Sustainability and the greenhouse gas protocol
Sustainable business practices have become important because sustainability is increasingly being viewed as a significant factor in a company’s competitive advantage and customers are now demanding sustainability from businesses. A growing number of companies have realised that sustainability is not just about managing risk, but opens up new opportunities to generate a profitable competitive advantage in the social, environmental and ethical spheres (1). In order to operate a pragmatic and efficient sustainable climate protection strategy at a corporate level, the various sources of emissions need to be recognised and precise methods used to calculate them. After all, only that which can be recognised and quantified can ultimately be managed (2). The corporate carbon footprint (CCF) describes the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions (including CO₂ emissions) that result directly or indirectly from a company's business activities. Based on the data collected when recording and calculating the CCF, individual greenhouse gas reduction targets can be set for sustainability and the environment.
Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have the greatest impact on climate change and the environment. The different greenhouse gases produced along a company's value chain are recorded as CO2 equivalent (CO2-e in tonnes). The climate impact of greenhouse gases or the global warming potential CO2-e varies greatly. The global warming potential of a chemical compound is a measure of its relative contribution to the greenhouse effect, i.e. the average warming effect of the earth's atmosphere over a certain period of time. Although methane only remains in the atmosphere for about ten years, its warming effect (over a period of one hundred years) is 28 times greater than that of CO2 (residence time 1000 years). Nitrous oxide (residence time 120 years) has a 273 times stronger warming effect than CO2.
The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol is the most widely used international standard for GHG accounting. It forms the basis for many other standards such as ISO 14064 (greenhouse gas accounting and verification) and can be traced back to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and its agreement on measures and targets to combat climate change. It was created in 1998 by a joint initiative of the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The GHG Protocol divides greenhouse gas emissions into three groups (Scope 1-3). Scope 1 covers emissions directly generated by a company, such as from company-owned vehicles or emissions released by on-site activity such as factory fumes. Scope 2 covers indirect emissions resulting from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling. Scope 3 covers all other indirect emissions (as a result of the reporting company's own operations) that occur along the reporting company's value chain. Scope 3 emissions include emissions from purchased goods and services, business travel, waste disposal, investments, licensing, etc..
According to the GHG Protocol, all Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions must be accounted for. Scope 3 emissions do not have to be accounted for. Although accounting is optional, they are of great importance for holistic and sustainable climate protection. Due to the large number of actors and processes involved, accounting for Scope 3 can become very complex and time-consuming. It may be advisable to involve an expert in sustainability, environment and scope.
The three-part series of standards DIN EN ISO 14064, based on the GHG Protocol, is the basis for recording and balancing greenhouse gas emissions in the field of sustainability (3). It is also used for the certification of companies. However, although not mandatory for all sizes of company, certification can lead to improved competitiveness and enhance a company’s reputation. Companies can obtain certification of their sustainable energy management system according to ISO 14064 e.g. from BSI. The aim of the series of standards is to clearly define greenhouse gases, help companies and organisations reduce emissions, create transparency and encourage innovation. Part 1 of ISO 14064 serves as a basis and standard for greenhouse gas accounting in a company or sustainable organisation. It leads to the creation of the Corporate Carbon Footprint (CCF) and also deals with measures to reduce greenhouse gases. Within the framework of the series of standards, a so-called quantification approach must be defined. This describes how the individual emissions of greenhouse gases are to be recorded, processed and documented. Part 2 of the standard refers to the project level and is used there to determine, monitor, reduce and document greenhouse gases. The validation and verification of greenhouse gas declarations are dealt with in Part 3 of the standard. Even if legal certification is not required, it should become the ecological standard.