How to Beta Test Your Carbon Footprint Strategy

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We frequently get calls from prospective clients who need to develop a carbon management strategy. After a number of these calls we started to recognize a pattern, so we put together a 6-step framework that explains our approach to developing an effective carbon management strategy. 

While the level of time and effort required for each step will depend on the size of your organization and your industry (and hiring a sustainability consultant can make the process more efficient), all organizations should follow basically the same path. 

We've already covered step #1 (clarify your goals) and #2 (decide on a carbon measurement process), so today we're talking about the next step.

#3. Beta test your system.

Once you've 1) committed to measuring your company's carbon footprint and 2) developed a process for gathering and analyzing the data, the next step is NOT full implementation! 

First you need to test your assumptions, tools, and scheduling. And the best way to work out the kinks in your process is to do a pilot test. Here's how it works:

  • Choose a single facility -- it doesn't matter which facility, but choose one that has most of the impacts and emissions categories that you identified in Step 2. So for example, if your company manufacturers televisions, choose one of your manufacturing plants and not a small sales office. You should also choose a facility that is 1) well-run, 2) has decent data management systems in place, and 3) has a good working relationship with your team (especially with you!).
  • Identify your on-the-ground team -- you'll need to work with someone who manages the bills (for energy, water and waste data), logistics (for direct and 3rd party shipping), human resources (for employee commuting and business travel), and operations (for key performance indicators like # of employees, $ revenue, # units produced, etc.). Make sure that they know they've been selected as a test study, and that they know what's expected of them in the coming weeks.
  • Send out the data request. Since this is a pilot test, we find it most useful to do a quick round of data collection using an excel spreadsheet. At this point in the game, there is no reason to set up any software or online configuration. Simply create a spreadsheet with one row for each type of data you are requesting, with columns according to the figure below. The key is to quickly determine where good records are available, where estimates need to be made, who is responsible, and where there may be gaps and/or red flags.
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  • See what comes back -- and how long it takes. You may find that your time estimates are dramatically off. You may also find that you need to add in additional rounds of data review and quality assurance at the facility level.
  • Run your data through a preliminary carbon calculator. You can create your own carbon calculator using sites like Emissionfactors.com -- or use the one that your sustainability consultancy has available. (You should NOT be paying for a software subscription yet -- this is still the testing period.) See what jumps out at you. In many cases, you'll be surprised at how big your indirect impacts are -- for most of our clients we find that Scope 3 emissions account for about 75% of total carbon emissions.
  • Tweak your process. Now that you have a real life pilot study of your carbon footprint data collection and analysis, you're ready to finalize the process. If you find errors in your assumptions, or need to change your data collection process, now is the time. If you're happy with the results, great! Now you're ready to consider the best way to roll out the process to all facilities. In many cases, it will be a sustainability software platform (and now that you know what you need, the process of choosing the right one will be much, much easier!). In other cases, it may make sense to have your IT people develop a web application for your intranet site so that people can enter their data directly into the calculator (without having to purchase a software subscription.)
  • Roll it out! You're finally ready to expand your carbon footprint process to additional locations. Depending on your sense of urgency, you may choose to tackle all facilities at once, or take a phased-in approach. Whichever works best for you!

On Tuesday, April 30th, we'll talk about the next step in developing an effective carbon management program. In the meantime, take advantage of our special April offer! We're offering a free 1-hour phone call for companies seeking to develop a climate change strategy. It's only for the first five companies that contact us, so if your organization would like some complimentary assistance in your process, email us today.