Confused by Carbon?


You don’t need to be. Use these five steps for carbon performance made simple.

Measuring and managing your company’s carbon footprint is a business best practice that is quickly becoming a requirement in today’s competitive marketplace.

Not only do you get to showcase your environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility, but you also prepare for pending mandates and proposed cap and trade programs. Establishing your carbon footprint can help you reduce risk and potentially even help you ride out the recession. In fact, a new report from A.T. Kearny, Green Winners: the performance of sustainability-focused companies during the economic crisis, shows that companies with “true” commitment to established and recognized sustainability practices are outperforming their industry peers that are not committed to sustainability  in the financial markets during the current economic crisis.

So why isn’t everyone doing it? Why haven’t you done it yet?

Perhaps it’s because the carbon management world looks confusing—maybe even a little intimidating. It’s probably outside the core competency of your organization. You know it needs to be done, but how do you go about it?

What the C-Suite and senior management need to know are the basics of carbon performance. When you’re familiar with the ABCs, you can make informed decisions and lead your organization down the right paths.

It’s a step-by-step process

Just as it has with its ISO 9000 quality management family of standards, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a comprehensive, usable, international standard for carbon management under its 14000 environmental management family: the ISO 14064 series (the author’s organization, Canadian Standards Association, acted as World Secretariat for the development of ISO 14064).

ISO 14064-1 Part 1 Specification with Guidance at the Organizational Level for Quantification and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals provides principles and requirements for quantifying and reporting an organization’s carbon footprint. This standard breaks the process down into five steps:

1. Setting Organizational Parameters and Boundaries
2. Measuring GHG Activity
3. Choosing Methodologies
4. Reporting
5. Verification

Step 1: Setting Organizational Parameters and Boundaries
Your organization may include one or more facilities—as simple as a single SOHO or as complicated as a conglomerate with several offices, warehouses, production facilities and outlets across the country.

Each facility may include GHG sources (something that emits greenhouse gasses), GHG sinks (something that removes GHGs from the atmosphere) or GHG reservoirs (places where you can capture and store GHGs). To get an accurate picture of your organization’s total GHG inventory, you will need to consolidate facilities based on either financial and/or operational control, or your portion of a shared facility. Your total carbon footprint is the aggregate (see Figure 1).

You will also need to determine the GHG emissions from your operations. This includes physical facilities or processes you own or control, energy consumed (but not generated) by your organization, business travel, transportation of goods, outsourced activities or franchises, waste generated, use and end-life phases of products and services and the production of purchased raw or primary materials.



Step 2: Measuring GHG Activity
Once you’ve determined what you need to measure, it’s time to get started. You’ll want to establish a base year—either using historical data or using your first inventory year—so you can monitor improvement over time.

Although GHGs include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous Oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), the total inventory will be measured in tons and then converted to carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e for the sake of simplicity. This is the reason why GHG inventories are also called carbon footprints. CO2e is calculated using the mass of a given GHG multiplied by its Global Warming Potential (GWP)—or how much a given mass of a specific GHG contributes to climate change.

So what do you measure? The amount of energy, fuels or electricity consumed, materials produced, service provided or land affected. Then you weigh this against your activities that produce GHG emission reductions, such as energy demand and use management, energy efficiency upgrades, technology or process improvements, GHG capture and storage, management of transportation and travel demands, fuel switching and renewable energy use.

Step 3: Choosing Methodologies
Quantification methodologies help minimize uncertainty and provide accurate, consistent and reproducible results—a must-have if you plan to track your progress over time.

There are three main types of methodologies: calculation, measurement and combination.

Calculation includes:
•    GHG activity data multiplied by GHG emission or removal factors
•    Use of models
•    Facility-specific correlations
•    Mass-balance approach

Measurement is the gathering of hard data—either continuously or periodically—and the combination methodology includes both calculation and measurement.

You will want to complete an uncertainty assessment and establish a quality assurance procedure for information management. Be sure to retain all of your records and documentation for when we get to Step 5: Verification.

Step 4: Reporting
This is the good part where you reap the rewards and get to share your results with stakeholders. The best way is to publish your carbon inventory report on a respected, third-party registry.

Before you prepare your report, make sure you know what you want to achieve, who will be reading it and how often you plan to report. This will make it more usable and valuable for your stakeholders.

If you plan to publish your report with a registry that conforms to ISO 14064, you will need to ensure it includes:
•    The reporting period
•    Organizational boundaries and parameters
•    Emissions in tons of CO2e
•    Removals in tons of CO2e
•    Disclosure of any GHG sources or sinks you did not include, and why
•    The base year inventory
•    A description of the methodologies used
•    The results of your uncertainty assessment
•    Statement of Verification (this will be explained in Step 5: Verification)

Optional information you may wish to include if it will help your stakeholders take more value from the report, include:
•    A description of your policies, strategies or programs
•    A description of your emission reduction activities and results
•    Any purchased or developed GHG offsets
•    Emission details for each facility
•    An assessment of your performance against relevant internal or external benchmarks

Step 5: Verification
To get true value from your carbon footprint report—and to protect against any accusations of ‘greenwash’—you will want to obtain verification. The principles and process are somewhat similar to a financial audit. The goal is an independent, objective review of the data and many registries and programs require verification.

The verifier should be a qualified expert who understands GHG management issues and is familiar with ISO 14064, and specifically ISO 14064-3 Part 3 Specification with Guidance for the Validation and Verification of Greenhouse Gas Assertions. Before getting started, it’s important that all parties agree to the scope, objectives, criteria and level of assurance required.

The verifier will examine the data and provide you with a statement that includes the level of assurance and their conclusions, including any qualifications or limitations. This statement is then included with your carbon report.

It takes a team
One of the primary responsibilities of senior management when it comes to benchmarking carbon performance is the construction of the team. Involving the right players can help make measuring, monitoring and managing your carbon footprint less onerous for any one person or department. Depending on the needs of your organization, your team may include individuals from property/facility management, operations, transportation/logistics, accounting and engineering. You may also want to investigate hiring or retaining the services of an environmental or sustainability specialist if you don’t already have one on staff.

You may also find it advantageous to enrol your key personnel in a GHG management training course. These are cropping up from multiple sources—some legitimate and others more questionable. When sourcing and selecting a program for your team, look for a credible organization with a history in the climate change and carbon management fields. It would be particularly heartening if the training organization can show it is actively measuring and managing its own carbon footprint.

Armed with knowledge of the process and backed by the right team, you can lead your organization to a new level of environmental stewardship. Once you have established your organization’s initial carbon footprint, you can begin working on strategies to reduce it—with the eventual goal of carbon neutrality.

About the Author
Michel Girard, PhD, Director, Canadian Standards Association
As the Director of the Ottawa Office at the Canadian Standards Association, Michel Girard, PhD, is responsible for the climate change portfolio. CSA Climate Change ( acted as World Secretariat for the development of the ISO 14064 series of Standards for carbon management and delivers solutions to help adapt Canada’s infrastructure to a changing climate. Prior to his appointment at CSA, Dr. Girard held roles such as Director of International Climate Change in the Federal department of the Environment and as Corporate Secretary for Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada and Chief of Federal-Provincial Strategies for that department, as well as Senior Policy Analyst and Acting Director of Research and Compliance at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.