Carbon Accounting: Measuring the Fight Against Climate Change

Take a look at the news these days and you’ll see stories of natural disasters happening all over the world. From droughts and forest fires, to floods and hurricanes — the effects of climate change are now officially a common experience we all share.

We aren’t just the victims though, we are also the suspects. Human activity has contributed to the concentration of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, resulting in the changing climate and more frequent severe weather events. These emissions can be directly linked to various individual and industrial activities and quantified through the international standards of carbon accounting.

Fortunately, the dialogue around climate change is taking positive turns. The media speaks of natural disasters in the context of climate change and insurance companies are rewarding developers who are making their property more resilient. Organizations and governments are mandating long term emission reductions, and economist are raising dire concerns about the significant costs of inaction.

Whether it’s looking at residential, commercial, or community infrastructure, we are surrounded by opportunities to reduce GHG emissions. The adoption of new technologies, such as renewable energy and electric cars, are enabling us to take big steps forward. Indeed, we are doing good some things, but this problem demands a comprehensive approach.

Collecting and analyzing data may not be the “sexy” or “trendy” thing to do, but it is a huge component of success. If we can understand the sources and impacts of GHG emissions then we can better prepare ourselves for the fight against climate change. The most effective way to measure emissions is by conducting a GHG Inventory — a full account of GHG emissions drawn directly from your organizational and operational activities.

The first step in developing a GHG Inventory is to organize a group of stakeholders that are responsible for collecting the appropriate data sources. In most cases, the information needed to conduct an inventory is already available, you just need to know who to ask. For the more challenging data sources there are often regional or national organizations in a good position to assist your team with what you need. Getting organized and collecting data can be a huge lift, so surround yourself with responsible people and plan for it to take awhile.

The goal of the first inventory is to set a baseline emission level that is most representative of your organization’s regular activity. It should be as comprehensive as possible, but not to the extent that entire datasets are being estimated. Future changes can ultimately be made to calculations, but it is best to take your time and get it right the first time around. This is especially true if you intend to set specific reduction goals. You may want to consider having a third party professional verify your work for assurance purposes.

Once you’ve completed the inventory and feel confident about its accuracy, it’s time to get leadership approval. Getting their eyes on the information and engaging them in the process is vital to building support for future carbon mitigation opportunities. Depending on the nature of your organization, creating and publishing a GHG Inventory document for the public to view may be an appropriate next step. International carbon accounting protocols provide guidance in developing these reports, but a simple online search for inventories will provide your team with a swath of presentation examples.

Future inventories allow you to compare to the set baseline over time, enforcing a sense of accountability and transparency. Like financial accounting, it’s recommended to do this annually if you have the resources to do so. Regularly conducting an inventory will help your organization evaluate how emission reduction strategies are performing and make adaptations as necessary. At the end of the day, we all need to know if our actions are translating into quantifiable progress!

Traverse is a trusted sustainability advisor and certified GHG manager. We specialize in the measurement, verification and reporting of organizational GHG Inventories and offer customized solutions for the analysis, strategy, and communication of sustainability efforts. Our goal is increase organizational performance, while reducing environmental impacts.


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