1 Sep 2022

Pitfalls to avoid when measuring your Carbon Footprint and setting a Net Zero target

By Joe Venables
Shipping containers net zero

Setting a Net Zero target? Beware of the common pitfalls associated with measuring carbon and setting targets.

Understanding, managing and reducing carbon should be a top priority for all businesses. Over 3,000 companies are working to set Science Based Targets (SBTs) to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Ambitious action is required now to limit the impacts of global warming and to future-proof businesses from increasingly severe climate risks.

Organisations typically plan their pathway to Net Zero by:

  1. Understanding which emission sources are relevant to their business
  2. Collecting data across their operations and supply chain
  3. Calculating their Scope 1-3 Carbon Footprint
  4. Assessing what levers can be pulled to reduce emissions while accounting for growth
  5. Setting a Net Zero target

Following these steps narrows a company’s focus on its material carbon impacts and ensures Net Zero targets are sufficiently ambitious and achievable.

While the overall route to Net Zero is clear, many companies will experience difficulties during implementation. Our team have worked with companies from a number of industries, including consumer goods, tech, hospitality and media, on their carbon journey, so we understand the common pitfalls associated with measuring carbon and achieving Net Zero. Here are our recommendations for companies working to overcome these challenges.

Prioritise large emission sources

When it comes to achieving Net Zero, having a few very large emission sources can often make reduction goals easier to achieve and simpler to communicate. Companies can narrow their focus and are often able to achieve their climate goals with one or two significant changes to business as usual as opposed to lots of minor changes.

Scope 3 data collection

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol has 16 different Scope 3 emission categories. Organisations are often overwhelmed by the quantity and complexity of the data needed to calculate their Scope 3 footprint, especially those completing their scoping exercise for the first time.

It is important to prioritise collecting high-quality data for the largest emission categories. These are typically most relevant to an organisations’ core offering so this data is often already available, it is just a case of speaking with the right people. Companies typically also have greater leverage and purchasing power to influence change for these emission sources.

On top of this, many suppliers or service providers have their own carbon reporting processes or have themselves set Net Zero targets. In these instances, it is often easier to facilitate data exchange. Take the real estate industry for example, where Property Managers have access to several data sources associated with an organisation’s direct operations; by working together to manage and reduce impact, both parties can benefit.

boxxe

Client Spotlight: boxxe’s journey to Net Zero

Digital technology specialists boxxe are commited to achieving Net Zero by 2030. As a first step it was critical for boxxe to calculate their current emissions. They’ve streamlined data capture for a quicker, smoother reporting process and are now using quality data to monitor and manage emissions.

Read boxxe’s story

Progress over perfection

Achieving Net Zero is often described as a journey and there is a very good reason for this. Collecting all the necessary information to formulate a robust Carbon Footprint, emission reduction pathway and Net Zero action plan is a challenging and often resource-intensive task, especially if there are known data gaps or quality issues.

These challenges should never impede progress. Instead, organisations should consider what practical steps can be taken to significantly reduce emissions and implement them, even if the overall picture is incomplete.

Organisations should consider what practical steps can be taken to significantly reduce emissions and implement them now, even if the overall picture is incomplete

Companies have time over their target window to improve their reporting processes however global warming is an immediate issue. Carbon-reducing actions should be prioritised to make a positive change as soon as practically possible.

Further to this, restating emissions should not be viewed as a bad thing, especially when new and improved sources of information become available. Clear and transparent communication with stakeholders is essential to a successful Net Zero target.

Focus on the big picture

Finally, it is critical to always remember the big picture and why you are setting a Net Zero target in the first place. The benefits include:

  • Reducing your emissions to limit global warming
  • Preparing your business to be more resilient to physical and transitional climate risks
  • Lower operational costs
  • Accessing new sustainable markets and revenue streams
  • Positioning yourself as a sustainable market leader within your sector

Calculating an accurate Carbon Footprint is an essential part of a Net Zero strategy however it takes time to collect all of the necessary data at a sufficient level of granularity.

Remember, no company is tackling climate change in isolation. It is the responsibility of businesses, governments and the public to collectively achieve these goals. It is vital that companies take advantage of their purchasing power to select providers that match their climate ambition – this intervention will in turn help them achieve their Net Zero goals.

Senior Sustainability Consultant