What causes carbon emissions?

Usually we think of industry—of factories with smokestacks—when we consider the major sources of the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. Although that is correct offices and services based companies account for a surprisingly large part of the climate change problem.

Lights, heating and cooling, computers, printers, copiers, business travel, and commuting are all ways that your business or office, even if it is small, contributes to global climate change and to your carbon footprint.

Some statistics provided by the United States Department of Energy back this up:

– Office buildings account for 19 percent of all commercial energy consumption.

– Seventy percent of office building energy consumption is electricity, which is used for lighting, heating, cooling, and office equipment.

– More than a quarter of U.S. GHG emissions are from transportation sources. This includes travel by road, rail, and air, including the transportation related emissions generated by employees travelling for office-related business and commuting to and from their jobs.

– Eighty percent of transportation-related fossil fuel use comes from road transportation and 13 percent from aviation.2 Forty-seven percent of passengers on U.S. domestic flights are travelling for business.

Greenhouse gas emissions (often referred to as carbon emissions) are categorised as direct and indirect and grouped into Scopes for accounting, reporting and footprinting purposes.

Direct Emissions – Scope 1

Emissions are categorised as ‘direct’ when they are generated from activities or sources within the reporting company’s organisational boundary and which the company owns or controls. Under the protocol these are called Scope 1 emissions and are accounted for as such. These largely include fuel burned in company owned assets and refrigerant use.

Indirect Emissions – Scope 2 and Scope 3

‘Indirect’ sources are those emissions related to the company’s activities, but that are emitted from sources owned or controlled by a third party company. These are categorised as either Scope 2 emissions for purchased electricity or as Scope 3 for other non-owned or controlled emissions e.g. rental cars, commercial airlines or paper use.

Once sources are defined and the organisational boundary agreed, emissions data is quantified through scientifically developed factors which convert consumption data into emissions data. Although there is a degree of scientific and estimation uncertainty in calculating emissions, this is largely beyond the remit of most reporting organisations and uncertainty is accepted as a inherent principle in footprint calculations.

A carbon footprint is an important step in embarking upon a low carbon strategy, as it acts as a baseline from which to measure the success of carbon and energy reduction initiatives.

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