Carbon Footprints

Climate change is now recognised as the most important issue facing the planet today. The majority of global climate scientists accept that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity are impacting negatively on the environment.

The greenhouse gas arising from human activity most commonly discussed is carbon dioxide (CO2). Virtually all human activity gives rise directly, or indirectly, to CO2 emissions that lead to climate change. By using electricity generated from fossil fuel power stations, burning gas for heating or driving a petrol or diesel car, every individual is responsible for CO2 emissions. Furthermore, every product or service that mankind consumes indirectly creates CO2 emissions; energy is required for their production, transport and disposal. These products and services may also cause emissions of other greenhouse gases. Understanding and addressing the full range of our impact is crucial for the effects of climate change to be minimised.

The total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organisation, event or product is commonly called their carbon footprint. Establishing the carbon footprint of an organisation is the first step in a programme to reduce the emissions that organisation causes.

In order to produce a reliable footprint, it is important to follow a structured process and to classify all the possible sources of emissions thoroughly. A system commonly used is to group and report on emissions by the level of control which an organisation has over them. On this basis, greenhouse gas emissions can be classified into three main types:

  1. Direct emissions that result from activities the organisation controls
  2. Emissions from the use of electricity
  3. Indirect emissions from products and services

Producing a full footprint covering all three types of emissions can be a complex task, particularly if indirect emissions are included within the scope of assessment. A further complexity in understanding published footprints is that they are rarely comparable for the following reasons:

  • Despite emerging international standards not all organisations follow the same approach to calculating their footprint or classify their emissions in the same way
  • Some footprints are expressed on a time period basis, such as the footprints of an individual or company which are typically measured annually. Others are expressed on a unit basis, such as per event or product purchased
  • Carbon footprints are typically calculated to include all greenhouse gases and are expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e). However, others calculate the footprint to include CO2 only and express the footprint in tCO2 (tonnes of CO2)

The reasons for needing a carbon footprint determine which approach is most appropriate. In some cases a basic footprint will suffice – in others a much more rigorous process will be required.

The Blewburton Partnership can undertake basic and more complex carbon foot-printing, as well as offering expertise in devising strategy and policy to reduce the carbon footprint of the client over time. Please feel free to contact us to discuss your requirements.

Posted in Knowledgebase