Climate change is a complicated issue, but carbon reporting needn’t be scary. Take the first step towards a carbon-conscious travel programme with our quick-fire guide from Jonathan Green, a consultant, researcher and writer specialising in environmental issues
Q: All this chatter about sustainability, carbon and footprints confuses me. What do they mean?
Yes, the language is getting tangled up. Sustainability is not simply about carbon. Carbon and corporate social responsibility are different things, and a carbon footprint isn’t a universal measurement.
Q: Hang on. I thought a carbon footprint was, well, a carbon footprint?
It’s not. There are seven greenhouse gases (GHG) of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is one. A carbon footprint includes CO2, but it may, or may not, include the other GHGs. The measurement of all GHG is called the CO2 equivalent (CO2e).
Q: So, which one should I be calculating?
CO2e – every time.
Q: I’ve also heard about radiative forcing – what’s that?
Radiative forcing (RF) is a way of measuring the additional climate impact of aviation emissions at altitude. There’s uncertainty around the magnitude of the impact, but the guidance is clear: include RF in your footprint.
Q: So how do I calculate my footprint? By that, I mean the CO2e with RF…
The World Resources Institute has produced a guidance document called the GHG Protocol. About 90 per cent of the Fortune 500 use it. Follow it to calculate your carbon account.
If you can measure it, you can manage it. What’s the shape and size of your footprint?
Q: I hate the word ‘accounting’. I feel a headache coming on.
Put the painkillers away. A carbon account is just another word for footprint. The protocol explains where to start, what to do and how to do it, from reporting boundaries to emissions scopes.
Q: This doesn’t sound very simple!
Your sustainability colleagues will have this covered. Ask them for the answers. As for scopes, travel emissions are mainly Scope 3. Again, the guidance explains everything.
Q: What else is important?
Three things. The first is baselining, so performance can be measured on a like-for-like basis. Second, being transparent about what you have done and why. Third, choosing credible emission factors – which can vary by class of travel, load factor or aircraft type. Defra has produced pages of emissions factors taking account of these variables and the GHG Protocol’s principles enable users to assess what’s important and what’s not when choosing which of these factors to apply.
Q: Where do I get travel emissions data?
Ask your suppliers. Any supplier worth their salt should be able to do this, but be warned that not all of them will provide reliable data. You’ll need to audit it and hold suppliers to account.
Q: I’ve calculated my carbon footprint. What’s next?
Great. If you can measure it, you can manage it. Now, what’s the size and shape of your footprint? Cut it up by country, mode of travel and business unit. What’s driving behaviours? Could alternatives to travel offer any value? What policy levers could lead to lower emissions?
Q: Should my company offset?
Offsetting is a corporate decision, not something for you to decide alone. There are risks, from offsetting promises that aren’t kept and imaginary products, to indigenous land rights being affected by projects you’ve paid for. Look at ICROA, the industry association of voluntary offset providers. The challenge is reducing emissions, but I reckon you can. Government is calling for evidence on carbon offsetting. You can provide feedback through this link.
The World Resources Institute’s GHG Protocol is the de facto standard for corporate carbon reporting. Written in plain English, it’s used the world over by businesses big and small. For emission factors, consult both the WRI and Defra
CARBON FOOTPRINT: A way of measuring emissions released from an activity.
CARBON ACCOUNT: The term used to describe emissions from an entity.
EMISSIONS SCOPES: Recording emissions from different sources.
OFFSETTING: A method of compensating for emissions produced by funding reductions elsewhere.