If we look at the definition of a footprint, this is the mark left by the foot of the human being or the feet of the animals on the surface where they pass. This being the case, what do we understand as a carbon footprint? Extrapolating this term to the previous definition, it would be the signal that we leave on the planet caused by our greenhouse gas emissions. As a summary we can accept this description, but actually the concept of carbon footprint is much more complex.
What is the carbon footprint?
But to be more exact, it is the amount of gas emissions that contribute to this effect in winter, the ones that produce the people in the duration of the process, make a product or carry out the various daily activities. In short, it would be the last time left on the planet, it produced the carbon dioxide as a reference gas.
Among the gases involved in the so-called greenhouse effect (GHG), not only can we speak of carbon dioxide (CO2), but also the following:
- Methane (CH4): it is an odorless and colorless gas, practically insoluble in water when it is in a liquid state. Although CO2 is the best known gas, this CH4 is up to 23 times more powerful and is found in very high concentrations in the environment, as it is produced from the anaerobic decomposition of plants, being the product of the digestion of ruminant animals in their majority.
- Nitrogen oxides: they are several compounds formed by the combination of oxygen and nitrogen that appear, mainly, after combustion at high temperatures. Nitrous oxide would be the most important, caused by the use of nitrogen fertilizers.
- Ozone: it is formed by the burning of energy sources that are polluting.
- Chlorofluorocarbon Compounds (CFCs): These compounds are found in low amounts in the atmosphere itself, but they contribute greatly to the greenhouse effect. They are part of aerosols and thermal insulators, among others.
- Water vapor: it is produced by evaporation of water from the seas, mainly. The amount depends on the temperature that exists on the surface of the oceans, although it usually occurs naturally.
- Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6): it is a type of gas widely used as an insulator in electrical systems and other industrial processes.
Therefore, each human being leaves a carbon footprint on Earth according to their habits, type of diet, means of transport used and energy consumption. But, in addition to our own footprint, an organization, event or product can leave its own, differentiating 2 meanings:
- Huella de carbono de una organización: mide el total de GEI que se emiten tanto directa como indirectamente, los cuales aparecen por la actividad de esta organización.
- Huella de carbono de un producto: de esta forma se miden las emisiones de estos gases durante todo el ciclo de un producto, comenzando por los gases producidos durante la extracción de la materia prima, su fabricación y su distribución y acabando por el fin de su vida útil.
What is the use of knowing this parameter?
The measurement of the carbon footprint will allow us to identify the amount of GHG that is released into the atmosphere in any activity, but it also helps us to identify the source of the emissions and to apply the necessary measures to reduce them.
To determine the parameter of each activity we must know the scope of these emissions, differentiating 3 possibilities:
- Direct emissions: these are gas emissions that occur in the same place where the activity occurs. For example, those that take place due to the combustion of boilers, vehicles and accidental leaks.
- Indirect emissions: are those that do not occur in the organization itself, but are a consequence of its activity; for example, electricity consumption.
- Other indirect emissions: these also do not take place in the organization itself. Here we frame the emissions due to transport, extraction of raw materials, logistics activities, etc.
Typically, direct and indirect emissions data (1 + 2) are used to calculate the carbon footprint.
How can we calculate the harmful gases we emit?
The Ministry for the Ecological Transition (MINECO) itself has developed several tools with which it is possible to calculate this carbon footprint in an organization. One of them is the MITECO footprint calculator. This calculator allows estimating the emission of gases by an organization, taking into account direct and indirect emissions, although it does not include those of scope 3.
It also makes it possible to assess the emission reduction after applying an improvement system and to compare the results of different years.
In summary, the calculation of the carbon footprint would be the result of multiplying two factors:
- Activity data: defines the degree of activity that produces GHG emissions, for example, natural gas used for heating.
- Emission factor: it is the amount of gases that are emitted for each unit of the previous parameter, which varies according to the activity in question.
Apart from this help that we find in MINECO, there are different methodologies and standards with greater international recognition, the following being the most used at European level:
- Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard (GHG Protocol), developed by the World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the most widely used internationally.
- UNE-ISO 14064-1, according to the previous methodology, this ISO 14064 standard emerged in 2006 structured in 3 parts, although the one that interests us is part 1, which explains the requirements to quantify and report the emissions of GHG.
- UNE-ISO 14065: 2012, where the requirements for organizations that carry out GHG accreditation and verification are specified.
What are the advantages of knowing this carbon footprint?
Knowing this parameter is a tool that can help reduce the costs of these extra energy costs and contribute to the sustainability of the planet, reducing the emission of GHG.
Once the calculations have been determined from official procedures, a carbon footprint report can be issued where the elements of the organization to be taken into account for its calculation are reflected. This report must be verified by an external company that certifies that the methodology and regulations have been complied with, as well as that the data is true.
In addition to this, in MINECO itself there is a fingerprint registry where companies can register voluntarily. In order to register, it will be necessary for the organization to be in national territory and to have the calculations of its carbon footprint, in addition to having a plan to reduce it, without having to be validated by an external entity as long as it complies with the following requirements:
- Calculation of your carbon footprint and type of footprint (scopes 1 and 2).
- Type of organization (SME, NGO…).
- Type of emissions.
To register in the carbon footprint registry it is also necessary to accompany a reduction plan. In the section on reducing the carbon footprint, the reduction of these emissions must be proven. This reduction and its degree will be reflected in the seal awarded to the organization. Therefore, if a company or other organization is registered in this registry and has a reduction plan, but its measures have not yet been reflected in the reduction of these emissions, only the “Calculation” part will be active on its stamp. On the other hand, if the company shows a tendency to reduce these GHGs, the word “I reduce” will also appear on its stamp.
Being registered in this registry and reducing the gases emitted also has its advantages, such as those previously stated (energy and monetary savings) and a better position as an entity responsible with the environment.
In addition to the «Calculo» and «Reduzco» certificates, MINECO gives the option of registering different CO2 absorption projects through activities that are related to land use. All these projects must meet a series of requirements, always located in the Spanish territory.
By using any of the above projects or certifying the reduction of GHG emissions through a third party, organizations can get the word “Compensation” to appear on their accreditation seal.
This compensation will be recorded when there is an agreement between the company that is registered in the carbon footprint and an absorption project that currently has available absorption. All the registered and available absorption projects can be found on the page where the registration is made.
The seal obtained with the registration makes it easier for organizations to show their participation in it and their degree of effort, divided into the 3 levels mentioned above. This seal will be valid annually and must be renewed.
Large companies have in their hands the reduction of the emission of the most polluting gases and the use of tools to calculate the CO2 originated, as well as the granting of seals and accreditations that certify that they are sustainable and environmentally friendly organizations. All this is a great help to reduce the greenhouse effect.