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How to Quantify your GHG Emissions

How to Quantify your GHG Emissions

We are all running out of time to limit our global warning to 1.5°C, failing to do so will result in irreversible damage that will affect us all. It’s up to everyone to pitch in towards the sustainability effort. But where on earth do you start?

One of the first steps towards becoming more sustainable is knowing where you currently stand in terms of your emissions. Calculating this may seem like a mammoth task, especially if you have multiple sites or assets such as company vehicles to keep track of.

In this article, we’ll take you through the process of quantifying your GHG emissions, from defining your boundaries through to number crunching. 

What is the first step when embarking on quantifying your GHG emissions?

  • One of the first steps is getting leadership commitment – This allows for quicker decision making and the allocation of roles and responsibilities, which really helps with the data collection 
  • Once you have this leadership commitment, the next steps is to start establishing boundaries. 

So how do you define your boundaries?

There are 2 ways you define your boundaries as specified in ISO 14064-1

  • The first are your organisational boundaries, you’ll need to outline which facilities are included within the quantification. It is not as simple as just saying ‘everything’, you’ll need to specify which sites, buildings, factories (etc).
  • You can define your organisational boundaries via the control approach, so what facilities do you have financial or operation control over? Or the equity share approach, where you account for your portion of emissions and removals from facilities 
  • The next step is defining your reporting boundaries. This refers to activities and specific sources of GHGs. 
  • Emission sources are split up into 3 categories; Scope 1 – direct emissions from combustion, or leaks, normally at sources you own , Scope 2 – indirect emissions from purchased energy, and Scope 3 – all other indirect emissions, these will be from sources you don’t necessarily own or have much control over such as staff commuting, supply chains or emissions from the use of products you manufacture 
  • Depending on your organisation, Scope 3 will account for somewhere between 60-80% of your total emissions.

How would you recommend going about collecting to data?

  • ISO 14064-1 wants you to have primary data, i.e. data you have collected yourself. 
  • Some of the most common sources of the information you’ll need to quantify your emissions include, utilities bills, expense claims and meter readings.  
  • What some organisations are doing is sending out simple surveys to staff to gather information on commuting habits or the mix of home and office working. 
  • In the real world all the information you need isn’t going to be available, or at least it won’t be available in the way you would like. 
  • It’s important to have someone dedicated managing data collection as this may involve multiple sites or international locations. 
  • Ideally, you’d start setting a framework to use when going forward and to make sure you can collect the relevant data each year. 

Selecting a base year 

  • If this is the first time you have quantified your emissions, it will automatically become your base year. This will be the year you compare future emissions against, and track reductions against, whether they are absolute, or intensity based, such as tonnes of CO2e per employee or product sold.
  • You may have to re-visit your base year calculations if new data or more accurate methods arise. A base year review may also be required if there has been a change in organisational boundaries due to a merger or acquisition.

The Number Crunching 

At the end of the process, we want to see our levels of emissions for each of the Kyoto gases. This will allow us to see emissions as tonnes of CO2e when each gases’ global warming potential has been taken into account. 

  • Some gases can have global warming potentials 200 times, 1,000 times or even over 20,000 times stronger than CO2 on its own, hence why even the smallest leak can be important, say, from an air conditioning system.
  • We calculate emissions from specific sources by using conversion factors. 
  • In the UK we are very lucky to have emission conversion factors published publicly by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy every year going back to 2002.
  • Other countries release conversion factors too, so if you have sites round the world, you should be able to find factors that can be applied. This may involve converting some units though. 
  • The data isn’t always going to be available in the ideal format, so you’ll need to spend a bit of time on Google identifying rates for specific areas and years if you don’t have anything else to go on. 
  • Liaising with landlords and facilities management is always a good idea, not only to collect data, but to help with implementing initiatives that can reduce emissions in the future.

Estimates, Assumptions, Uncertainties and Transparency 

You’re going to have to make some assumptions as you go.

  • In line with ISO 14064-1 you’ll need to be as accurate as possible even if this means someone going through individual lines of expenses to estimate flight distances based on ticket costs or coming up with a system to represent your supply chain. 
  • Another important aspect of ISO 14064-1 is transparency. The best way to manage this is to simply make all your calculations visible; this way they can be reviewed and sense-checked.
  • For each emission source you’ll also need to assign it a level of uncertainty. For instance, expense claims are usually highly accurate as they show mileage from one location to another, and sometimes even record the specific vehicle, you could say this has an uncertainty of 2-5% for instance. 
  • At the other end of the scale calculating the emission from the life cycle of your products has a high degree of uncertainty as you don’t know how a customer will use it, how long it will last, how it will be disposed of or if it will even be used at all. This could have an uncertainty of 30-40% for instance.
  • A positive outcome of managing all these uncertainties is that you will have a framework going forward for calculating specific sources. 

Managing your Emissions Going Forward – Applications of Quantification 

Ironically it is often the biggest emission sources that businesses have the smallest amount of control over, but there will usually be some action that can be taken to reduce them. 

Quantifying emissions is also one the first, and arguably the most essential steps towards achieving carbon neutrality, as you can’t get very far without knowing your emissions.

  • PAS 2060 is the standard we use as a part of our Carbonology® service to help businesses achieve carbon neutrality. This is supported by quantifying emissions in line with the ISO 14064 methodologies, the standard for carbon footprint verification. 
  • Developing and implementing a carbon reduction plan to reduce emissions over subsequent reporting periods is another application of your GHG quantification and is an important part of working towards carbon neutrality.

Further resources:

For more information regarding GHG quantification, you can listen to our podcast by clicking the link found here.

If you would like some support with GHG quantification, check out our Services page, or simply contact us at enquiries@carbonologyhub.com for more information.

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