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How is the Carbon Footprint Measured?

Updated on
May 3, 2023
Why is it so important to measure the carbon footprint?

Measuring the carbon footprint is essential for reducing or eliminating the negative environmental impact generated by products, services or consumption habits.

This analysis helps to set targets to limit the consequences of climate change and align with the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, consumers are increasingly interested in knowing the environmental impact behind the products they use, so measuring the carbon footprint allows companies to improve their relationship with consumers through greater transparency and environmental communication. Other benefits of measuring the carbon footprint in the private sector include the ability to identify potential savings, prepare for future legislations, improve internal communication, set realistic targets, and strengthen corporate image.

How is the carbon footprint measured?

The first step when analyzing the carbon footprint is to establish its scope or limits. 

The footprint of an individual, company or product is not measured in the same way as the footprint of a country. We will focus on the carbon footprint analysis of a company or organization. 

In order to measure a company's carbon footprint, it is necessary to consider whether to measure direct or indirect GHG emissions. Direct emissions are those generated on-site and controlled by the company. Whereas indirect emissions are those generated off-site, controlled by another organization, but are the result of the company's activities.  There are three scope levels when analyzing the carbon footprint, taking into account whether it refers to direct or indirect emissions generated by a company.

Scope 1: Directly generated emissions, such as fossil fuel based machinery or vehicles owned by the organization, as well as air conditioning or CH4 leaks.

Scope 2: Indirect emissions resulting from energy acquired to supply a company’s establishments and processes. 

Scope 3: Indirect emissions derived from a company's activities to produce its products and services, but conducted by third parties. In other words, those that have been previously generated, such as the transportation of raw materials, fuels or products, as well as business trips. These emissions are the most difficult to calculate due to the large number of suppliers and the difficulty of tracing their origin.

There are different methodologies used to calculate emissions and carbon footprint, varying in scope and type of gases measured. Here are some of the most relevant.

  • GHG Protocol 

Most common methodology used at an international level, employed to calculate and communicate the reporting of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions (direct and indirect). It enables transparency and reduces costs in the compilation of GHG inventories. It also provides information to manage and reduce these emissions. The GHG Protocol is not a verification standard but provides guidelines to facilitate compliance.

Meanwhile, the ISO 14060 family of standards provides clarity and consistency in the quantification, monitoring, reporting and verification of GHG emissions and offsets. In addition, the ISO represents a global reference in terms of standards. 

  • UNE-EN ISO 14064-1:2019

This standard contains the requirements to be followed in the elaboration and monitoring of emission inventories, including the selection of limits, emitting sources or internal audit processes. This standard no longer allows only for scopes 1 and 2 to be measured but provides a methodology for calculating the most significant indirect emissions. 

  • UNE-EN ISO 14067:2019

This standard establishes a set of criteria, obligations and guidelines to calculate a product's carbon footprint. Together with carbon footprint calculations, it allows a better understanding of the impact generated by a product. It also facilitates the adoption of the necessary measures to reduce it. The standard is not certifiable but can be verified by approved actors.

Once the scope and operational limits of the emissions to be measured are known, the carbon footprint analysis consists of collecting data from primary or secondary sources. Primary sources can come from the organization itself or its suppliers, and secondary sources can be based on standardizations.  Once all the data has been collected, the calculation will be done through the use of a calculation tool, based on a methodology that generates accurate results. The way to measure the carbon footprint is through tons of CO2 equivalent (quantity x emission factor).

The most important thing when measuring your carbon footprint is to know which emissions are the most relevant for your business and to use this information to reduce, compensate or negativize the impact of our activity on the environment. 

Thanks for reading this far, if you want to know more about how to offset your carbon footprint you can read this other post. 








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