Carbon footprinting is a key initial step in any organisation’s sustainability strategy. It underpins your sustainability approach, whether as a route to report numbers or as a key to unlock strategic decisions by offering a comprehensive view of the emission hotspots within your footprints.
Yet, it's not enough to understand these hotspots. Regulations such as SECR in the UK and the EU CSRD require greater disclosure and accuracy in carbon reporting. Combine this with growing pressure from investors and consumers, and it’s clear that the bar has been raised for comprehensive, high quality and transparent reporting. But data collection requires resources, time and a lot of cross-collaboration with suppliers and other value chain partners to capture a clear picture of an organisation’s full value chain or product footprints. So, how can organisations measure their carbon emissions year-on-year without diverting their resources from developing and implementing a climate strategy?
A potential solution: footprinting software. As each organisation will have a specific set of footprinting needs, take the time to evaluate whether a software solution will meet yours.
Using software for your carbon calculations: the potential
In a nutshell, software can help us do things more efficiently, consistently and accurately. As carbon assessment grows more complex and demands larger volumes of data, software is becoming a much sought-after solution. Its potential is immense:
One single space to collate all your data
Managing carbon data can be a daunting task, especially when it comes from multiple sources, so centralising all this data will be an ideal solution. Thanks to automation and API integration, software can replace the hassle of numerous spreadsheets and lengthy data gathering exercises. As a result, data is updated as and when changes are made – making it possible for everyone to use the latest data set.
Enhanced reliability of emissions calculations
Credible software solutions are built around the principles of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards and associated guidance. While applying these standards still allows room for interpretation, the codification of calculation methodologies improves robustness and reduces the risk of errors.
Adaptable and easy to update
As you improve the quality of data you obtain for your carbon footprint, or as your business experiences mergers, acquisitions or divestments, the need to update your carbon footprint calculation to reflect these changes is vital. With robust software solutions you can make updates to your emissions sources, data types and organisational structure while retaining the historical view of your emissions.
Greater auditability of emissions calculations
As scrutiny of emissions calculations and reduction claims grows, so does the role of independent, third-party data assurance. If implemented correctly, software solutions can offer greater traceability than previous Excel-based solutions. Thanks to functionality such as versioning, locking data entry, built-in trend analysis and error flagging, it becomes much easier for you and auditors to trace changes in data and review justifications for those changes.
We can improve data sharing by bringing carbon emissions calculation ‘online’. This is crucial for most organisations, where a sizeable portion of emissions come from their supply chain, e.g., through the goods and services they buy.
Software has the potential to enable effortless data sharing across the value chain, leading to more accurate calculations. For many, the use phase emissions of their sold products or services significantly impacts their footprint. Here, sampled data from end-users can strengthen data quality. Nonetheless, some prerequisite developments must be addressed for us to reach this level of interoperability between different software solutions.
Straightforward reporting and compliance, saving time and resource
Software providers have sought to automate the process of generating reports in line with multiple frameworks such as CDP, SECR, CSRD, and TCFD. In doing so, they seek to free up your time to focus on impactful carbon reduction activities.
Footprinting software: considerations when identifying potential providers
In a rapidly evolving market, it can take time to assess whether current software solutions address your needs. Remember these factors when choosing the right solution and vendor for you:
To successfully implement a new tool within your operations, it’s essential that staff actively engage with it. Before introducing a new footprinting software, check whether the necessary resources to use the tool correlate with your team’s availability and time constraints.
Likewise, it’s important to align your data entry methods with existing data collection processes to avoid burdening your team. For example, consider whether a software provider can support the linking of available data structures with other IT systems, such as purchasing systems.
Consistency in data
To implement software successfully, you must have a good level of understanding of your current emission data sources and types. While most software can cater to a myriad of data types, the processing required to manage many different data formats and sources can be burdensome and introduce the risk of sources not being maintained or errors in calculation.
Businesses with energy-based Scope 1 and 2 emissions will likely find that existing software solutions (as of April 2023) can meet their requirements. However, more intricate calculations of Scope 1 and 2 industrial processes, agricultural activities or waste emissions will require additional calculations to ensure accuracy. Likewise, when measuring your Scope 3 footprint, consider the relevance of these above-mentioned activities within your value chain when reviewing the suitability of a software platform.
Disaggregating your greenhouse gas emissions
Current software solutions typically calculate emissions in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). However, there is a growing need to disaggregate emissions into individual greenhouse gases (GHG).
Businesses with land-intensive activities, such as food and agriculture-based organisations, for example, must now set Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) targets to meet the Science Based Targets initiative’s requirements. While disaggregating GHG emissions from CO2e into individual gases is a prerequisite for assessing FLAG-related emissions, this area of accounting is highly complex. Methodologies for best practices are in their infancy, meaning that at this moment, few software providers can offer services that meet these requirements.
Breaking down your footprint into the different GHG emissions is also gaining importance for methane-intensive sectors such as waste, agriculture and energy which are falling under greater scrutiny. Initiatives such as the Global Methane Pledge and the ISO Net Zero Standard recommend methane reduction targets alongside carbon targets as part of meaningful Net Zero commitments.
When reviewing potential providers, consider how often you may need to rebaseline and the reasons for doing so.
Typically, rebaselining is thought of in the context of boundary changes and dynamic organisational structures; e.g., frequent acquisitions, mergers and divestments, or companies looking to insource/outsource activities.
Given the ongoing drive to improve the quality and certainty of carbon inventories, we expect to see rebaselining from improved activity data, secondary data and methodological changes become a standard part of the annual GHG accounting process.
Consider whether the solution provider can handle multiple views for the same reporting period. A consistent approach for historic periods is needed to make robust reduction claims.
Assess data quality and uncertainty
Although there is value in knowing your total emissions impact, not all footprints are born equal. As such, it's important to understand the quality of data used, and the resulting uncertainty within your footprints.
The mix of activity-based and spend-based estimates will impact the confidence level of a given footprint. Over time — as you move from coarser calculations to more refined approaches — it's vital that a solution can quantify and track data quality over time.
Your targets, decarbonisation pathways and reduction initiatives
Footprinting software providers primarily focus on carbon measurement. While many providers offer additional modules for target setting and decarbonisation, these will typically be less detailed.
Accurate measurement is central to the planning and tracking of your subsequent carbon reduction actions. Prioritise this in your provider choice to avoid stakeholder scrutiny and challenge.
Understand your requirements both now and in the coming years
Implementing software is a significant project, both in terms of resource and financial investment. You’ll therefore want to make sure that any software you select will meet your current needs and be fit for the future. So, examine a vendor’s product roadmap. In doing so, you can proactively identify and address potential limitations and ensure alignment with your priorities.
Although there are many considerations, we shouldn’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. Software may not provide a silver bullet solution to all your needs, but it can improve existing methods and move us in the right direction towards urgent climate action this decade.
Choosing the right provider to meet your organisation’s needs and knowing when to supplement this with existing tools can help you reap the benefits of software while protecting your organisation from compromising accuracy in areas where gaps exist in the current market offerings.
How we can help
We understand that the volume of software solutions available can be overwhelming. As footprinting experts with more than 20 years of experience, we have advised on several footprinting standards, including the Greenhouse Gas Protocol's Scope 3 measurement guidance and can help you navigate this new space of software solutions. At the Carbon Trust, we understand the importance and complexity of capturing primary, high-quality data to improve the accuracy of your product or full value chain carbon footprint. Our experts can support you in identifying a suitable software provider to meet the requirements of your business as well as provide third party verification of your calculated footprint.
This insight piece is part of a series surrounding the digitisation of carbon footprinting. Read the second in the series: