Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where does a business footprint start and stop?

Posted by Dave Rochlin - ClimatePath (www.climatepath.org)

We have been busy working on a footprinting exercise for a brewery, and it brings up many of the recurring questions about the scope of carbon emissions that should be attributed to an organization. And I thought beer is supposed to be fun! Some quick observations:

Counting for the purpose of measuring vs. mitigating (via offsetting and conservation) are two different things.
From an accounting perspective, if each entity accounts for their inputs, then 100% of the carbon (or it's equivalent) source is inventoried. For a brewery for example, the beer maker could count the brewing as their footprint, a bottle manufacturer covers the glass, a farmer the hops, and the paper maker the cardboard.

For declaring carbon neutrality or even carbon progress, however, this number leaves the brewery far short of the real impact of their operations. The end product - a bottle of beer - is actually a combination of the inputs, and the carbon footprint should reflect the total. When a consumer buys a beer that is labeled as carbon neutral, they expect the grain, glass, and packaging to be covered.

If the brewery's direct carbon input is 100,000 tonnes, then a 10,000 ton reduction would sound like an impressive 10% improvement. If all inputs actually add up to 300,000 tonnes, however, it is a far less impressive 3%. From a cap and trade perspective, this becomes a critical issue.

There is direct pain from indirect emissions
The guidelines around what gets counted upstream are surprisingly loose. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol , which is also used by the Climate Action Registry refer to scope 3 (indirect emissions) in this way:

Scope 3 is optional, but it provides an opportunity to be innovative in GHG management. Companies may want focus on accounting for and reporting those activities that are relevant to their business and goals, and for which they have reliable information. Since companies have discretion over which categories they choose to report, scope 3 may not lend itself well to comparisons across companies. This section provides an indicative list of scope 3 categories and includes case studies on some of the categories.

Encouraging innovative accounting? Yikes! One coffee study I have been reviewing shows that almost 50% of all emissions for the company result from the production and transport of fertilizer (not the use, but the actual production.) This input can easily by overlooked, which not only instantly cuts the firm's footprint in half, but also removes incentives to use organic and other techniques to reduce fertilizer dependency.

Good intentions are not enough
Almost without exception, flying is a pain point when it comes to footprinting, and most businesses (and individuals) would prefer to leave it out of their footprint. I was recently at a fair trade conference, and many of the attendees regularly fly to Africa, South America, and/or Asia to meet with the groups that they buy from. Few think to offset the travel, and most would consider themselves green and "low carbon," as well as socially progressive businesses. But four trips to Africa could mean 50 Tons of carbon, and for a small business, this actually puts them on par with traditional manufacturers. Too often green efforts fall short of real impact, but with carbon, the numbers don't lie. ClimatePath encourages full transparency in footprint reporting, and you should to.

No comments:

Post a Comment