By David James
So, you want to write a carbon reduction plan; or maybe you want to be carbon neutral; or perhaps you’re just curious. For whatever reason, you’ve made the decision to calculate the carbon footprint of your business.
What’s the best way of going about it?
Should you use a carbon calculator or a consultant?
This article will explore the benefits and downsides of each approach and an alternative you may not have considered, before highlighting the most important question to ask yourself before you start.
There are a wide variety of carbon calculators available that vary hugely in the scope of emission sources covered, the amount of organisational complexity they can handle and the frequency and source of data input. If you decide to use a calculator you are going to be doing the work yourself, so you need to choose carefully to make sure you get one that suits your needs and is easy to use.
- Low cost: carbon calculators typically are low cost depending on the size of your organisation.
- Make a quick start: you can sign up and start entering data to explore your footprint immediately.
- Automation: Some calculators can automate some of your data collection.
- Dashboards: Some calculators have dashboards that present your data in attractive, easy to read ways.
- Difficulty of choosing the right one: The wide variety of capabilities in different calculators makes it very hard to know which one will suit your needs.
- Lack of guidance: There are up to 18 different categories of emissions sources identified in the greenhouse gas protocol. Which ones you need to take account of depends on your goals, the structure of your organisation and the activities you carry out. You must know which of these are important to your organisation to choose the right calculator, but very few offer any guidance on how to do this.
- Lack of flexibility: Each calculator tends to embody one way of working. For example, some require data to be entered monthly, whereas others require it annually. Some can automatically calculate a footprint from your purchases by linking with your accounting software, although not all emission-causing activities are captured there. Most cover only a limited subset of potential emission sources.
- It’s not only about the calculation: Calculating your footprint is only a small part of the job. Deciding what to include or not include; setting reduction targets and creating action plans; selection the right offsetting method; disclosure; monitoring progress. These are all critical part of the process too. Some calculators may address parts of this wider process but many don’t.
Consultants offer a bespoke service, tailoring their process to match your goals and the needs of your organisation. They offer total flexibility but may be expensive.
- Get you started in the right way: Consultants can guide you through the complexities of the calculation. They can help you select which emissions sources you should include and what is the best way to do the calculation to match your goals.
- Consider the wider context: Consultants can help you define your goals to align with current best practice and the needs of your stakeholders. They can help you achieve carbon neutrality or develop a net zero roadmap. They can flex the process as your organisation develops and as scientific understanding, best practice and legislation change.
- Drive the process: Consultants can help you understand and drive the complete process of carbon reduction, which includes target setting, action planning, disclosure and process monitoring.
- Offer solutions: A good consultant can help you find solutions to your carbon reduction challenges.
- Higher cost: It can be difficult to compare consultancy costs without getting detailed quotes from multiple consultancies.
- Lack of specialist knowledge on carbon: Many consultants are broad sustainability experts. Carbon calculation is a specialist and complex subject, so make sure that the consultant you choose has specific expertise in this area.
Carbon Management Service
An alternative you may not have considered is a carbon management service, such as Auditel. This offers many of the benefits of both calculators and consultants at a more affordable price than consultancy by using a standardised process that has enough flexibility to meet most needs.
- Lower cost: Costs are typically depending on the size of your organisation.
- Streamlined process: By focussing on and specialising in carbon, a carbon management service can speed up the process of calculation and keep costs down.
- Guidance, flexibility and go-forward: A carbon management service offers many of the benefits of consultancy; setting you off on the right foot, flexing the process to meet your needs, driving the carbon reduction process in line with best practice and helping you find practical solutions to your carbon reduction challenges.
- Accountability: A carbon management process will help you stay accountable for achieving your goals by regularly reviewing progress and helping you put remedial actions in place.
- Certification, transparency and disclosure: A carbon management service will also help you publish your carbon footprint and reduction plans in a factual and transparent way, which is vital if you want to avoid accusations of greenwashing. It will also offer a document that demonstrates your commitment to carbon reduction to your employees and customers.
Know Your Goals
Before you decide on the best approach to calculating your carbon footprint the most important thing to do is to understand your goals. Knowing why you want to calculate your carbon is key to picking the right solution for your business:
- Do you just want to know your footprint, or do you want to create a credible carbon reduction plan?
- Do you want to achieve a carbon neutrality certification or are you looking to publicly disclose your footprint?
- What budget do you have for the calculation and are you prepared to allocate a budget towards achieving carbon reduction?
- Do you want guidance on how to do the calculation properly, or on how to develop a carbon reduction plan or a net zero roadmap?
- Do you want to be held accountable for achieving your plans?
- Making a clear list of your goals will enable you to evaluate whether a particular carbon calculator, consultant or carbon management service is best placed to meet the needs of your business.