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Carbon accounting

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Carbon accounting or greenhouse gas accounting refers to processes used to measure how much carbon dioxide equivalents an organization emits. It is used by states, corporations, and individuals to create the carbon credit commodity traded on carbon markets (or to establish the demand for carbon credits). Examples of products based on forms of carbon accounting may be found in national inventories, corporate environmental reports, and carbon footprint calculators.

Carbon accounting is likened to sustainability measurement, as an instance of ecological modernisation discourses and policy. Carbon accounting is hoped to provide a factual ground for carbon-related decision-making. However, social scientific studies of accounting challenge this hope,[1] noting practical issues in implementing abstract accounting schemes, due to the socially constructed character of carbon conversion factors.[2]

While natural sciences claim to know and measure carbon, for organisations it is usually easier to employ forms of carbon accounting to represent carbon. The trustworthiness of accounts of carbon emissions can easily be contested.[3] Thus, how well carbon accounting represents carbon is difficult to exactly know.

Greenhouse gas accounting

Greenhouse gas accounting describes the way to inventory and audit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A corporate or organisational GHG emissions assessment measures the organization's carbon footprint by quantifying the total amount of greenhouse gases the organization produces, whether directly or indirectly. The information provides basis for understanding and managing climate change impacts and may be used as a business tool.

The drivers for corporate GHG accounting include mandatory GHG reporting in directors' reports, investment due diligence, shareholder and stakeholder communication, staff engagement, green messaging, and tender requirements for business and government contracts.[4] Accounting for greenhouse gas emissions is increasingly seen as a standard requirement for business. For example, in June 2012, the UK coalition government announced the introduction of mandatory carbon reporting,[5] requiring around 1,100 of the UK's largest listed companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions every year. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed that emission reporting rules would take effect beginning April 2013.[6]

Guidance for accounting for GHG emissions from organizations and emission reduction projects is provided by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) GHG Protocol.[7] For national GHG inventories, guidance is provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) methodology reports.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) also provides some general standards for

  • greenhouse gas emissions at organisation level (ISO 14064 - 1) and
  • greenhouse gas emissions at project level (ISO 14064 - 2).

Specifications to validate and verify relevant accountings are documented in (ISO 14064 - 3).[8]

Carbon accounting in corporations

Carbon accounting can be used as part of sustainability accounting by for-profit and non-profit[9] organisations. A corporate or organisational "carbon" or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions assessment promises to quantify the greenhouse gases produced directly and indirectly from a business or organisation's activities within a set of boundaries. Also known as a carbon footprint, it is a business tool that constructs information that may (or may not) be useful for understanding and managing climate change impacts.

The drivers for corporate carbon accounting include mandatory GHG reporting in directors' reports, investment due diligence, shareholder and stakeholder communication, staff engagement, green messaging, and tender requirements for business and government contracts.[10] Accounting for greenhouse gas emissions is increasingly framed as a standard requirement for business. As of June 2011, 60% of UK FTSE 100 companies had published environmental targets, with 53% of these 240+ targets relating to carbon, greenhouse gas emissions or energy reductions (representing 59% of the FTSE 100).[11] In June 2012, the UK coalition government announced the introduction of mandatory carbon reporting,[12] requiring around 1,100 of the UK's largest listed companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions every year. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed that emission reporting rules would come into effect from April 2013 in his piece for The Guardian.[13][14]

Enterprise carbon accounting

Enterprise Carbon Accounting (ECA) or Corporate Carbon Footprint aims to be a rapid and cost effective process for businesses to collect, summarise, and report enterprise and supply chain GHG inventories. ECA leverages financial accounting principles, whilst utilising a hybrid of input-output LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) and process methodologies as appropriate. The evolution to ECA is necessary to address the urgent need for a more comprehensive and scalable approach to carbon accounting. While an emerging area, a number of new companies offer ECA solutions.[15] ECA is a critical part of broader Enterprise Sustainability Accounting.

To be successful, an Enterprise Carbon Accounting system should have the following characteristics:[citation needed]
Comprehensive: Incorporates Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions
Periodic: Enables updates at regular intervals and comparisons across reporting periods
Auditable: Traces transactions and enables independent reviews for compliance
Flexible: Incorporates data from multiple approaches to life cycle analysis
Standards-Based: Accommodates existing generally accepted standards and emerging standards
Scalable: Accommodates growing volume and complexity of business operations
Efficient: Delivers data in the timeframe required for decision making

Enterprises that realize reduced emissions and energy consumption utilize systems with the following capabilities:
* Real-time historical energy data that is easily accessible
* Role-based visibility into plant emissions data
* Provides executives with real-time visibility into emissions data
* Ability to benchmark emissions levels with goals and industry standards.

