off.
TL;DR Embed
TL;DR: Measuring a business's carbon footprint is essential for understanding its environmental impact, setting meaningful targets, and tracking progress. It enables companies to identify opportunities for innovation and enhances their reputation. By measuring their carbon footprint, businesses can prepare for future disclosure mandates and embark on a more sustainable future. Footprinting involves collecting data such as fuel receipts, electricity bills, and travel inventories, and using sustainability management platforms like FutureTracker to transform this information into emissions data.

By delaying carbon footprint measurement, businesses are missing out on all the benefits that come with it, including cost reductions, enhanced efficiency, and a more positive reputation as a responsible corporate citizen. But more than that, businesses that put off measuring their carbon footprint are essentially going about their business blind. Without this crucial data, they have no way to understand their impact on the environment, set meaningful targets, or track progress. They are unable to identify areas for improvement or take steps towards becoming more sustainable. In today's world, where the effects of climate change are already being felt, this is simply not an option.

In this article, we will teach you what a carbon footprint is, how to measure your footprint, and what the benefits are.

What is a Carbon Footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that a business produces, measured in units of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). CO2e is a universal unit of measurement that considers the varying global warming potentials of different GHGs. For example, methane has a global warming potential that is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide, so one tonne of methane emissions is equal to 25 tonnes of CO2e emissions.

Carbon footprints are made up of emissions from three scopes, Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3. Scope 1 emissions are the direct result of activities that occur from owned or controlled sources. Some examples of Scope 1 emission activities include:

  • Driving a company-owned vehicle for business purposes
  • Burning coal onsite to generate electricity
  • Using diesel to power onsite generators
  • Fugitive emissions (refrigerant leaks) from air conditioning units

Scope 2 emissions occur as a result of the consumption of energy and are usually understood as the purchases of electricity, heat, or steam directly from a third-party supplier (i.e., purchased energy).

image showing emissions categories in scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3

Scope 3 emissions cover all other indirect emissions that are not included in Scope 2. As Scope 3 measurement is not typically mandatory, most companies elect to measure only the Scope 3 categories most relevant to their operations. Despite this, measuring Scope 3 emissions is critically important because they often make up the largest portion of a business's carbon footprint, and therefore present the greatest opportunity for emissions reductions. There are 15 Scope 3 categories.

Why Measuring Your Carbon Footprint is Important

Understanding emissions

Measuring a carbon footprint is a critical step for businesses looking to become more sustainable. Without this measurement, companies are essentially operating blind, with no way to understand the environmental impact of their activities or identify areas for improvement.

The key benefit of a carbon footprint is knowing which areas your emissions are low in, versus which they are high in. By measuring your carbon footprint, you can identify previously unknown sources of emissions and focus your sustainability efforts where they will have the greatest impact. We’ve seen companies who were previously focusing all their efforts on reducing electricity consumption, for example, and ignoring other problems, only to find out through their carbon footprint that their emissions from electricity were actually very low, and the majority of their impact was coming from sources they hadn't even considered.

Setting meaningful targets

Goals without data behind them are inefficient and ineffective. To set meaningful targets for reducing your carbon footprint, you need specific data on your emissions. The best goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (SMART), and this can only be achieved through prior and future measurement.

By setting SMART goals and monitoring progress towards them, you can ensure that your sustainability efforts are effective and sustainable in the long term. For example, if your carbon footprint reveals that your transportation emissions are a significant source of carbon emissions, you can set a SMART goal to reduce them by a certain percentage over a specific time period. By monitoring progress towards this goal, you can adjust your strategy as needed and ensure that you are on track. With SMART targets and regular measurement, you can ensure that your sustainability efforts are impactful and aligned with your broader business goals.

Tracking progress

In addition to tracking the development of specific goals and targets, carbon footprint measurement allows you to track your overall progress. This allows you to take a high-level view of your sustainability efforts, giving you the knowledge needed to adjust your strategy and allocate resources to different areas.

Identifying opportunities for innovation

Measuring your carbon footprint can also help you identify opportunities for innovation and competitive advantage. With footprint data by your side, you can work to optimise your supply chain or develop innovative new products and services. This can help you to reduce emissions and gain a competitive edge, allowing you to differentiate yourself from competitors and demonstrate your leadership in sustainability.

Enhancing reputation

Measuring your carbon footprint can also enhance your reputation as a responsible corporate citizen. By demonstrating your commitment to sustainability and transparency in reporting, you can attract customers, employees, and investors who are demanding that businesses take action on climate change.

Preparing for future disclosure mandates

Finally, measuring your carbon footprint can help you prepare for future disclosure mandates. As governments and investors increasingly require that businesses disclose on their environmental impact, measuring your carbon footprint will become increasingly important. By starting now, you can be ready and prepared when the time comes for your business to disclose.

Measuring Your Carbon Footprint

Footprint measurement doesn't need to be an overwhelming process. In fact, you likely already have most of the information you need at hand. To get measuring, you'll need simple pieces of information such as fuel receipts, electricity bills, cooling maintenance records, and travel inventories. As you progress on your sustainability journey, you’ll set up processes for gathering more complicated information such as waste disposal methods, supply chain emissions, and emissions from assets. However, when you’re first getting started, there’s no shame in keeping things simple.

Turning the information you’ve collected into emissions data isn't difficult either. Sophisticated sustainability management platforms like FutureTracker offer user-friendly interfaces that allow you to submit your info and transform it into emissions data at the click of a button!

With the right tools and guidance, your business can easily measure its carbon footprint and embark on a more sustainable future. Not only will it enable you to understand your environmental impact, but it also provides data needed to set meaningful goals, track progress, identify opportunities for innovation, enhance reputation, and prepare for future disclosure mandates. Don't delay, request an information packet today and take the first step towards a more sustainable future!

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