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The Ever Evolving Footprint

19/07/2022

Vanessa Rauland
Dr Vanessa Rauland

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When it comes to acting on climate change, the responsibility is on all of us. No matter how big or small - we all need to get going. Our ClimateClever platform enables anyone, whatever their position, to simply get started and adapt as we go.

Anyone that has gone through the formal process of calculating their carbon footprint, particularly through a consultant, will know just how complicated, time consuming and manual the process can be. If you want to get certified, it becomes even more time consuming and expensive due to the increased rigour. 

While rigour is important, it can be quite off-putting for those who a) are just exploring getting started and b) are not yet compelled to do it but are interested to do it voluntarily.

Our belief at ClimateClever is that we ALL need to take action and get started, and if that means empowering people to get started on a simplified journey, then that is a far better outcome than deferring action because ‘it’s too hard right now’. We can no longer keep putting off action. We need to act TODAY (well yesterday). This is a climate emergency.

Setting your boundary

The first thing to do when calculating your footprint is set your emissions boundary. That means, identifying what emissions you are going to include in your footprint. Emissions are broken into Scopes - Scope 1 (Direct emissions - emissions produced on site where you are), Scope 2 (Indirect emissions - primarily from electricity production and heating/cooling), and Scope 3 (Other Indirect emissions - from a whole range of sources). It’s really the Scope 3 emissions that cause the most chaos for companies trying to grapple with their first carbon footprint. While there are rules that you can apply to determine which main emission sources you should include or exclude, at the end of the day (and depending on how ambitious you feel!), the number of emission sources you can include is as long as a piece of string.

 The winding road

While the global standards and protocols for carbon accounting haven’t changed much over the years, the expectation around what scope 3 emissions should be included has slowly been expanding. It also varies between people who are measuring for compliance versus voluntarily. That is, carbon accounting undertaken for compliance has always been much more rigorous and remained pretty consistent. But for those voluntarily going through the process, it has been a bit more relaxed. Ten years ago, for example, there were some ‘generally accepted’ minimum emissions that a business that was voluntarily reporting should include in their footprint. These were things like water, waste, flights and paper. 

However, as time has moved on and reporting has gotten better (and climate change worse), these minimum scope 3 emissions have been changing too, that is, slowly expanding. This is to be expected and should be accepted.

For example, when we launched our initial platform targeting schools, we only looked at electricity, gas, water and waste. We didn’t claim to be doing a full carbon footprint, but we firmly believed that those four emission sources covered the majority of a school’s carbon footprint and were also the easiest data to capture as the schools generally received a utility bill for each of them. Schools that were calculating their emissions were doing so very voluntarily, were extremely time and resourced constrained and generally had no/low budgets. We’ve since helped schools across the country saved tens of thousands of tonnes of emissions and over $2 million in costs just from those four emission sources. That’s the power of ‘just getting started!’.

When we launched our Business Platform, we knew we needed to include a few more of the ‘generally accepted’ emissions, such as flights, commute and paper. This was important to enable these early businesses to get started on their carbon reduction journey.

Credit: Mark Konig

Transparency is key

While we believe undertaking a ‘basic’ carbon footprint is better than not doing anything, the most important thing is that you are transparent. That’s why we have now released an automatically generated Carbon Footprint Report, which details the emissions that are included in your carbon footprint and identifies reasons for exclusions. Problems only arise when businesses try and mislead people around what they are claiming. I.e. if you say you are carbon neutral, but in fact, only your electricity is carbon neutral. You need to clearly and transparently demonstrate what you have included in your carbon footprint.

Nevertheless, societal expectations are also always changing and this will continue to put increasing pressure on businesses to keep up. And this is likely to include expanding what you include in your footprint.

Constant Improvement

It makes sense that as the field of carbon accounting and emissions management evolves and people become more accustomed to, and experienced with the process, that it will improve over time. This means businesses should expect an increase in the number of emission sources required to be included in their footprint, and/or how detailed or accurate the data is. You don’t need to lose sleep over previous carbon footprint calculations. It was the best you could do at a given time, given your time, ability and the changing complexity of the market.

Europe provides a great example, where for decades, only Scope 1 & 2 emissions were required for international reporting, but as climate action starts to ramp up, they are developing new regulation and legislation for larger companies to report their Scope 3 (supply chain) emissions. For some companies, this might include thousands of SMEs. These emissions, which were previously never really considered due to the complexity in capturing that data, suddenly need to be reported somehow (...our ClimateClever platform provides an innovative, streamlined solution for those companies - but that’s a topic for another blog!).

As a society, we are constantly innovating, improving and finding new ways to collect previously inaccessible (or more accurate) data, so it makes sense to keep pushing the boundaries.

ClimateClever’s approach to improvement

As mentioned, at ClimateClever we want to encourage and empower EVERYONE to just get started. Our philosophy is that any action is better than no action. We don’t want to overwhelm businesses, but we do want to be the most accurate and scalable carbon accounting platform out there (which we believe we are!).

We fully support the Federal Government’s Climate Active Carbon Neutral Certification. As they state, they are one of the most rigorous carbon footprint certification schemes in the world! But for that reason, it is also likely that the process may put off a lot of smaller businesses off wanting to calculate their footprint (or at least delay it until they have more time and/or money). We don’t believe we have that luxury anymore. We can’t afford to delay. We are seeing the horrific impacts of climate change in Australia today.

Hence, getting people started on the journey is our key focus at ClimateClever. We are calling our first version, a ‘Basic’ carbon footprint. It’s adequate to demonstrate you are taking action and you should be proud.

An evolving footprint shows progress

As you become more confident and competent in your data collection and ability to implement processes, you can (and should!) expand your emissions boundary. Society will slowly expect this of you. And yes, your emissions might go up in the short term as you expand what you include in your boundary, but as we’ve seen with COVID, many things are likely to affect your emissions over time! You may lay off people one year, or hire more staff in another - all of this will impact your baseline emissions and you’ll have to explain it. The electricity grid emission factor also changes year on year, which affects your footprint regardless of what actions you implement (or don’t!). There are so many variables. That’s why we always allow you to compare individual emission streams within the platform to check how you are doing and report it over time.

We’ll be adding new emission sources later this year (and probably forever - as expectations continue to change!).

This is a journey we are all on. We thank you for being on this journey with us and doing your bit for climate action.

 

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