Life cycle analysis of ECA

Process LCA

Process LCA is the most popular method, currently, for conducting life-cycle assessment, and is often referred to as the SETAC-EPA method because of the role played by SETAC[16] and EPA in this method's development.[17] The inputs and outputs of multiple stages of a product's life are investigated in turn, and the results are aggregated into single metrics of impact such as eutrophication, toxicity, and greenhouse gas emissions. Three tools exist on the market to assist researchers in conducting process LCA (such as GaBi, Ecoinvent, and Umberto). These tools contain data from previous researchers on the environmental impact of materials and processes that are then strung together by the user to form a system.[17]

Economic input-output LCA

Input-output LCA utilizes economic input-output tables[18] and industry-level environmental data to construct a database of environmental impacts per dollar sold by an industry. The boundary problem of process LCA is solved in this method because the economic input-output table captures the interrelations of all economic sectors;[19] however, aggregated industrial categories limit the specificity of the results.[20] Input–output analysis is a very powerful tool for the upfront screening of corporate carbon footprints, for informing streamlined supply-chain GHG accounting and for setting priorities for more detailed analyses.[21][22]

Hybrid LCA

Many methods for hybrid life-cycle assessments have been discussed, which aim to combine the infinite boundary of EIO-LCA with the specificity of Process LCA.[23][24]

Enterprise carbon accounting (ECA)

At its core, ECA is essentially a hybrid life-cycle assessment; however, rather than the traditional bottom-up approach of life-cycle assessment, ECA links financial data directly to LCA data to produce a snapshot of the companies' operations. Rather than probing at areas thought to be problematic, ECA quickly identifies problem areas in the supply chain so that rapid action can be taken. This fundamental shift in thinking enables decision makers to rapidly address critical areas within the enterprise and supply chain.

Socialised supply chain

Socialised supply chain accounting is the term generally applied to Enterprise Carbon Accounting Solutions that provide a collaborative mechanism for supply chain participants to engage, expose and determine supply chain emissions through the process of shared knowledge. The term "Socialised Supply Chain" was coined by the CEO of Nootrol, Mark Kearns, to describe a platform where supply chain participants exposed Process LCA and embedded emissions.[citation needed]

Carbon accounting of avoided emissions

A special case of carbon accounting is the accounting process undertaken to measure the amount of carbon dioxide equivalents that will not be released into the atmosphere as a result of flexible mechanisms projects under the Kyoto Protocol.[25] These projects thus include (but are not limited to) renewable energy projects and biomass, forage and tree plantations.


Carbon emissions reporting measures the emissions produced by a certain activity or process.[clarification needed] It can identify factors that contribute to climate change, and help outline subsequent policies to limit climate change.

Typically, carbon emissions reporting captures outputs from processes such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, agricultural practices including the use of fertilizer and raising livestock, industrial processes, refrigeration, and the use of various consumer products.[26][27]

There are laws and policies in various countries which require large power stations and manufacturing plants to report their emissions to appropriate authorities, including the European Union as part of the Emissions Trading System,[28] or in the US as part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.[29]

Mandatory greenhouse gas reporting

In the United States, despite several attempts to institute mandatory reporting legislation, none were implemented until after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Due to this oil spill and increasing social awareness about the environment, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started the environmental Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program which became law in 2010. It forces 85% of the nation's top emitters to report how much greenhouse gas they have emitted.

In the first year of this legislation, only 85% of the nations leading emitters were required to report their annual emissions. Plans were to slightly increase this number each year to increase the information available on the amount of emissions produced.

This program was the initial step into countering the rising emissions rate. While many[who?] believe that if companies are forced to report their emissions, they will be more inclined to lower their impact; this effect has not been thoroughly studied. The ability to attract more investment as consumers prefer environmentally friendly products is another possible incentive, but again there is little evidence to support any strong claims.

