Businesses must understand what data sources exist and which are the most useful, says Craig Simmons of Best Foot Forward
You wait for ages for a carbon footprinting standard, then three come along at once. And while the release of the updated PAS 2050 standard went almost unnoticed, it was standing room only at the launch of the new Greenhouse Gas Protocol Product and Scope 3 Standards. This is no coincidence.
The Product Accounting and Reporting Standard enables businesses to measure the climate change impact of individual products, while the Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard measures the whole value chain.
Looking into my crystal ball, I predict that these two standards will supecede much of what has gone before, and will encourage a much more ambitious approach to carbon reduction. Many businesses are thinking the same thing, judging by the crowds at the release of the standards from the World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development. So why are these standards so important?
The Product standard is likely to rapidly displace PAS 2050 from the market over time, for a number of reasons. For a start, the development process was very well managed. Over two years, the new standard was developed by more than 100 practitioners and road-tested by upwards of 40 leading companies. As a result, it has widespread stakeholder support and has already been adopted by the Sustainability Consortium and the Consumer Goods Forum.
The Product standard builds on the success of the long-established and popular Corporate standard which helps organisations track emissions associated with their own operations. It's likely to be easier to implement than PAS 2050 because it has fewer requirements (for example on the amount of ‘primary data' to collect from the supply chain). And where PAS 2050 is primarily a UK standard, the GHG Protocol Product standard is truly global, and much more comprehensive.
The Scope 3 standard, meanwhile, enables businesses to take a higher-level view of total greenhouse gas emissions across all the products they sell - going beyond just direct energy use to account for emissions resulting from what suppliers, customers and consumers do.
So, if you're a farmer, you don't just measure the energy used by your tractor, you also look at the production of the fertiliser you use to grow your crops. If you're a company that produces soap, you don't wash your hands of your consumers (if you'll excuse the pun) - you find out how they wash, how much hot water they're using, and what this means about the indirect impact that your company is having.
With the Scope 3 standard, 'everything else' can be measured in a standardised way. That's potentially revolutionary as it will help businesses to respond more strategically to the opportunities to reduce both cost and carbon. As Janet Ranganathan, WRI Vice President for Science and Research said at the launch, "scope 3 is the buried treasure of GHG reduction opportunities".
Measuring scope 3 emissions means that you can do more to influence your suppliers, for example through intelligent procurement. It will make a huge difference because it highlights the points of intervention in a business where a small change can have a ripple effect throughout the whole supply chain. The standard will have an influence on all corporate reporting frameworks - CDP, CEMARS, DEFRA/DECC - encouraging companies to take more responsibility for their wider impact.
Businesses need these globally accepted standards for measuring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, and the two new GHG Protocol standards are clear, pragmatic and business focussed. What is missing, though, is a process for developing sector specific guidelines to assist in applying them across industry. This was a failing that PAS 2050 addressed in its
2011 update and something that the WBCSD and WRI need to consider moving forward.
Also, while these new standards provide a much-needed accounting framework to ensure consistent reporting, many businesses struggle to find the emission factors they need to calculate footprints in the first place.
Businesses must understand what data sources exist, and which will be most useful to them - but even this is not enough.
In the future, businesses will want the ability to quickly access data in a single, comprehensive resource which they know is authoritative. We need a new, informed, 'Google for emissions factors' to make it really easy for anyone to find their way around the data and understand the impact of what they do. Best Foot Forward has been working on just this problem - watch this space.
In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing how businesses respond to the new standards, and whether my predictions come true.
Craig Simmons is co-founder and technical director of carbon footprinting firm Best Foot Forward