Practical Steps to decarbonise

Map your carbon footprint

Organisations looking to decarbonise face the challenge of having to balance long-term, sustained transformation with delivering short-term results and value (CISL, 2018). To reconcile the two, efficient monitoring systems are required. This is an important first step for an organisation to comprehensively measure its carbon footprint, particularly in terms of identifying greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across three scopes. This is because decarbonising an organisation’s value chain includes not only immediate operations and emissions but also emissions throughout the supply chain, from the extraction of any raw materials through to the use and disposal of the end product.

The three scopes, also described in Module 1, are illustrated in Figure 1.

This figure illustrates the three scopes businesses should identify to measure their carbon footprint. These are:

Scope 1: Direct emissions from owned sources, such as emissions from company facilities or vehicles. 

Scope 2: Indirect emissions from purchased energy (eg purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling for own use).

Scope 3: Indirect emissions from your value chain (some examples of Scope 3 emissions include emissions from investments, business travel, raw materials, end-of-life treatment of sold products, transport and distribution and supply chain activities).

Figure 1: The three scopes used to measure an organisation’s carbon footprint.
(Adapted from: World Resources Institute (WRI) & World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2013:6)

There are numerous benefits to measuring an organisation’s carbon footprint, including increasing oversight of its operations and identifying any areas where there is waste. This can result in innovation or improved processes to reduce waste and save costs (Hallemans, 2020). For example, measuring Scope 1 emissions, such as the heating emissions and expenses of an organisation’s buildings, could identify which buildings use more heating and establish whether this could be rectified through better insulation or smart heating (only heating the buildings when they are being used).

There are several steps necessary for planning and effectively mapping an organisation’s carbon footprint. The United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) outlines the five key steps that organisations should follow when initially measuring their carbon footprint:

  1. Determine the organisational boundaries: Identify which operations you need to report on. As a starting point, organisations should report on all sources they have financial or operational control over.
  2. Determine the time frame: Decide on the time frame data will be collected within; the recommendation is that data be collected and measured over one year. Having a reliable data-collection system can make the process of measuring and reducing your carbon footprint significantly smoother. Listen to practical steps and approaches outlined by Antonia Bartels from the Carbon Neutral Company for some ideas and suggestions.
  3. Identify the key environmental impacts of your organisation: These should be classified either as indirect or the direct responsibility of your organisation. Environmental impacts are likely to relate to GHGs, water, waste, material and resource efficiency or ecosystem services.
  4. Measure: There are various ways businesses can collect and manage data, but environmental reporting will be most effective if it is integrated into existing reporting processes in your organisation. Additionally, it is important that a standardised reporting method and format is used across the organisation so that the data collected by different departments and operations is comparable.
  5. Report: An integral part of creating a decarbonisation initiative is to produce public reports and communicate transparently. Reports should credibly present an organisation’s carbon footprint and environmental impact. All relevant information should be disclosed and presented in a balanced way so that successes are celebrated and negatives are still highlighted, with lessons for improvement shared. The report should summarise how data has been collected and indicate which aspects of the business it relates to. Reports should also explain how the environmental impacts are being managed for any data that is not reported, as well as identify any risks or opportunities.

(DEFRA, 2019)

These steps for measuring and reporting on an organisation’s carbon footprint need to be repeated consistently to review strategies and monitor the reduction of the business’s environmental impact.

Pause and reflect:

Does your organisation have any environmental reporting or measuring processes in place? If so, can you identify how these could be strengthened or broadened to measure other aspects of the organisation (additional departments or scopes, for example)? If not, consider how this reporting could be incorporated into any existing reporting systems. Reflect on your own sphere of influence and how you could encourage members of your team or department to monitor the carbon footprint of their actions and operations.