We see a lot of visitors to our site who are curious about measuring the impact of their, or their organisations, impact on the planet through their carbon footprint. Some of these visitors, though, aren’t necessarily aware of a lot of the technical terminology behind what we do. So we set out to define six of the most-used terms associated with measuring one’s carbon footprint. Hopefully, it helps to inform some of our visitors as to what it’s all about.
Benchmarking is comparing one’s performance with a standard point of reference for measurement. The resulting benchmark then represented a defined level of performance which can be used as a reference for comparison. Benchmarks can be based on averages – or percentiles – of real performance, and is often based on policy-driven objectives such as ‘net zero carbon’ (the idea of reducing one’s carbon footprint to a cumulative zero.
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to support human activities, both directly and indirectly. It can be attributed to an individual, organisation, country, etc. and is usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Activities like driving, heating, and food production have associated CO2 emissions. The carbon footprint is then the sum of all of these emissions that were induced by activities within a given timeframe (usually a year).
A carbon target is a defined value used as a quantitative goal for a company’s carbon footprint or net carbon emissions (footprint minus any carbon offset activities) to meet within a given timeframe. These targets can be absolute, or based on a comparison with industry averages.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Emissions are gases and other particles that are released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fuels and other processes. Generally, these emissions are most likely to come from cars, power generation and industrial processes. A greenhouse gas, then, is a classification of gases that, when released into the atmosphere, are capable of absorbing infra-red radiation. Consequently, this process will trap and hold heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. This is called the greenhouse effect, and ultimately is what leads to global warming. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O). So a greenhouse gas emission is when a greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere.
To learn about the different classifications of greenhouse gas emissions, check out our article on classifying emissions here.
Greenhouse Gas Protocol
The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol is a global standard, developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI), that informs companies and organisations on how to measure, manage and report greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainability is a difficult term to define, as many view it in different ways. Essentially, it can be defined as it was at the world’s first Earth Summit in 1992 – maintaining operations and development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
If you have any questions about Carbon Benchmarking, or would like to speak to us about your organisation’s carbon emissions, get in touch via our contacts page.