In 2013, the UK coalition government implemented mandatory carbon reporting, requiring all UK companies listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange - around 1,100 of the UK's largest listed companies - to report their greenhouse gas emissions every year.[30] [31]

Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting

Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) is a UK government requirement for mandatory annual reporting and disclosure of energy and carbon information from companies. SECR came into effect in 2019. Whilst the over-riding intention of SECR is around public awareness, cost reduction and reduced carbon emissions, the BEIS also wanted to introduce a more simplified process.[32]

ISO 14064

The ISO 14064 standards for greenhouse gas accounting and verification published in 2006 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provide government and industry with an integrated set of tools for programmes aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as for emissions trading.[33]

Part 1 (Specification with guidance at the organization level for quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and removals)

ISO 14064-1:2006 specifies principles and requirements at the organization level for quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals. It includes requirements for the design, development, management, reporting and verification of an organization's GHG inventory.[34]

Part 2 (Specification with guidance at the project level for quantification, monitoring and reporting of greenhouse gas emission reductions or removal enhancements)

ISO 14064-2:2006 specifies principles and requirements and provides guidance at the project level for quantification, monitoring and reporting of activities intended to cause greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions or removal enhancements. It includes requirements for planning a GHG project, identifying and selecting GHG sources, sinks and reservoirs relevant to the project and baseline scenario, monitoring, quantifying, documenting and reporting GHG project performance and managing data quality.[35]

Part 3 (Specification with guidance for the validation and verification of greenhouse gas assertions)

ISO 14064-3:2006 specifies principles and requirements and provides guidance for those conducting or managing the validation and/or verification of greenhouse gas (GHG) assertions. It can be applied to organizational or GHG project quantification, including GHG quantification, monitoring and reporting carried out in accordance with ISO 14064-1 or ISO 14064-2.[36]

Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP)

Many companies have adopted the standards put forth by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP),[37] a partnership between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The Greenhouse Gas Protocol provides accounting and reporting standards, sector guidance, calculation tools, and training for businesses and government. It establishes a comprehensive, global, standardized framework for measuring and managing emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains, products, cities, and policies.[38] A new universal method for logistics emissions accounting was launched in 2016[39] in collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Greenhouse Gas protocol.[40] It's called the GLEC framework (Global Logistics Emissions Council).[41] The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is recognized by the UK government as an independent standard for reporting greenhouse gases.[42] The Greenhouse Gas Protocol[43] divides emissions into 3 Scopes.

Scope 1
Direct GHG emissions

Scope 1 covers all direct GHG emissions by a company.[44] It includes fuel combustion, company vehicles and fugitive emissions.[45] These emissions are direct GHG emissions that happen from sources owned or controlled by an organization including fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles.[46]

Scope 2
Electricity indirect GHG emissions

Scope 2 covers indirect GHG emissions from consumption of purchased electricity, heat, cooling or steam.[44] These emissions are a result of a company's activities but often occur outside a company's physical facility (e.g. at an electricity utility plant), hence scope 2 emissions are considered an indirect emission source.[46] Scope 2 emissions amount to at least one third of global GHG emissions due to the high demand for and consumption of electricity.[47]

The GHG Protocol has issued standardized guidelines on how an organization can calculate its Scope 2 emissions to ensure transparency and consistency between organizations. The Corporate Standard "recommends multiplying activity data (MWhs of electricity consumption) by source and supplier-specific emission factors to arrive at the total GHG emissions impact of electricity use."[47]

Scope 3

Other indirect GHG emissions

Scope 3 covers other indirect emissions, such as the extraction and production of purchased materials and fuels, transport-related activities in vehicles not owned or controlled by the reporting entity, electricity-related activities (e.g. transmission and distribution (T&D) losses) not covered in Scope 2, outsourced activities, waste disposal, etc.[44] Scope 3 emissions (also known as value chain emissions) often represent the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and in some cases can account for up to 90% of the total carbon impact.[48][49] Scope 3 emission sources include emissions both upstream and downstream of the organization's activities (e.g. suppliers, product use, and transportation of goods). The largest part of a typical corporate GHG footprint is in the company's value chain.

