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What is Carbon Footprint?

Different authors and organizations have given several definitions of “Carbon Footprint” over the years.

Reflora Writing team

Reflora Initiative

Published: March 7, 2022


RefloraReflora Initiative is focused in supporting the creation and preservation of Forests around the world by democratizing the access to the carbon credits. To allow all companies and individuals to offset their carbon footprint and achieve neutrality through carbon credits, it is necessary to provide the calculate the carbon footprint first.

“What on earth is a carbon footprint?”

Different authors and organizations have given several definitions of “Carbon Footprint” over the years. Currently, the most accepted definition is “the total amount of GHGs emitted to the atmosphere directly and indirectly through an activity or accumulated over the life of a product, including the activities of individuals, populations, governments, companies, organizations, processes and industrial sectors”.

In order to express the emissions of different GHGs in a common unit and thus allow comparison of the global warming impacts of different gases, the “Global Warming Potential” over the 100-year period (GWP100) was introduced which allows different gases to be assigned an equivalence to CO2. This is the most common way of accounting for carbon footprint. Meaning that when a company has a carbon footprint of 1000 Tons of CO2, it doesn’t necessarily mean they emitted only CO2. A variety of gases is considered, including Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Fluorinated gases, which are then converted to Carbon Dioxide. For example, 1 Ton of Methane gas emitted to the atmosphere is converted in 28 Tons of CO2.

Carbon Footprint is the total amount of GHGs emitted to the atmosphere directly and indirectly through an activity or accumulated over the life of a product.

There are several standards that provide guidelines and methods for calculating the Carbon Footprint. Some of these standards are the GHG Protocol, the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the PAS (Publicly Available Specification). According to these standards, emissions are classified into 3 groups given the control that is held over them:

• Scope 1 are direct emissions from own or controlled sources.
• Scope 2 are indirect emissions from the generation of energy purchased from a supplier.
• Scope 3 are all indirect GHG emissions (exc. Scope 2) that occur in the reporting company’s value chain, including upstream and downstream emissions.

Scope 3 is difficult to calculate because the data is often sparse and inconsistent. During the calculation of emissions from this scope, double counting can occur since the Scope 3 of one company can be Scope 1 and 2 of another. For these reasons, unlike Scopes 1 and 2, Scope 3 calculation is voluntary.

When analysing sustainability reports of several companies, both the total emissions and the contribution of each scope, it’s clear the information diverges a lot depending on the reporting decisions of each company. The ones with a greater environmental responsibility might consider a wider range of sources and therefore may present a much higher carbon footprint.

 

By Marco Fernandes, Emissions Calculation.