Carbon footprints 101: Why they’re a great tool for any business

At Carbon Analytics, we think carbon footprints can change the world by making businesses more transparent and accountable to the effects they have upon the environment. But we also know that carbon footprints are not perfect and that some issues need to be addressed. Here we’ll see what carbon footprints do and what they offer. In another post — “Why Carbon Footprints Are Failing Us” — we’ll discuss the major shortcomings of carbon footprints and how they can be solved.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gas emissions caused by a person, organisation, or product. It is measured in units of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e), allowing different greenhouse gases to be compared. Carbon dioxide equivalent is based on the global warming potential of these greenhouse gases.


Six greenhouse gases. From Earth Untouched.


Types of Carbon Footprinting

A footprint can measure the emissions of an organisation or a product. Organisational footprints show the emissions from all the activities of an organisation, such as the energy used to heat and cool offices, industrial processes, or company travel. Product activities show emissions over the whole life cycle of a product, from the extraction of raw materials to final disposal.

Here, we are going to focus on organisational footprints.

Scopes in Carbon Footprinting

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is a widely used standard that sets out how to account for greenhouse gas emissions for organisations, splitting up emissions into three groups called “scopes”:



Scopes 1-3 in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Designed by Carbon Analytics. Please ask for permission before reproducing.


Why bother? What are the benefits?

There are multiple benefits to getting a carbon footprint.

  • It’s a gateway to improvement.
    Reporting on carbon emissions can be the introduction to wider work to reduce carbon emissions. Putting a number to something often makes it easier to track progress compared to a benchmark, develop a plan, and hit targets over time. By quantifying your emissions, you can see how your organisation contributes to global emissions and what opportunities you have to reduce them.
    Beyond what happens within your four walls as an organization, a carbon footprint also shows you what’s happening within your supply chain.  Proactively managing impacts in your supply chain can help you build a more resilient business, and puts your purchasing power to positive use. Engaging your supply chain is also a great way to engage your employees – encouraging them to be on the look-out for more sustainable alternatives, or working together with suppliers to improve your footprint.
    Carbon footprinting can lead to unexpected insights and action. For example carbon footprinting analysis has generated global conversations around decreasing meat-eating over the past few years. While animal rights campaigns of the past three or four decades appealed to some, explaining the high carbon footprint of a meat-based diet has helped even more people make a change to lower meat consumption. (More info here and here.)

  • It starts conversations and builds awareness for your business.
    Talking about how to reduce a carbon footprint becomes part of a bigger conversation on environmental change-making and cost reduction. These conversations have the potential to have far reaching changes in the supply chain, as suppliers are engaged in not only improving their carbon footprint but helping them identify and eliminate inefficiencies in their own processes.

  • Reducing cost.
    Knowing where and how you spend energy can help you reduce costs. This is not necessarily limited to your electricity provider. Footprinting can also point to inefficiencies in the way a process is done, and can result in cost savings in waste and packaging as well.

  • Increasing brand value.
    Companies that measure their footprints increase their brand value, especially among eco-conscious customers and investors.

Carbon footprinting is a valuable exercise for companies to undertake, but the process has shortcomings and flaws that need to be overcome. Now check out our post “Why Carbon Footprints are Failing Us“!


For more general information on the definition of carbon footprints, scopes, etc, check out Carbon Trust’s Carbon Footprinting source.


About Savina Venkova

Savina does Marketing and Research for Carbon Analytics. She has a background in biology and sustainable development, and much of her work is informed by her involvement in divestment activism. She has lived on three continents and intends to double that figure.

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