• Noah Miller

Why do we accept such a poor standard of carbon data when so much depends on getting it right?

Over the next three blog posts we will explore how granular Scope 2 carbon data can benefit corporations. Real-time & location specific grid carbon data not only provides a more accurate way to measure carbon emissions from electricity consumption but also a better baseline on which to make energy decisions which could save corporations money reaching their decarbonisation goals. Soon, this kind of data may become mandatory under new carbon reporting regulations and is already recommended under the UK's Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting Act.

In this blog post we explore how much better our energy data could be, and why current sustainability attitudes are a lot like a bad diet.

When trying to reach a health goal, whether that is to lose some weight, or to increase the weight you can throw around in a gym, any doctor or personal trainer will tell you that you have to measure your progression. You need a baseline of where you are starting, a goal of where you are going, and regular checks to measure how you are doing. You can’t plan how to proceed, or know if you are succeeding without this information.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what most companies are trying to do when it comes to their sustainability goals and the health of our planet. Both the GHG Corporate Standard for Scope 2 Emissions, and the UK Streamlined Energy and Carbon Act (SECR) recommend using the most granular, accurate and up to date carbon data when reporting carbon emissions.

However, most companies measure and report their Scope 2 carbon emissions using a single data point, averaged over an entire country over a whole year. That is the equivalent of trying to lose weight, knowing that last year the average person weighed in at 70 kg.

Why is this a problem?

So what? You can still make a difference by not eating that third donut, sure. And knowing an average starting point is still better than nothing. But there are a couple reasons that we should care. With better data:

  1. Our sustainability strategies can be much more effective.

  2. We can save a lot of money.

Bold claims, but as Mark Cuban is attributed to have said “Information is power, particularly when the competition ignores the opportunity to do the same”. Let’s explore both of these in more detail.

It is good for the climate

25% of all global emissions come from electricity consumption, the majority from commercial and industrial energy consumers. With the electrification of heating, transportation and other sectors in the attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change, it becomes ever more important to decarbonise power.

COP26 is a chance for governments to set out their strategies and all of us to assess how we go forward. Without knowing where we currently are, in good detail using accurate information, there is no way we can plan the best path to success. This is true across the whole gamut of sustainability objectives:

  1. Accurately reporting carbon emissions

  2. Planning energy consumption to minimise carbon emissions

  3. Offsetting emissions

  4. Installing renewable energy assets

  5. Understanding and reporting the effectiveness of those consumption plans/offsets/renewable assets

All of these actions; point 1) giving us an understanding of where we are starting from, points 2) - 4) listing some of the different actions we can take to improve the situation, and point 5) in seeing how successful our actions have been, are hugely improved by having accurate carbon data and measuring in as close to real time as possible. By allocating our effort and resources better we can make a much greater impact on the planet.

It is good for business

Realistically, sustainability is no longer just a responsible corporate citizen decision, it is also a business decision. Companies chasing Net Zero and 24 hour carbon neutrality are doing a good thing for the environment, and just so happen in the process to be lauded with excellent press and an enthusiastic public response. Having a sustainability strategy is no longer a bonus, it is expected.

Your sustainability business goals should be twofold, both of which will ultimately save you money;

  • Future proofing

  • Getting the most low carbon bang for your buck.

Regulations and carbon reporting standards are only going to get more stringent, and at a rapid pace. As of July 2020, there were 40+ litigation cases on-going against major carbon players.

Reporting standards are changing, and multiple governments and not for profit agencies are following suit (see the UK Government’s current call for evidence into “Designing a framework for transparency of carbon content in energy products”.) Basing sustainability strategies on current, inaccurate carbon accounting means that in a few years you will have to redo your entire carbon offsetting plan, and at the same time as everyone else is scrambling to do the same. Very expensive. Save yourself that future pain and money by knowing your true starting point and implementing actions accordingly. You may even find that your current true carbon emissions are less than you calculated to begin with!

It isn’t just about the future though, it is also about now. Marketing budgets are being spent on trumpeting carbon saved and emissions offset but these claims don’t always live up to scrutiny and the dreaded greenwashing accusations follow shortly afterwards. From problems with offset certificates to time and location miss-matching, being careless with the figures causes real problems and costs real money. Just ask the REGO backed electricity suppliers in the UK. Don’t wait to firefight these issues, be safe in the knowledge that you are above scrutiny and it will save you money in the long run.

Just as importantly, the goal of every budget holder everywhere is to maximise the value of their money. That should be no different when it comes to carbon strategies, and yet the actual calculations for carbon offset are regularly fudged or simply guessed at, handwaved into sustainability reports with little thought to their accuracy. Crucially, the carbon offset is often underestimated leading you to have to spend more money on extra sustainability strategies, and to not claim the full benefit from your current actions. It can be hard to differentiate when everyone is painting with the same brush, but use the correct one and benefit in full from your actions.

What can you do?

This is no longer just an option for large tech companies with unlimited budget and technical manpower. Discussions over how best to collect, validate and analyse this data are happening more and more, with initiatives such as EnergyTag pushing the boundaries of what is possible and what should be required. We at Advanced Infrastructure are here to help you plan the most effective carbon strategies and evidence their success to shareholders, stakeholders and the wider public.

Over these few blog posts we will explore in more depth how our Scope 2 carbon data services can accurately measure your carbon emissions from electricity consumption based on real time, location-specific grid data, analyse energy patterns and wider trends to identify the best sustainability actions, and quantify just how successful your carbon offset strategies have been. Talk to us if you are interested in saving money and becoming more sustainable all at the same time.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Is this a problem you have faced before? What are your expectations when comparing sustainability strategies for your company?

Let us know in the comments below.

By Noah Miller, Solutions Lead - Carbon Data Services - at Advanced Infrastructure

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