Based on the GHG Protocol, Scope 3 includes all emissions not covered by scope 1 and scope 2. There are 15 scope 3 categories, though not every category will be relevant to all organizations.[50]

  1. Purchased Goods and Services
  2. Capital Goods
  3. Fuel- and Energy-Related Activities Not Included in Scope 1 or 2
  4. Upstream Transportation and Distribution
  5. Waste Generated in Operations
  6. Business Travel
  7. Employee Commuting
  8. Upstream Leased Assets
  9. Downstream Transportation and Distribution
  10. Processing of Sold Products
  11. Use of Sold Products
  12. End-of-Life Treatment of Sold Products
  13. Downstream Leased Assets
  14. Franchises
  15. Investments
Upstream activities

Cradle-to-gate (sometimes referred to as "upstream") emissions, which include all emissions that occur in the life cycle of a material/product up to the point of sale by the producer.[51]

Downstream activities

Emissions that occur in the life cycle of a material/product after the sale by the producer. This includes distribution and storage, use of the product and end-of-life.[52]

Cooperation: ISO, WRI, and WBCSD

ISO (International Organization for Standardization), the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) under which they have agreed to jointly promote the ISO 14064 standards and the WRI and WBCSD GHG Protocol standards. The move is in response to concerns among businesses and GHG program designers that the two standards might not be consistent and mutually supportive. In fact, for corporate accounting, requirements and guidance contained in ISO and GHG Protocol standards are consistent and they are designed so that they can be used in a complementary manner.[53]


Whilst specific critiques of carbon reporting have emerged, the actual practice of how organisations account for and report emissions remains understudied.[54][55] Studies of practices of carbon accounting and reporting point to systemic externalities and raise issues about accountability.[56]

Double counting

When two or more individuals or organizations claim ownership of specific emission reductions or carbon offsets.[57] Double-counting occurs when the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) resulting from a particular activity are allocated to multiple parties in a supply chain, so that the total allocated emissions exceed the total actual emissions of that activity.[58] For investors and according to cross-asset footprint calculations, double-counting can reach about 30-40% of an institutional investor's portfolio emissions.[59]

Data quality

A 2004 study on corporate disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions found that only 15 percent of companies that disclose GHG emissions report them in a manner that the authors consider complete with respect to the scope of emissions, type of emissions, and reporting boundary.[60]

See also


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Works Cited

External links

Further reading

  • Murphy, B, Edwards, A, Meyer, CP (Mick),Russell-Smith, J (Eds) 2015, Carbon Accounting and Savanna Fire Management, CSIRO Publishing, ISBN 9780643108516
  • Renewable Fuels Association (12 December 2011). "Dance of the ethanol giants: US and Brazil in shuffle game". Western Farm Press. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  • "Carbon accounting provides sustainable outlook". TAFE SA, Government of South Australia. 4 November 2011. Retrieved 17 December 2011.[permanent dead link]
  • Cobas-Flores, E. 1996. Life-cycle assessment using input-output analysis. Ph.D. dissertation, Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Cumberland, J. H. and B. Stram. 1976. Empirical applications of input-output models to environmental protection. In Advances in input-output analysis: Proceedings of the sixth international conference on input-output techniques, Vienna, April 22–26, 1974, edited by K. R. Polenske and J. V. Skolka, pp. 365–382. Cambridge: Ballinger.
  • Hendrickson, C.; Horvath, A.; Joshi, S.; Lave, L. (1998). "Economic Input-Output Models for Environmental Life Cycle Assessment". Environmental Science and Technology. 32 (7): 184A–191A. doi:10.1021/es983471i.
  • Heijungs, R. and S. Suh, The Computational Structure of Life Cycle Assessment, Springer, 2002.
  • IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 1995. IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories, vol. 1–3. UNEP, OECD and IPCC.
  • Lave, L. B.; Cobas-Flores, E.; Hendrickson, C. T.; McMichael, F. C. (1995). "Using input-output analysis to estimate economy-wide discharges". Environmental Science and Technology. 29 (9): 420A–426A. doi:10.1021/es00009a748.
  • Molloy, E. (2000). Management Technologies: Ideas, Practices and Processes. PhD thesis, Lancaster University, Lancaster.
  • Suh, S (2004). "Functions, commodities and environmental impacts in an ecological–economic model". Ecological Economics. 48 (4): 451–467. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2003.10.013.
  • The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative
  • UN (United Nations). 1993. Integrated environmental and economic accounting. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, Statistics Division.
  • Hufschlag, K.: Global Carbon Accounting at DP DHL (Weltweites Carbon Accounting bei Deutsche Post DHL), uwf - Umweltwirtschaftsforum 18, H.1, 2010, S. 29-33
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