Calculating your carbon footprint: where to begin?
For most companies in the construction sector, emissions generated from construction and demolition activities generally occur in the upstream of their value chain, as part of Scope 3 emissions.
Most companies will initially rely on using spend-based methodology to calculate Scope 3 emissions. The approach links the cost of goods and services to emissions. This is ideal for companies starting out on their sustainability journeys and wanting to identify carbon hotspots. It helps provide a view of the carbon-intensity of different aspects of a company's value chain, supporting prioritisation of time and resources.
This is an important starting point, but there are weaknesses in spend-based methodology if used long-term. Changing economic and market conditions can result in higher reported emissions. Average or generic emission factors can also lead to low and high-carbon versions of the same products not being accurately represented within a footprint which, amongst other things, limits an organisations opportunity to track progress.
To avoid these issues, companies advancing their sustainability agendas can shift towards a quantity-based approach. This approach multiplies the quantity of goods purchased by specific emission factors for the goods themselves. This method improves the accuracy of year-on-year reporting, supports the effectiveness of investment in sustainability, and allows companies to track reductions more effectively.
The increased accuracy offered by the quantity-based approach shows companies the impact sustainability investment is having. It also enables organisations to be able to point out precisely where change is occurring.
The role of materials manufacturers
Improving data quality and moving towards a quantity-based methodology in all sectors relies on collaboration throughout value chains. Construction materials companies in particular can support this methodological shift, while simultaneously gaining competitive advantage. Construction companies rely on suppliers to have robust knowledge of the environmental impacts of products to inform footprint calculations. Manufacturers can therefore support the transition to a quantity-based approach by communicating the environmental credentials of products through a Product Carbon Footprint or an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD).
Calculated in line with internationally recognised standards, Product Carbon Footprints and EPDs allow companies to measure and communicate the environmental impacts of products. Product Carbon Footprints focus specifically on emissions associated with a product’s lifecycle, and EPDs are multi-criteria declarations that include impact categories such as global warming potential and other environmental focuses, including eutrophication and acidification. Both allow for the quantification of environmental impacts, improve data quality and environmental transparency throughout the value chain. Therefore, as construction companies seek to move towards a quantity-based approach, the demand for products with documented environmental footprints is likely to increase.
For material companies, competitive advantage can be gained by supplying low carbon products that facilitate and accelerate this transition. Shifting a product mix toward less carbon intense products can also reduce a material supplier’s own carbon footprint, supporting them to reach their environmental targets. Transparent and effective communication of these credentials is key. Carbon labelling offers a tangible way for manufacturers to communicate the impact of their products and for customers to make more informed purchasing decisions and understand how this can help them progress towards their environmental targets.
How we can help
Driven by the mission to accelerate the move to a decarbonised future, we are a global climate consultancy made up of over 400 experts. Our dedicated Business Services team can partner with your organisation on:
- Calculating Product Carbon Footprints
- Product Certification and Labelling
- Supplier engagement
- Science-based target setting
- Climate risk and opportunity impact assessments
- Business model innovation and transition planning
To learn more about driving decarbonisation in the construction industry, sign up to our webinar on the 17 October.