GHGs: Measure, Reduce, Report

02/01/2010 | By Brad Ouderkirk

Reporting greenhouse gases may be voluntary right now, but you should still be prepared to detail your inventory

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are separated into three categories for accounting purposes. This separation is critical for managing the reporting and calculation of carbon footprints.

  • Scope 1 includes emissions over which a company has direct control via ownership of activities.
  • Scope 2 includes emissions from purchased electricity, heat, or steam.
  • Scope 3 includes emissions from all activities purchased from other companies.

Scope 1 and Scope 2 are included in almost all mandatory and voluntary reporting schemes. Scope 3 emissions can be included in reporting and in carbon footprint processes, but aren’t necessary and must remain separated.

When measuring GHG emissions, you should establish a baseline year from which to mark the beginning of your organization’s commitment to reaching a specific emissions reductions goal. This will be the first year your GHG inventory is measured. Progress can then be measured on an annual or quarterly basis.

Emissions 101

Emissions are comprised of a number of greenhouse gases. The most common are carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). These emissions can be calculated based on the type of greenhouse gas, and you can assess the levels of each that are being emitted into the atmosphere. Because each type of greenhouse gas has a different amount that it’s estimated to contribute to global warming, GHG inventories are generally presented in terms of CO2 equivalents (CO2e). This allows you to have one final number you can consider in relation to past inventories, as well as to peers’ inventories.

Many organizations have difficulty collecting the data required to ensure that inventories are complete. And some organizations have difficulty making sure their inventories are based on the latest research in carbon accounting and GHG emissions calculations (see Emissions 101).

Mitigation strategies can take a number of different forms. Energy-efficiency measures, including lighting retrofits and equipment upgrades, will reduce energy consumption and decrease emissions; changing the fuel or refrigerant used in equipment will also have a positive impact.

To identify opportunities with the highest effectiveness and savings potential, you should complete a thorough cost-benefit analysis of each mitigation opportunity before implementation.

You can also purchase carbon offsets that equate to your remaining emissions inventory. While the purchase of offsets is a viable short-term strategy, it won’t have the positive, long-term impact that implementation of mitigation strategies will.

Offsets must be purchased on an annual basis; capital improvements to a facility, on the other hand, have an initial cost, but will reduce an emissions profile indefinitely over the long-term. Likewise, offsets are derived from projects already put into place; by making local and tangible changes to operations and building systems, you can take responsibility for reducing overall global emissions.

Publicly reporting carbon emissions is currently a voluntary process. Presenting information based on emissions intensity on a per-square-foot or per-revenue basis relates GHG emissions to well-known characteristics often used for other key performance indicator (KPI) reporting, and allows you to compare the emissions intensity of numerous sites in your portfolio.

Most organizations report emissions through The Climate Registry, which is the accepted registration organization for GHG emissions. The Climate Registry recommends that you use a third-party verification process, which can take about 2 months to complete; this third party will audit data, data-collection methods, and inventory calculations.

Some organizations don’t register with The Climate Registry because of the inherent data sharing. Many fear that competitors will extract confidential information regarding business operations, or may represent the organization in a negative light if the emissions profile is higher than expected. Some organizations choose to report internally or in corporate sustainability reports.

The danger of reporting without any external assistance or registration is that footprints can be inaccurate or incomplete. If you misrepresent your organization’s environmental footprint, you may encounter more negative backlash than you would have if you had gone through standard reporting channels.

If you don’t report with external assistance, beware: Communicating results to internal and external stakeholders can be challenging. Carbon accounting isn’t a topic the general public understands well, and making sure results are communicated in a language others can relate to is key.

Brad Ouderkirk is director of business solutions at Ecos, a wholly owned subsidiary of Advantage IQ.

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