In today’s climate-conscious world, businesses are under increasing pressure to account for their carbon emissions.

But what exactly does carbon accounting entail, and why is it so crucial?

Let me attempt to unravel the carbon accounting concept. With so many factors to consider, it can be complicated subject to wrap your mind around, so let’s focus on our relationship with the numbers side of sustainability.

Understanding Carbon Accounting

Carbon accounting consists of three key pieces: Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions. To simplify, imagine each scope as someone you met in your dating years and how they represent a different aspect of a business’s carbon footprint.

Scope 1 emissions are emissions from sources that a company owns or controls, like on-site fuel combustion or company-owned vehicles, and which can be directly attributed to your operations.

  • If Scope 1 was a person, it would be “The Needy Ex” – always in your face, demanding attention.
  • Scope 1 emissions are direct and unavoidable, just like the constant texts.

Moving onto indirect emissions, Scope 2 covers those generated from purchased electricity, heating or cooling. It’s like the secondhand smoke of carbon emissions – not directly produced by you, but still impacting your *cough* carbon footprint.

  • Scope 2 as a person would be “The Indirect Flirt.”
  • You haven’t really had much direct contact – maybe they were friends with your roommate’s cousin’s ex-boyfriend? – but their actions still impact your life from a distance.

Scope 3 is where things get interesting – and complicated. Scope 3 emissions encompass all indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain, including everything from business travel and employee commuting to supply chain activities. They are not precisely part of your operations, but they still contribute to your overall footprint.

  • If Scope 3 were a person, they’d be “The Mysterious Stranger,” that person you remember meeting at a party who somehow ended up being part of the periphery of your life in unexpected ways.

Cracking The CO2e Code

Now, let’s talk about CO2e, the universal currency of carbon emissions. CO2e stands for carbon dioxide equivalent, a metric used to compare the emissions of different greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential.

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CO2e gives you a single number to express the climate impact of the various greenhouse gases generated through your Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions in terms of how much carbon dioxide would create the same amount of warming. Essentially, it’s like converting all your exes into one standardized unit – because, let’s face it, trying to compare them otherwise would be a nightmare.

Integrating Carbon Accounting Into Your Business

So, how can businesses embrace carbon accounting without feeling overwhelmed?

Start small. Begin by identifying your Scope 1 emissions, as these are the most straightforward to measure and control. It’s like cleaning out your closet – you tackle the obvious clutter first.

In order to identify your Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions, you’ll need to get everybody, from employees to suppliers, on board. If your stakeholders are engaged, it’ll be much easier to establish clear targets and timelines to reduce emissions.

Of course, collaboration is key to addressing Scope 3 emissions effectively. You can even make it a competition – who can cut down emissions the fastest? Acknowledge your company’s progress, recognizing and rewarding achievements along the way.

You should also use tools and software for accurate data collection and analysis. It’s like upgrading from a flip phone to a smartphone (yes, I’m aware that I’m dating myself here, all in the name of member value). Just ask my colleague CW Karstens – digital transformation is key.

Your Assignment

By breaking down carbon accounting into digestible pieces, with the help of a bit of humor, we can all play our part in building a greener, more sustainable future.

Ready to get started? Try Aclymate, one of a growing number of business service members focused on sustainability in our Solutions Center. Meanwhile, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the leading standard used in carbon accounting, has some free tools on its website, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides a quick calculator tool as well. 

Wimbush is PPAI’s director of sustainability and responsibility.