Carbon Footprint: the Basics

What is a carbon footprint? 

Carbon footprint is a way to measure the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced by a company, an individual or an activity.  Every activity, product or purchase has a carbon footprint, from sending an email to boiling the kettle for a cup of tea.

Carbon in this context is actually shorthand for a whole range of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide being the main one (about 70% of total GHGs). It also includes gases such as methane and nitrous oxide as well as CFC’s which come from refrigeration units.

So if you’re a beef farmer, your carbon footprint may comprise mainly methane produced by your herd which would be converted to a carbon equivalent to give your footprint. Carbon footprint is just a simple way to describe the total amount of emissions of harmful greenhouse gases that result from our human activities. 

How can your business measure its carbon footprint?

It can be hard to know where to start in terms of tackling your carbon footprint. You may have seen carbon footprint calculators for individuals where the tool asks you about your energy bills, your transport use, diet, how many flights you take per year and so on. These tools calculate the resulting emissions from all your activities and give you a result in tonnes of carbon. 

When it comes to calculating your business’s carbon footprint you will be asked similar questions but it is a bit more complicated because your activities are done on behalf of others. For example if you sell tea, are you responsible for the emissions that result from boiling the water to make your tea? And the answer is yes.

Different categories of emissions

Which emissions is your business responsible for? There are 3 categories or scopes of emissions that we will look at to calculate your carbon footprint. 

  • Scope 1 Direct emissions from owned or controlled sources 
  • Scope 2 Indirect emissions from purchased energy 
  • Scope 3 Indirect emissions that occur in the value chain of a company, both upstream and downstream

These 3 categories or scopes are explained in this graphic

More information available here from Antithesis 

Deciding where your company’s activities fit in with these scopes will depend on your operation and business model. Depending on your industry, scope 1 and 2 can be reasonably straightforward to define. Scope 3 can be trickier as it can involve your supply chain and activities that you may have little control over. Also Scope 3 emissions can make a  large contribution to your overall carbon footprint.

Having defined what scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions are, we can calculate your business’s carbon footprint.

The business case for knowing and reducing your carbon footprint

Knowing your business’s carbon footprint means that you have a baseline from which to develop sustainability strategies, goals, and key performance indicators. It’s hard to argue with facts and numbers. 

Once you have calculated your carbon footprint (with our help) we can create a step-by-step guide to reduce your business’s emissions. Having a carbon footprint measurement before and after you implement your business sustainability strategy means that you have something to report to your board, the people within the organisation and your customers. It shows that your business is taking sustainability seriously and making real improvements.

Ready to look at your business’s carbon footprint?