Draw a line in the sand: setting your baseline and achieving targets

*By Leona Mrackova and Vanessa Rauland*

2021 is shaping up to become an important year for sustainable development and climate change. With many world leaders beginning to discuss their emission reduction targets, several countries like the United Kingdom and Sweden have already passed their net zero targets into law. Others, such as Bhutan and Suriname have already achieved net zero. 

Major emission-intensive businesses such as Qantas, Fortescue Metals, Woodside and Santos are following suit and setting net zero aspirations within the next 30 years. Big tech companies such as Microsoft and Apple, have taken their commitments even further, Apple committing to be 100 percent carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030, while Microsoft is committing to this as well as to offsetting their historical emissions back to 1975, when they were established.

The importance of businesses measuring their carbon footprint

So, where does that leave other businesses, large or small? 

The first step before even thinking about going carbon neutral, is to measure their current carbon footprint. Because each business and industry is different (i.e. their size, operations, and value chain), their sources of emissions will vary and comparing with others can sometimes be hard. 

Therefore, businesses need to know what their own ‘Business As Usual’ carbon footprint is before they can benchmark their footprint against others in the industry. 

When companies calculate their carbon footprint, everything from their utilities (e.g. electricity and water) to travel (flights and vehicles) can be measured. Defining the boundary of their carbon footprint is the first decision businesses need to make, and while a company can choose which sources of emissions to include or exclude, there are some sources (i.e. as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol) that should be included such as energy, water, waste, flights and vehicles.

It is important to accurately measure carbon emissions at this stage as this measurement is setting the baseline for reaching targets in the future. 

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How setting baselines and benchmarks can help to improve

Once a business measures the emissions associated with their operations, they can start to look for opportunities to reduce. For office-based businesses, there are huge opportunities for efficiencies, many of which are negative costs (i.e. they SAVE you money!). Auditing the appliances in offices/businesses can also help to shed light on where they may be consuming more resources than necessary and where businesses can start to reduce their consumption. 

Our ClimateClever Schools Platform and program has consistently demonstrated the abundant no-cost actions that can be taken (i.e. behavioural changes and low tech actions such as delamping unnecessary lights and getting rid of unused fridges). 

Being able to compare your progress to your baseline can be very empowering (celebrating wins is important for morale!) and essential for evaluating to see if you are achieving your targets.

Having set a baseline/benchmark also enables businesses to begin comparing themselves against others in their industry, which can also identify hidden leakages and inefficiencies that may not have been identified from the audit. One of our ClimateClever schools only identified significant gas leaks (27!) after comparing gas bills with a similar sized school and questioning why their consumption was so high. 

Benchmarks also give businesses and governments a way to evaluate their sustainability performance, including against voluntary standards. Benchmarking and measuring progress is critical  to achieving the bigger targets set by the world's leaders. The EU Taxonomy regulations, with expanded GHG life cycle accounting requirements that apply to the entire supply chain of such companies, are providing policy signals that are encouraging benchmarking and carbon reduction commitments to trickle down from Governments and big businesses to small and medium sized companies and suppliers.

As  more and more net zero goals are set, businesses will have to work together to reduce their respective industries' environmental impacts. Working collaboratively will help to adopt new best practices in their fields and benchmarking can be a catalyst for driving those best practices.  

Linking it with global goals

With more and more businesses being able to gather more data about their carbon footprint, over time, the opportunity to link industries ambitions with global targets will become much easier. For example, businesses can see how close they are to reaching global carbon reduction targets by comparing their progress and commitments to industry recommendations, set by organisations such as The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). 

As we move into the era of target setting and increasing GHG policy signals and regulations, there is a need for easy, affordable and accurate ways to measure business carbon emissions, and monitor progress. Businesses demonstrating their carbon commitments will not only increase their competitive advantage but it also helps us globally to validate that we are on the right track. 

Since launching our Business App only a few months ago, we are thrilled to see the uptake by businesses of all sizes and industries embracing their responsibility and beginning their carbon reduction journey. If you are interested in starting to measure your business’s carbon footprint or just finding out more about the process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at biz@climateclever.org.

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