Carbon accounting : calculate, reduce and take positive action for the climate

Carbon accounting : calculate, reduce and take positive action for the climate

How to define, calculate and understand the challenges – this article tells you everything you need to know about your carbon footprint !

In the context of the energy transition, there is a crucial variable that applies to businesses, organisations and the entire environmental ecosystem: it’s called a “carbon footprint”. This estimates the quantity of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere by a given product, service, organisation, event or individual. Here’s everything you need to know: Reference standards, how it’s calculated, and advice on how you can reduce it – you’ll find the answers to all your questions in this article !

Carbon footprint: what is it and why is it so important ?

Out of a range of variables, carbon footprint is the most accurate parameter to determine the environmental impacts of human activity on climate change and, consequently, on global heating.

Data enables us to evaluate the quantity of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere by a given product, service, organisation, event or individual. It’s generally expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalent (the effect of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas is taken as being equal to 1, and is used as a reference for all greenhouse gases). It’s calculated over the entire life cycle of the system being analysed.

For example, when we calculate the carbon footprint of a product, its entire life cycle must be taken into account: from the research and development phase through to final manufacture of the product including transport, packaging and ultimately recycling.

Calculating your Carbon Footprint: a brief guide

The consensus is general: massive CO2 emissions caused by human activity are having a huge impact and this calls for a global response. The first thing we need to do is to change our own relationship to energy. Good news: carbon footprints can now be calculated for specific local areas, companies, sectors of activity and individuals.

To estimate carbon footprint, a reliable methodology was designed by the Ademe (Environment and Energy Management Agency) in 2004: we’re referring here to Nos Gestes Climat (Our Climate Gestures), a simulator that allows people to analyse their personal carbon impact based on their lifestyle (travel, leisure, housing, etc.) and map their main areas of GHG emissions.

The test consists of a series of macro-categories :

Food: consuming meat and dairy products is a major constituent of the carbon footprint of French people, accounting for a quarter of emissions. Ademe identifies two areas to address and reduce this: a change of diet and a reform of agricultural practices.

Transport : it’s obviously one of the primary contributors to CO2 emissions. The all-round champion of pollution, transport is responsible for 31% of greenhouse gases emitted in France. Although air travel only represents a very small share of transport demand (0.5%), its impact in terms of CO2 emissions is very significant (1.1 MtCO2, or 5%). “Changing how we get around” has become vitally important!

Housing : on Nos Gestes Climat, heating (gas, fuel, electricity) and water and waste treatment are calculated based on the surface area of the accommodation and the number of people living there. Good news – in France over 90% of electricity production is carbon-free (due to a combination of nuclear and renewable energy). Because of this, the carbon impact of housing is relatively low compared to other sources.

Miscellaneous : this category looks at purchases of new clothing, household appliances, etc. In a study called “Environmental and economic assessments of the lengthening of the useful life of consumer products and household equipment”, the Ademe notes that 14% of French people replace equipment while it is still working. The fight against cultural obsolescence is – undoubtedly – one of the main environmental challenges that will need to be addressed.

And last but not least…

Digital: Internet, as well as laptops, computers, televisions and other digital devices, weigh heavily in our climate footprint. In fact, the concept of digital sobriety requires us to rethink the way we use software and electronic devices. How can we do this?

In your everyday life: how you can reduce your digital footprint

As we know that computers and information and communication technologies (ICT) have a significant negative impact on the environment, we need to understand what we can actually do on in our everyday lives to achieve digital sobriety. Perhaps you’ve heard of “Green IT“? Green IT includes all practices and behaviour that lead to a reduction in digital carbon footprint and pollution, and gives us a whole relationship with energy. Concretely, seeking to use digital tools in a greener way may simply mean turning off your computer more often (or using the battery charge), or it may entail the development of environmentally friendly technologies.

How can we harness technology to bring about a sustainable energy landscape? As part of a range of initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of digital technology, the Elow team has developed, in partnership with Microsoft, a web application that enables people to calculate, control and take action to reduce their carbon footprint. This solution has been designed with everyone in mind- businesses, individuals, non-profits, etc. With Elow, you can measure the carbon footprint of your IT equipment in real time, monitor your progress, identify the most energy-consuming applications, and learn about eco-friendly actions and best practices suggested to you by our team of responsible energy experts. But that’s not all: Elow’s “marketplace” feature offers you a choice of green energy solutions, selected on the basis of the most demanding criteria. In a nutshell: “Taking positive action for the climate and digital sobriety – an informed decision!”

And what about businesses ? Why calculate your carbon footprint ?

In France, carbon accounting isn’t compulsory for all companies. The 2010 Grenelle II made carbon accounting mandatory only for certain entities:

  • Private companies with more than 500 employees in mainland France and more than 250 employees in French overseas regions and departments ;
  • Public entities with over 250 people;
  • Towns and local authorities of more than 50,000 inhabitants ;
  • The French state.

Since 2015, according to the Loi de Transition Energétique pour la Croissance Verte (the Energy Transition Law for Green Growth), organisations must renew their carbon report:

  • every four years for those companies concerned ;
  • every three years for local authorities.

However, even in cases where carbon accounting is not compulsory, it’s strongly recommended for all types of business, as it’s a real opportunity to participate in the energy transition and to anticipate future changes to the law. And although the environment is obviously the main focus here, there are a host of other advantages in becoming a low carbon company !

  • Less CO2 = lower costs
  • Environmentally friendly products are increasingly in demand
  • Strengthen your brand image
  • Be armed with strong arguments for banks or investors
  • Access new markets and countries
  • Boost corporate culture

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