Ain't No Bodys' Business But My Own (Carbon Foot Print Calculation For Businesses)

Corporate Climate Action Pioneers
In recent years, a handful of large corporations have estimated and publicly documented the cumulative carbon "footprint" of their operations. Most firms, however, are waiting...nervously eying pioneering efforts...for the declaration of the corporate environmental "footprint" to become a community standard.

The usual starting point is to sum the Green House Gas equivalent (GHG-e) emissions of manufacturing sites under company control, including contract manufacturing. a.k.a. "outsourced manufacturing." A trickier aspect is to apportion the corporate footprint attributable to joint venture manufacturing facilities.

Somehow apportioned, are annual GHG-e emissions associated with operation of owned or rented office buildings, as well as company-required travel. In all cases, the GHG-e estimates have to include not only the carbon dioxide associated with electricity actually consumed, but also that which is associated with electrical energy lost during transmission (line losses are typically in the 6 - 12% range).

Open for discussion: whether employee commuting-related emissions should be included in the annual GHG-e estimates. Does that go for full time workers, or contract workers, or part time workers, or telecommuters;...and, how so?

Here's the big deal with corporate footprint.
Unless every corporation, regardless or sector or size, does their GHG-e emission estimations with transparent, reasonably similar methods, comparisons are probably meaningless. We might draw analogy to "balancing the books," a task where there is plenty of wiggle room and, hence, a need for rules and oversight by regulatory bodies and accounting experts.

Looking for loopholes.
For now, we have only praise for those firms who have bravely calculated their GHG-e footprint - especially if they have publicly posted the results. Once the practice of GHG-e emission estimation becomes commonplace, and after a carbon "cap" has a cost attached, however, there will be the occasional temptation to bend the protocols to look "greener". Whose business is the footprint estimation methodology then?

The weight of this question depends highly on whether we are talking about a manufacturing versus a service business.

Services business are the growth market for offsetting.
For service businesses such as banks, what the utility company emits on their behalf, and emissions associated with corporate travel are the main GHG-e refrains. After systems are in place to make sure the lights are off when they can be; and, after the thermostat is always dialed down after hours; and, after the Prius fleet has been leased, what else is there for an office tenant to do? Think 20 years down the road. Offsetting is the ultimate, sustainable response. It will be the basic means for service businesses to respond to their GHG-e footprints going forward.

Manufacturers have a much harder job in front of them.
For the manufacturing business, offsetting, hopefully, comes into play only after process optimization, after product re-design, and after business model "re-engineering" have all been fully exploited: a much more expensive, complex, and elaborate pallet from which to paint a corporate climate action future.

For small to mid-sized businesses, hiring a consultant to estimate the GHG-e emissions is more of a financial burden; and, the appropriate engineering talent may not be on staff. Sweat equity has little to offer for small business concerned with climate action.

Free tools for small and service businesses.
Given the above, it makes for a good business strategy for carbon offset marketers - these vendors really should be known as GHG offset marketers; but that is for another day - to offer a free GHG-e calculation tool: like The GreenLife Organization has.

The GreenLife Organization, LLC (, a leading provider of carbon offsets and carbon management services announces the launch of its new business calculator providing businesses a simple and effective way to measure and offset the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from their everyday operations.
Follow through requires much more of corporations than footprint measurement and offsetting. It requires setting a baseline year, committing to a reduction goal, holding managers accountable for meeting the goal, and, finally, driving positive change up the supply chain.

As we indicated above, a simple on line tool is not enough. Manufacturers of durable goods, especially, have a far more capital and technically intensive task in front of them: especially if they wish to drive positive change in the supply chain in the manner of Wal-Mart.

Need For Standards
Who determines the footprint calculation methods, per industry sector; and, who ensures that the methods are universally followed? Will the methods be overseen by national or even international regulations, just as with financial accounting standards? Or, will voluntary standards rule the future of climate action?

These questions need to be addressed as much as the question of whether G8 nations have to "lead by example" versus waiting for developing nations to sign on to climate action.

A Detail Not To Be Learned The Hard Way
Forget product life cycle inventory approaches to the "footprint." Too hard to decide what part of the electric bill for the warehouse to apportion to the cotton scarf versus the re-usable grocery bag inventories. It's the whole corporation that needs to have it's footprint measured. Not an isolated product. Not just the product at point of assembly. The whole corporation.

Image credit::Sid In The City, Carbon Offsets - What a Racket.