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How is a carbon footprint assessed?

Summary

The process of carrying out a carbon footprint is a crucial one for companies, whether as a legal obligation or as part of their environmental commitment.
Comprising five main stages, this process aims to locate and analyze greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with a view to reducing them. The stages include defining the scope of the calculation, collecting data on emitting activities, using this data, defining an action plan and finally communicating this plan.
Each phase requires special attention and meticulous work, from data collection to the implementation of emission reduction strategies.
The ultimate goal is to contribute to climate protection while reinforcing the company's brand image as a committed player.
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Introduction

Carrying out a carbon footprint is a legal obligation for some companies, or the result of a commitment to the environment for others. The ultimate aim of a carbon footprint is to locate and analyze GHG emissions, with a view to reducing them.
But how do you carry out a corporate carbon footprint?
Here are the 5 main steps involved.

someone who does a carbon footprint

1. Define the scope of the carbon footprint calculation

Geographical scope

This involves determining to which buildings, facilities and equipment the carbon footprint calculation applies. If the company operates in multiple countries, it’s also important to define the scope and determine which countries should be included in the calculation.

The operational perimeter

This stage involves defining the boundary around the CO²-emitting activities for which the organisation in question is considered to be responsible. These may be direct emissions, such as energy consumption for machinery, or indirect emissions, such as CO² emissions from suppliers of raw materials.

2. Collecting data on emitting activities

Once the scope of the carbon footprint calculation has been defined, the carbon expert collects information on all the CO² emission items. This usually involves invoices (for energy and logistics), accounting documents (for company assets such as IT equipment) and employee surveys (emissions due to commuting).

a pencil and a notebook with data for calculating the carbon footprint

The complexity of data collection

When collecting data, carbon experts are generally faced with several difficulties:

lack of availability on the part of employees responsible for sharing key activity data,

time needed to identify the people who have the data,

Excel files that are incomplete and/or need to be cleaned up,

essential data that is sometimes not listed (number of machines recycled, employee commute patterns, etc.).

As a result, this stage is one of the most complex and time-consuming in a carbon footprint. To remedy this, the carbon expert will use several tools to speed up the process:

standard data collection files, with a predefined structure, which can be reused from one entity to another

information collection guides to explain employees what information is needed and in what format

if data is unavailable, the carbon expert will continue the analysis with a hypothesis validated by the company, which will also be documented in the final report.

The importance of preparing for data collection

Before data collection, it is strongly recommended that a diagram be drawn up establishing the link between collaborators and the information to be provided. Generally speaking, the earlier and more collaboratively the data collection is prepared, by inviting all those responsible for the data, the quicker it will be.

3. Exploiting the data collected

As the data on emitting activities is expressed in different units (kilos, litres, kWh, kilometres, etc.), at this stage the carbon expert establishes an emission factor for each item of data, enabling the activity to be expressed in tonnes of CO²-equivalent (CO²e).

To do this, the carbon expert uses one or more emission factor databases supplied by organisations such as ADEME. By adding up the tonnes of CO²e emitted by each activity, the company’s carbon footprint is finally computed.

4. Defining the action plan

The carbon footprint is not an end in itself. It is an integral part of the CSR approach. It should be used to draw up the carbon footprint action plan, i.e. the resources to be deployed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the short, medium and long term.

Once the reduction plan has been defined, the organisation implements a GHG reduction and offsetting strategy. Unlike reduction, offsetting does not change the quantity of GHGs released into the atmosphere. Instead, it aims to absorb CO² into natural sinks, such as trees.

Offsetting is used only as a last resort, and only for emissions remaining after reduction strategies have been put in place. This GHG emissions reduction strategy must be consistent with current national reduction targets. This transition plan, which complements the emissions report, has been mandatory in France since 1 January 2023.

5. Communicating your carbon plan

At this crucial stage, the organisation shares its commitment to climate protection with its internal and external partners: the result of its carbon footprint and its efforts to reduce it, i.e. the action plan.

When communicating its carbon strategy, the organisation is careful to be honest, particularly about the difference between reducing and offsetting its GHGs, at the justified risk of being accused of “green-washing”. This step is all the more important as it helps to unite all the players in the organisation’s value chain (suppliers, partners, customers, etc.) around climate protection. Communicating its commitments helps to improve the employer brand image, as candidates are increasingly sensitive to this cause. This is one of the advantages of performing a carbon footprint.

Explore the concept of a carbon footprint in-depth by clicking here, or read our comprehensive overview on carbon footprint calculators here.

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