Briefing: Carbon footprinting software

Carbon footprinting is a complex and potentially time-intensive undertaking. As businesses seek to manage growing volumes of data, footprinting software has emerged as a welcome tool. We explore how footprinting software can support your climate strategy and who can benefit from the tools in their current form. 

Two women pointing at a  map and data points

Software can help us do things more efficiently, consistently and accurately. We have already seen how software has transformed project management, so why wouldn’t we want to replicate these benefits when measuring our carbon footprints? The idea of collecting your carbon data in one space to calculate your organisational or product footprints is appealing. But can footprinting software help you, and what should you bear in mind when searching for the right software solution for your carbon footprinting needs?

What are some of the benefits of footprinting software?

Carbon footprinting is a complex task but the right solution can help you collect, update, trace, assess and report your carbon emissions and the impact of your carbon reduction efforts in one place. More importantly, it can inform your carbon reduction strategy, helping you set priorities.

Software’s appeal will grow among businesses as carbon assessments demand larger volumes of data to track emissions and make credible sustainability claims. On top of that, software can help improve the sharing of emissions data. The better the data-sharing between suppliers and customers, or between investors and investee companies, the more accurate and reliable everyone's reported emissions become. This data sharing is paramount to companies in industries like agriculture and manufacturing that work with a range of suppliers, but also for financial institutions that seek to track the climate impact and progress of their portfolio companies.

Given these potential benefits, software solutions can improve the quality of footprint measurements and ultimately drive informed decisions and credible reduction claims. Depending on functionality, users can streamline tasks such as data collection, carbon calculations, data sharing, as well as reporting and disclosing emissions in line with regulations and standards such as the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS). In doing so, software can help businesses focus on what matters most: their climate action.

What should you look out for?

With so many different solutions on the market, it is important that – before investing in a new solution – you identify your footprinting needs and assess any software solution against them. Do you need software to collate and transform data from a range of sources, develop reduction plans, calculate your footprint at an organisational or product level, or both? When reviewing different footprinting software solutions:

  1. Check alignment with Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards and industry-specific guidance, e.g., the Global Logistics Emissions Council (GLEC) framework for transport and logistics; the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Land Sector and Removals Guidance (GLEC) for agriculture and land use; or the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF) for financial institutions. 
  2. Review the software's flexibility around carbon calculation methods. Can it cater to various calculation approaches as your business refines data collection and transitions from spend-based to activity-based and supplier-specific emissions data? This will be crucial for robust monitoring of the changes within your footprint so you can communicate your climate progress.
  3. Check the compatibility and ease of data ingestion with your company’s existing information systems, such as accounting, resource planning and supply chain management software, for seamless integration. 
  4. Assess the software's reporting capabilities, ensuring it provides visual insights and allows for easy data export for both mandatory reporting standards (e.g., CSRD and the US Securities and Exchange Commission) as well as the plethora of voluntary standards (e.g., CDP and the Global Reporting Initiative).
  5. Consider the software's audit functionality to track data sources and document assumptions. In doing so, you ensure evidence is readily available for external footprint verifications and can track changes to your greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) inventory.
  6. Look into the provider's customer support and training resources, such as online guidance or training courses, for optimal implementation.

How can you make the most of footprinting software?

For successful implementation of any software solution, you must have a good level of understanding of your current emissions data sources. Although software can cater to a range of data types, the processing required to manage different data formats and sources can be burdensome and lead to gaps or calculation errors.

Like any other enterprise software, carbon accounting software requires strong processes to engage employees and help them navigate this change. Businesses should carefully consider if they have the time and resources to roll out a software solution. To make the most out of the tool:

  1. Define your sustainability goals and KPIs before implementing a software solution. This will help you focus on the emissions data and metrics that matter most to your organisation. 
  2. Map out data sources throughout your value chain: upstream (e.g. procurement), operations (e.g. utilities), downstream (e.g. use of product) and investment data. If possible, integrate these existing systems with your GHG accounting software to enable automatic data ingestion. Pay special attention to sources that necessitate more manual input processes.
  3. Make sure you have the people and processes in place to monitor the tool’s data input and output to minimise errors.
  4. Train employees on how to use the software for analysing and checking data.
  5. Set up a dedicated engagement strategy with suppliers and other value chain partners. Software helps with data collection, but direct engagement is still necessary. 
  6. Software, as it stands, is no silver bullet solution, and it is important to critically assess whether a combination of off-the-shelf software and bespoke modelling is required to meet your overarching goals.

Software, when used correctly, can be more than a mere calculation tool. By using it as a supporting tool, software can provide a solid foundation for setting realistic sustainability targets, identifying practical steps to cut emissions and robust assurance.

How can the Carbon Trust help?

As experts with more than 20 years of experience, we can help you navigate this new space of footprinting software without compromising on the quality of your carbon footprint. Our experts are here to advise you on finding the right technology providers for your needs and provide advice and third-party verification regardless of your tool of choice. 


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