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Should you assess your carbon footprint using Excel?


The carbon footprint, an essential tool for quantifying and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, often raises the question of the use of Excel for its realization.
Although widely used by carbon consultants for data entry and initial projections, Excel has limitations in terms of functionality and analysis capabilities. Software dedicated to carbon footprinting offers significant advantages, including more accurate calculations, greater scalability and advanced projection and integration features with corporate management systems.
Although Excel remains widely used for its simplicity and accessibility, the future seems to point to a gradual shift towards specialized software solutions for more accurate tracking and more effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
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A carbon footprint is a report that records all the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated directly or indirectly by an organisation’s activities. The ultimate aim of a company to measure its carbon footprint is to reduce these emissions.

Whether required by law or wishing to reduce their ecological impact, companies need a tool to carry out their carbon footprint assessment. But is Excel the most appropriate software for measuring a carbon footprint and defining actions to reduce greenhouse gases?

Someone who uses Excel to draw up their carbon balance sheet

Carbon footprint: carbon consultants are trained using Excel

Excel spreadsheets are still widely used by carbon consultants, mainly for training purposes. After collecting the data, they enter the consolidated information into an Excel table and convert it into standardised units of measurement. When they do not have carbon assessment softwares, they also use Excel to make emission reduction projections.

However, this approach has significant weaknesses.

How are carbon emissions calculated?

Origin of GHG calculations in Europe

Between 2000 and 2004, Jean-Marc Jancovici worked with ADEME to develop the Bilan Carbone® method. This method includes an Excel spreadsheet that can be used to assess emissions, compare them from one year to the next and plan actions to reduce them.

Accessible to all and free of charge, the aim is to make this spreadsheet a standard. The spreadsheet is compatible with ISO 14001 environmental, ISO 9001 quality and ISO 50001 energy management systems, and uses tools that are also in Excel format.

Excel: the preferred tool for assessing carbon footprints?

Today’s carbon consultants mainly use Excel to bring together the data collected in the accounts and the field, and to produce emission reduction projections, a feature that is not available in all carbon footprint calculators.

Carbon consultants often use Excel for convenience. However, the rapid development of carbon software, in particular the advanced functions for projecting GHG reductions, is beginning to appeal to them.

Excel, a multi-purpose but limited tool for carbon assessment: why switch to specialized software?

In the future, the efficiency and reliability of specific software will make it the essential solution for reducing our impact on the environment.

Carbon footprint in Excel: flaws and opportunities

Historically, most consultants have used Excel to draw up a carbon footprint, mainly for practical reasons. It is a tool that everyone has at their disposal. In addition, the tables provided by organisations such as ADEME or the GHG Protocol are in Excel format.

However, Excel spreadsheets for carbon footprinting quickly show their limitations, particularly when working in collaborative mode.

Limited Excel features

The carbon footprint is not an end in itself, but a means of recording greenhouse gas emissions to identify, analyse and reduce them. However, in this perspective, Excel is of no assistance.

While the Excel carbon footprint table provides a snapshot of the situation at a given point in time, it is not designed to track data or forecast emissions reductions.

The carbon consultant must therefore export the data into a software specially designed to assess a carbon footprint. By analysing and monitoring this data, the consultant can in turn forecast reductions in both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

Evolution of the maturity of software solutions

With the constant improvement of software solutions, the carbon footprint is constantly gaining in projection functionality and accuracy.

This is because most advanced softwares now use thousands of emission factors, making it possible to obtain much more accurate calculations than the sole reference to energy costs visible on invoices. Additionally, the more accurate the calculations, the less likely the company is to have its carbon footprint called into question.

In addition, a growing number of carbon packages offer advanced GHG planning and reduction functionalities, particularly by taking into account the company’s growth. These functions are all the more interesting in that they offer a collaborative mode. Some carbon packages also offer the possibility of creating emissions scenarios based on a multitude of variables, such as the percentage effectiveness of GHG reduction initiatives.

Carbon calculators integration features

Uploading Excel or CSV files

Some carbon calculators allow you to upload data from an Excel or CSV file. This is a powerful feature, as it reduces the time it takes to enter data into the tool. However, it does not optimise data collection, as the internal user or consultant still has to consolidate the data beforehand.

Connectors between carbon footprint tools and ERPs

To make data collection easier, intermediate softwares, called connectors, can bridge the gap between the company’s management software (ERP) and the carbon tool. This automates the collection, analysis and aggregation of data in the carbon footprint platform. Companies using connectors therefore benefit from considerable time savings and a reduced risk of error.

Carbon footprint calculators are the future

The reason why Excel is still the most widely used tool for carbon footprints is that it is the most accessible to everyone. But in the future, given Excel’s limited functionality and the efficiency gains offered by specialised software, opting for a carbon footprint platform will become an obvious choice. More accurate, scalable, specially designed for this purpose and soon capable of connecting directly to an ERP, carbon platforms will require fewer resources whilst offering more reliable results.

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

Reduce your company’s carbon footprint by booking a demo with our experts at D-Carbonize.

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