Over the past decade sustainability has been reduced to a buzzword, thrown haphazardly across corporate reports. Reading different companies’ annual sustainability reports often evokes a sense of “déjà vu”. A template used across the corporate world, just words on a page to tick a box.
While many companies tout ambitions to reduce their carbon footprint, many fail to back up their words with real, measurable actions. As the climate crisis becomes an ever more pressing issue, stakeholders are demanding concrete plans of how exactly your company plans to achieve its carbon goals. Your beautifully designed annual sustainability report means squat if your company fails to present tangible data showing where your company is now on its sustainability journey, and where it plans to be in both the short and long term. To put it bluntly, your stakeholders want action, not words.
So, how can your company cut through the fluff and truly deliver on its sustainability goals? The first step is understanding the 3 Scopes of Sustainability, as detailed in our “Understanding Sustainability” blog post. Then, your company can dive deeper into accurately measuring and understanding your pathway towards net zero.
Emissions should be quantified at each scope if applicable. While the impact of other manufacturing emissions may be short-lived, carbon dioxide’s effects withstand the test of time. Carbon’s global warming potential doesn’t decrease over a yearly span; a tonne of carbon emitted into the atmosphere today can have the same impact as a tonne 20 years into the future. The effects of carbon emissions have to be taken seriously as they are not only hazardous to the environment, but can have a direct impact on your company as governments around the world roll out carbon taxes. At your company, everyone has a stake in your output, from innovation and operations to the managing director. Thus, it will take a team effort to become more sustainable.
Countries who choose to be leaders in climate action such as France and, more recently, Japan, have signed sustainability goals into law, with the goal of carbon neutrality within the next 30 years. This year, Ireland followed suit with its own climate laws. Other governments around the world that haven’t necessarily made direct net zero goals at this time will continue to increase taxes based on emissions. The sooner your company begins its journey to net-zero, the better. To calculate your emissions take the output in kilowatt-hour (kWh) per activity based on the scopes and multiply that by the carbon intensity of that activity.
Depending on what scope you are measuring, you can reference sources to get good estimates for an emissions rate based on your company’s kWh output over the 3 scopes. There are sources available online now to aid your company in understanding the emission factors from your yearly activity data. A great source for measuring scopes 1 & 2 is the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). For scope 2 the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) can provide you with emission information. Lastly, the UK Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) can also provide emission information for scope 1 & 3.
To collect data from each scope, it is important to know who you need to engage with in your company to get this data. Scope 1 data can be found in manufacturing outputs. Scope 2 of purchased electricity can easily be found by engaging with whoever manages purchased electricity (accounting, finance, etc.). Scope 3 is where the whole company gets involved in inputting data, tracking aspects like business travel and employee commute. Once you have your yearly activity data in kWh, you can get an emissions number in grams of carbon dioxide emissions by kilowatt hours (gCO2e/Kwh) from one of the sources to calculate your natural gas emissions in gCO2e which can further be converted into tonnes of CO2 emissions (tCO2e). A tonne of carbon dioxide emissions might seem hard to fathom, however it can easily be compared and further visualised. 1 tonne of CO2e is about 5,800 km in a diesel car, running a standard light bulb for nearly 4 years, or around a 1 way flight from Ireland to Greece.
Data collection can be applied to each step of your lifecycle process if your company is involved in manufacturing goods and services. Manufacturing logically makes up the largest percentage of any companies total greenhouse gas emissions, however, focusing on how you can limit emissions from other aspects of the product life cycle like transport, product use and disposal of raw materials are the best way to know how your company can achieve net zero. You can also use this to measure your absolute carbon emissions compared to your carbon intensity. The absolute is the sum of all your emissions from each source of the lifecycle and from each of the 3 scopes.
Achieving net zero won’t happen overnight. It takes time and investment to see both the environmental and financial benefits pay off. However, understanding the steps your company needs to take and how to measure progress overall helps you to hit targets and to convey to stakeholders how this can be achieved. It might take some convincing in higher levels of a business, but being able to accurately explain the whole process is beneficial. Complying is different to leading, and getting out in front of government or corporate policy shows that sustainability and net zero is the future for your company.