by Jim Newman — September 2015 — Accounting for carbon emissions should be easy at this point. There are many tools that can help and it is an established process in international accounting processes. Unfortunately, the reality of accounting for carbon at the building or campus level is still complicated.
Real estate asset managers, as well as corporate and institutional owners are being pressed to account for carbon (and carbon equivalent) emissions both through accounting standards and by stakeholders. This pressure is landing on building managers to understand, count, and reduce carbon emissions for their facilities.
The following article describes how several organizations have done this accounting and what that means for you.
Carbon emissions are generally counted as carbon equivalent emissions (CO2e). CO2e is a combination of all greenhouse gasses emitted from the construction and operation of a business or building. Standard protocols for counting CO2e are set out by several international organizations, but they all start with an understanding the different ways in which emissions relate to your particular business or facility. This set of relations is as Scopes in the international standards.
As shown above, Scope 1 includes direct emissions from your operations. Scope 2 includes emissions from the electrical and steam energy delivered to your facility. Scope 3 includes emissions from travel as well as other indirect and embodied emissions from the materials that you use or consume in your operations.
Facility managers and construction companies have a scopes 1 though 3 emissions profile described in the above graphic. A full carbon accounting will count CO2e related to all of these categories.
However, for specific situations, you may only want to count a subset of the full range of potential emissions. In the case shown below, for theMartin Luther King School construction project, the emissions accounting answered a specific question about achieving the lowest possible emissions profile for this building. (Items in red were counted for this specific analysis.
Byggmeister is a construction company. They wanted to understand the relationship of embodied (Scope 3) emissions to operational emissions (Scopes 1 and 2) for their projects to understand how they could build projects that had a positive emissions profile.
South Mountain Company is both a design and construction company and a facility manager. Their interest was in benchmarking their emissions performance so that they could eventually drive their operations to have a very small emissions profile. Their approach was to count all emissions (all three scopes) that they had control over. They acknowledge that they will eventually need to expand their accounting to cover more Scope 2 and 3 emissions to fully understand their emissions profile. But they are interested in getting started with this set of analyses.
Finally, an overall understanding of the relationships between emissions from the different sectors of operations for the campus shown below, can provide a more holistic understanding of where to focus effort in order to lower CO2e over time. The goal of this analysis was to find the operational activities which accounted for the highest percentage of emissions and put effort into those operations.
While accounting for CO2e is defined in accounting standards and international reporting protocols, there is latitude in defining the exact focus of emissions accounting. Each organization can take advantage of this latitude to design an emissions accounting program to answer the questions that are important to their needs and pressures.
All graphics are by Linnean Solutions.