What is a Carbon Footprint?

A carbon footprint, or carbon audit, is a means of measuring and reporting the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of a business or organisation.

In calculating a carbon footprint, reportable GHG emissions are broken down into three scopes:

  • Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions produced from sources controlled or owned by the organisation (i.e., fuel combustion, transport, process emissions, and fugitive emissions).
  • Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling.
  • Scope 3 emissions are all other indirect emissions. These can include, but not limited to, purchased materials and fuels, transport (commuting, business travel and distribution), waste disposal, and water usage. Most organisations often include only their most significant Scope 3 emissions. However, the more Scope 3 emissions an organisation includes in their carbon footprint, the greater understanding they will achieve of their environmental impact.

 

Breaking the emissions down into the three scopes allows organisations to identify areas of significant inefficiency and waste that they may not have been aware of.

Each year in June, BEIS releases the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Conversion Factors. These factors are used, by the UK and international organisations, to report the GHG emissions associated with their activities. The 2022 conversion factors can be accessed here.

The organisations final carbon footprint is presented in tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e).

Why are carbon footprints important?

The UK is aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which is essential to mitigating climate change. Net-zero emissions can only occur when the volume of GHGs emitted is equal to the volume of GHGs removed from the atmosphere.

Examples of GHG removal:

  • Natural carbon sinks – peatlands, forests, bodies of water (oceans, lakes, ponds).
  • Carbon, capture, use, and storage (CCUS).

 

Human activity has significantly diminished the quality and quantity of natural carbon sinks. Peatland restoration, reforestation, and afforestation are effective methods used to replenish them. However, they require time and do not provide a short-term solution. The worlds’ oceans are the largest carbon sink and are extremely sensitive to temperature change. As global ocean temperatures increase, the oceans CO2 capacity decreases. The only way to prevent further warming of the oceans is to reduce GHG emissions.

CCUS is a new but rapidly developing technology being implemented across the world. CCUS can be applied directly at the source of CO2 emission (e.g., power station or industrial flume), or be used to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The CO2 can be used on-site, transported for use elsewhere, or stored deep underground in geological wells (e.g., old oil and gas reservoirs, or salt caves).

To reach the UK’s net-zero goal, rapid decarbonisation of all sectors is necessary. To decarbonise, organisations must be aware of their contribution to climate change. A carbon footprint is a simple indicator of this.

Carbon auditing services

Anyone can calculate their personal carbon footprint here. This is a fantastic way to encourage your employees to take accountability of their environmental impact and expand that into the organisation.

Calculating an organisational carbon footprint requires a more technical approach. Swan Energy provides a Carbon Footprint Service that helps clients demonstrate to stakeholders and the public what they are doing to combat climate change and environmental degradation. This is achieved by defining scope and boundaries, establishing an appropriate baseline year, developing monitoring, and reporting procedures, applying appropriate emission factors, and fully understanding issue with green energy tariffs and carbon offsetting schemes.

Swan Energy will focus on all Scope 1 and 2 emissions and a specific selection of Scope 3 emissions.

Swan Energy also offers similar services such as SECR and TCFD. These services are both mandatory for certain large UK companies.

Rebecca Scarratt

Carbon Consultant

Rebecca Scarratt

Carbon Consultant

Rebecca has joined the Swan Energy team in 2021. She graduated from the University of Hull with a BSc in Geology with Physical Geography in 2020 and went on to do a MSc in Renewable Energy. Her Masters’ thesis focused on how future climate change may impact the Humber region’s wind energy sector and how adaptation strategies could be used to reduce vulnerability.

In her role at Swan Energy, Rebecca supports the consultancy work the team does with clients across the UK.