Whether you're just starting out, or expanding on your value chain emissions, developing a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory is an important part of your company's climate journey. Collecting data is always the first step in this process.
Carbon footprints are used to identify business risks and opportunities, set decarbonisation targets and support investor relations and market positioning. A credible carbon footprint depends on the quality of the underlying data and the transparent communication of its limitations. Having inefficient data collection processes is detrimental not only to your sustainability team, but also to the broader company and your stakeholders.
The key challenges we see when working with clients include:
It's just a lot of data! This is due to the varied inputs required. For complex companies, this can take two to three months for a resource-constrained team.
Data gaps will be identified during this process with alternative data sources required. This means that teams need to understand the shortcomings and uncertainties associated with different data types.
Data is needed across sources, including waste, water, energy, business travel and company purchases. Such information often sits with many different "data owners". For some applications, forward-looking data is required, needing input from the business.
Supplier or customer data is often not uniform or readily available. Companies may need to make assumptions developing the footprint.
Finally, the information may not have been stored with carbon footprinting in mind. Data owners need to consolidate or manipulate data, and address data gaps.
The fundamentals of carbon footprinting are well-established; however, reporting requirements are constantly shifting. Conditions set by different disclosure schemes, government programmes or internal decision-makers are often improved and expanded. It is important to have robust processes in place to meet these changing requirements.
Understanding the reputational and compliance risks of a shifting landscape, and what is – and what is not – accepted by auditors, investors and the media is critical to ensuring that any climate claims are credible.
Data collection is a means to an end. As a company, you need to use your GHG information to support real climate action, not spend your time collecting data and reporting. So, how can this part of the process be improved?
There are a lot of software solutions available that can streamline the process of calculating your carbon footprint. These solutions range from individual estimates for household emissions, all the way through to enterprise data and emissions management platforms.
Software solutions can help by:
However, while it's an important tool, software should only form part of your overall solution: your team still needs to understand the inputs, methodology and results. Software and technology should form part of your processes, but you should make sure they are fit for purpose and that the outputs are actionable, insightful and can inform more than just reporting.
When selecting a software solution, it is important to consider the data points that should be collected, the completeness of the carbon data reporting (can it report on scope 1, scope 2 and all 15 scope 3 categories?), the transparency of the outputs and your overall reporting or decision-making requirements. During the footprinting process, bear in mind that software is only as good as the data you provide. If you cannot interrogate the data, or do not understand the underlying assumptions, it can be difficult to trust the software report, or make strategic decisions.
It is worth considering doing the carbon accounting manually the first time. While this is time-consuming, it will provide a sense check of the software output, and also streamlines the software implementation as you already know the data sources and formats.
If data collection is done well, you can expend effort on using the data to improve business sustainability outcomes, which is where the power of the data lies. Being able to make business decisions, set credible climate targets and decarbonise are the real goals – not the reports!