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Carbon footprint: What is it? How to reduce it?

- Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the battle against climate change, cutting greenhouse gas emissions is crucial. Yet, to accomplish this, one must first grasp their carbon footprint. Identifying sources of emissions enables targeted actions. Organizations concentrate on their most polluting operations to efficiently lessen their environmental footprint. They use a specific tool to measure their emissions: the carbon balance. Here’s an in-depth look.

What is a carbon footprint?

The carbon balance evaluates the environmental impact of human activities. It aims to quantify the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) released by both public and private organizations due to their operations.

Whether it’s manufacturing a pair of jeans, building a new roadway, or managing the data storage of a data center, all entities release GHGs.

While regulations surrounding carbon balances are somewhat recent (Grenelle II Act of 2012), the concept itself originated in the 1990s. Initially, the primary focus was on decreasing energy usage and the expenses tied to fossil fuels.

Currently, the GHG balance aligns more closely with combating global warming. This approach serves multiple purposes:

  • Helping organizations to recognize their ecological footprint: Confronted with quantitative data, they can fully understand the repercussions of their actions on the planet.
  • Diminishing greenhouse gas emissions: Increased awareness fosters the adoption of remedial measures. With specific metrics, businesses can pinpoint their most polluting operations more easily, thereby discovering alternatives to mitigate their impact. This is particularly significant as the carbon balance must be disclosed by certain organizations. Furthermore, both consumers and the general populace are growing more mindful of environmental concerns. They often prefer doing business with brands that are either less polluting or actively seeking ways to minimize their environmental impact, steering clear of greenwashing tactics.

Worth noting: the carbon balance encompasses 6 types of greenhouse gases: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Perfluorocarbon (PFC), and Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6).

Who is obligated to conduct a greenhouse gas emissions balance?

The carbon balance isn’t merely a tool. It’s a mandate. Following the Grenelle II Law in 2012, various entities are required to perform a greenhouse gas emission balance (GHGEB). These include:

  • Government services;
  • Local governments with over 50,000 residents;
  • Public institutions and other legal entities under public law employing more than 250 staff members;
  • Companies under private law with over 500 employees (or 250 in overseas territories).

For public administrations, compiling a carbon balance must be done every 3 years. For private sector entities, the requirement is every 4 years.

Additionally, as per the decree on December 24, 2021, a simplified carbon balance is mandated for companies with over 50 employees that benefit from assistance under the “Recovery Plan.”

Gradually, the GHG balance is becoming applicable to an increasing number of businesses to fast-track the transition to a low-carbon economy.

How is the carbon balance calculated?

Not all human activities impact the environment equally. Thus, to ascertain the carbon balance, it’s vital to differentiate three types of impacts (referred to as scopes):

  • Scope 1: these are the GHG emissions directly associated with the company’s operations. An example is the fuel consumed during product manufacturing.
  • Scope 2 : these account for the greenhouse gas emissions indirectly tied to the business activities. For instance, the power used by a consulting firm. While the activity itself does not produce GHGs, it requires energy to function optimally. Applying Agile methodology to IT is another aspect of business operations that can impact the environment, and companies are seeking efficient ways to handle such processes.
  • Scope 3 : this scope takes a comprehensive view of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire value chain of a product or service. This includes aspects like the end-use by your clients or the selection of subcontractors for goods transportation.

Organizations must gather all related data within these scopes (prioritizing scope 1), ensuring the accuracy of the information, minimizing inconsistencies, and avoiding duplications.

Only after accomplishing this can they analyze the findings to draft their carbon balance. Once compiled, they can strategize to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. Understanding the principles of digital transformation is essential in this strategy development.

The ADEME provides a wealth of resources to organizations for calculating their carbon balance.

What significance does carbon balance data hold?

In calculating their carbon balance, organizations require data. Whether it’s details on energy consumption, industrial processes, or CO2 emissions from business travels, they need to amass vast quantities of data to compile their carbon balance accurately.

The more precise and complete this data is, the more accurate and pertinent the GHG balance will be.

And managing all this data necessitates solid data governance. To establish this, organizations should engage with specialists. This includes understanding the latest tools and methodologies—like CI/CD tools-to manage infrastructure and data more effectively.

Keen to become one of these experts? Begin by training with DataScientest. Upon completing our course, you will be equipped to guide organizations in creating their carbon balance.

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