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Which voluntary standard is right for you?

There are a number of standards for reporting on carbon that can be adopted, each with their own purpose and requirements. All are currently voluntary, but there are many reasons to take them up, including internal monitoring, stakeholder communications, investor relations and the ability to benchmark your performance against competitors.

GHG Protocol

The most prevalent and widely supported standard for reporting greenhouse gases is the GHG Protocol. The protocol was agreed and published in 2001 with the aim of creating a standardised approach to reporting GHGs.

The protocol creates a framework for measuring carbon emissions by using a series of ‘scopes’. Scope one covers direct emissions (for example emissions from company owned vehicles), scope two covers purchased energy, and scope 3 covers everything else – business travel, waste, and supply chain emissions, among others.

The GHG protocol in itself is not a reporting or disclosure standard but is a framework which many of the standards use.

Carbon Disclosure Project

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is a not-for-profit, concerned with providing accurate information on private sector carbon emissions to investors to aid investment decisions.

As it says on the tin, it’s a vehicle for disclosing corporate carbon emissions, risks and opportunities. This enables stakeholders such as customers and investors to access the information.

Over 3000 companies measure and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and climate change strategies through the CDP database. CDP uses Scopes 1, 2 and 3 of the GHG protocol for reporting emissions.

Carbon Trust Standard

The Carbon Trust Standard is a certification scheme for organisations looking to measure and reduce their emissions .

It uses the GHG protocol. In order to meet the standard an organisation must:

•    Provide an accurate footprint measurement with sources;

•    Demonstrate an absolute reduction of this footprint over 2 years; and

•    Demonstrate an adequate level of carbon management through governance, accounting, reduction methods and targets.

The cost associated with joining the standard varies depending on whether the assessment is done online, whether you need help in reaching the certification, and the size of your organisation .

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G3 Guidelines

Another organisation that makes use of the GHG protocol framework is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The G3 guidelines are the cornerstone of the GRI sustainability reporting and are tailored specifically for the financial services, electric utilities, mining and metals, NGOs, and food processing sectors. It provides a common set of indicators through which different emissions scopes can be reported on.

ISO standards

The International Standards Organisation (ISO) manages two main sustainability and environmental standards: ISO 14001 and ISO 9001.

ISO 14001 measures success in designing and implementing an effective management system. Organisations are required to set their own targets and performance measures, with the standard assisting them in meeting objectives and goals and the subsequent monitoring of these. Therefore two organisations with totally different measures and standards of environmental performance can both comply.

ISO 9001, on the other hand, is more concerned with quality and the achievement of a specific benchmark.

Other environmental standards are available: of note is ISO 14040 which can be used to measure carbon footprints of products.

UN Global Compact

The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour and environment and anti corruption.

With over 8,700 corporate participants and stakeholders from over 130 countries, it claims to be the largest corporate responsibility scheme in the world .

The UN Global Compact differs from the other standards mentioned here in that it is a practical framework for the development, implementation and disclosure of sustainability policies and practices, and focuses more on environmental and social responsibility than on actual emissions.

World Resource Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

The World Resource Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development are in the process of producing two new standards. Both of these standards will draw on the GHG protocol.

1)    The GHG Protocol Product Accounting and Reporting Standard will provide guidance for companies and other organisations to prepare and publicly report an inventory of emissions for a product.

2)    The Corporate Value Chain Accounting and Reporting Standard will provide a step by step approach for companies to quantify and report their scope 3 emissions in a more effective manner on a product or corporate scale. It is a response to the fact that scope 3 emissions are often the largest source of emissions for companies.

PAS 2060 and 2050

Both of these standards have been developed by the British Standards Institute.

PAS 2050 is concerned with the carbon footprinting of organisations, products, events, buildings, towns, cities and services. PAS 2060 is an extension of PAS 2050, in also covering carbon offsetting related to those entities or products.

Self-certification is possible but this standard is really only a good idea for those who want an added stamp of assurance on claims of carbon neutrality, in which case the third-party verified option would be advisable.

DECC Carbon Neutral Guidance

The DECC guidelines help companies explain and prove their carbon neutrality.

The government recommends measuring the carbon footprint of the organisation, product or service using Defra emissions factors. It uses the GHG Protocol: organisations should always include scope 1 and 2 emissions, and are encouraged to include significant scope 3 emissions.

The footprint of carbon neutral products should be measured using the standards PAS2050 or ISO14040.

The Government also recommends having plans in place to reduce emissions first, working towards a time-limited emissions reduction target. This is important to help you save money, show people you're genuine, and help the UK meet its emission reduction targets.

DECC recommends using offsets that carry the government quality mark. You should provide clear and transparent information about your claim of carbon neutrality, including what you measured, how you reduced emissions and who you offset with.

Finally, reviewing carbon neutral claims yearly, and getting a third party to verify the results will ensure that your carbon management actions and claims of carbon neutrality can be explained to campaigners and environmentally engaged customers.

A table summarising carbon disclosure standards can be viewed here.

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