Measuring carbon reduction
Accurate carbon reporting means avoiding greenwash.
As we approach COP 26 (the UN Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow this year, governments around the world continue to call for ‘building back better’ in the wake of the global pandemic. Reducing carbon is firmly on the agenda for all industries.
Fuelled by tighter legislative measures and widespread demand for greater transparency around sustainability (some 64% of US and European consumers think more positively of a brand if it takes steps to reduce its carbon footprint, according to a YouGov survey) companies are under pressure to take action on their carbon emissions – and printers are no exception.
But in order to reduce something you must have a figure to start from – a benchmark for improvement. And so printers are now faced with the task of measuring their carbon emissions, and for many – especially smaller businesses or those new to the sustainability conversation – this can be something of a daunting process.
Ensuring your reporting is tight and credible with the assistance of a reputable company will help printers score business with bigger clients
“It is possible to do it yourself, and lots of companies try to,” says Dominic Harris of carbon consultancy CarbonQuota. “Anyone can get hold of emissions data from DEFRA [UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and there’s plenty of guidance available. And five years ago this would have been fine. Nowadays though, it’s a more complex process. A lot of data is out of date and things like emissions factors for energy change every year.”
Printers measuring their carbon output themselves therefore run the risk of over- or underreporting their figures. “If they’re a major company with a legal obligation to declare their footprint, the consequences of getting this wrong can be quite high,” explains Dominic. “And ultimately they’re just misleading themselves and their customers. If they calculate their footprint as being lower than it is and they make a 10% reduction, it’s probably only a 4% reduction.”
Ensuring your reporting is tight and credible with the assistance of a reputable company will help printers score business with bigger clients, which are increasingly looking for sustainability ambition throughout their supply chains.
For printers starting their carbon reduction journey, Dominic recommends starting with Scope 1 and 2 emissions – operational emissions – which are the most straightforward to measure and control. “The service we offer is quick and simple. We’ll send you a data collection sheet asking for information around your main energy use, your transportation and your energy-related expenses. We then analyse, calculate and certify the carbon footprint.”
Offsetting has its place, but relying on it to mitigate your footprint is greenwashing, and it doesn’t pass muster in big business, so we actively encourage companies away from that
CarbonQuota works to a number of internationally recognised standards, including ISO 14004, LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) and GHG (Greenhouse Gas Protocol), with each factory analysis costing £1,200.
It’s important that printers understand that getting the calculation is just the beginning of the journey, says Dominic. “It’s not about committing to completing the data form or paying the £1,200, or declaring their footprint on their website. It’s about committing to taking that figure and actively working to reduce it. We will give them plenty of guidance in how they can do so, but it’s them that has to act on it.”
And here lies another potential pitfall: an overreliance on carbon offsetting – something that has been exacerbated by the proliferation of buzzwords like ‘net zero’, ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘climate positive’.
“A lot of printers see offsetting as something of a panacea,” says Dominic. “They think that by spending some cash on offsets they’re absolved from their carbon footprint: ‘Look, we’re green now.’ Yes, offsetting has its place, but relying on it to mitigate your footprint is greenwashing, and it doesn’t pass muster in big business, so we actively encourage companies away from that.”
Scope 3 emissions
Once printers have control of their operational emissions, it’s time to look at the emissions associated with their materials and supply chains – Scope 3 emissions. At this point, measuring and reporting on Scope 3 emissions isn’t mandatory, but it is expected to become normal practice by 2025 with the introduction of legislation and market pressure.
Measuring Scope 3 can be a challenge given the messy nature of measuring emissions associated with substrates, but it’s doable, particularly with the assistance of tools such as ClimateCalc, designed to provide exact information on the climate impact of individual graphic products in a life cycle perspective.
What makes our tool different is that we take into account the lifecycle of a particular product and calculate associated emissions accordingly
Carsten Boeg, head of Grakom and co-founder of ClimateCalc, explains that the tool has been designed for easiest possible use, and uses 13 different parameters to measure average substrate emissions data. “There are plenty of calculation systems in Europe, but what makes our tool different is that we take into account the lifecycle of a particular product and calculate associated emissions accordingly. And we calculate against national emissions factors – the CO2 equivalent of a kilowatt in the UK is different to that in Norway or Poland, for example.”
The calculator, which adheres to the GHG Protocol – the internationally recognised benchmark for standardisation bodies – can be used in two formats: basic and full. The basic model requires just four figures relating to each substrate. “We rely on ‘worst case’ averages here,” says Carsten, “to keep things on the safe side.” The full model uses a different kind of matrix which is more comprehensive and offers guidance and support on obtaining relevant figures from suppliers. This ensures printers don’t leave anything out. Crucially, it includes substrate selection via a dropdown menu enabling printers to make real time calculations and decisions between materials based on their associated emissions.
Access to the tool (both the basic and full model) costs between €250 and €500 per year, based on company size. Official carbon certification, meanwhile, costs between €500 and €600 a year. “ClimateCalc doesn’t include an offset service,” says Carsten. “So the figures it produces are independent and solid.”
Things will tighten up as we see more demand for transparency from big customers
Carsten echoes Dominic’s sentiment about greenwashing. “In Denmark, for example, you cannot claim you’re carbon neutral unless you’ve used no energy at all, and everyone uses energy, whether in their own operations or by obtaining substrates that have required energy to produce.” So claims such as ‘carbon neutral’, he says, must be approached with caution.
“At the moment, it’s very easy to mislead clients and customers, especially since right now under the GHG Protocol reporting Scope 3 emissions is optional. We don’t think it’s optional. And things will tighten up as we see more demand for transparency from big customers.”
It’s important, then, that printers equip themselves with the knowledge and tools required to properly understand their carbon position now, so they have a strong footing to begin making reductions and credible claims that will give them the edge in the long term.
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