Time for a new global business measurement of carbon neutrality

A BER-type grading system would help consumers to make informed decisions

People line up at an ice cream shop in Cheswick, Pennsylvania on June 7th,  in the shadow of the GenOns Cheswick Power Station which still burns coal to produce electricity for the region.  Photograph: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

People line up at an ice cream shop in Cheswick, Pennsylvania on June 7th, in the shadow of the GenOns Cheswick Power Station which still burns coal to produce electricity for the region. Photograph: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

 

Imagine a world in the not-too-distant future where you walk into a shop to buy a bar of chocolate. There are several different bars to choose from and you’re trying to decide which one to go for; they all look good. You notice that one bar has a sustainability rating that is much better than any of the others and that makes up your mind and you buy it.

But how does a business provide verifiable proof on a global level that it is carbon neutral? How does a customer compare the sustainability of different products or different suppliers?

For example, one business measures its carbon footprint and declares it to be 1,000 tonnes of CO2, whereas another business declares its footprint to be 100 tonnes. On the face of it, the first business is 10 times worse in sustainability terms. However, this ignores the size and type of each business. The first business may employ 20 times more employees or carry out a very carbon intensive activity but does a really great job in limiting emissions.

Solution

There needs to be a worldwide solution that is transparent and easy to understand and it needs to be enforced globally.

The first step is to get global agreement on a “standard measurement” for carbon neutrality. Here in Ireland, we employ an energy rating for every home called BER (Building Energy Rating) and the rating scale goes from A to G depending on how well a house is insulated. In the UK, their similar scheme is known as the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

A similar rating scale has been introduced to measure the energy efficiency for all electrical appliances. Both systems are very simple to understand and give an instant view on how energy-efficient any particular property or electrical appliance is.

We should bring in a similar solution to measure every business’s carbon neutrality. Each business would be rated on the scale depending on how far down the sustainability journey they are. Taking this a step further, each business can give a sustainability rating for every product or service it provides.

Helping persuade companies throughout the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions will be key to the success of global business in the 21st century

Secondly, there would need to be a global rollout of sustainability assessors who would receive the proper training on the new agreed “standard measurement”. They would be employed to measure the carbon footprint of each organisation and rate the organisation on the A to G scale.

It will require different ratings depending on the industry type to enable customers to compare the sustainability of similar product types – for instance to compare the sustainability of different foods before making a purchasing decision.

We would also need the buy-in from governments worldwide to achieve this, something that would require the involvement of a recognised global body such as the UN to drive the process.

Launch date

The next part of the solution – as with the introduction of EU rules on data protection, GDPR, in May 2018 – is to set a global date, in say two years’ time, by which time every business around the world must measure and publish its carbon neutrality status. This would be a mandatory government requirement and would be subject to audit at regular intervals.

Clearly, all this activity would require a huge investment and buy-in by industry on a global scale.

Against such a backdrop, every company would have instant access to the carbon footprints for all the partners in their global supply chain, and they can then calculate with accuracy what their own CO2 footprint actually is, get it verified and publish it with confidence.

Helping persuade companies throughout the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions will be key to the success of global business in the 21st century. We are starting to see some big business tackle this head-on, but it will take a concerted effort by organisations of all shapes and sizes, wherever they are, to achieve the holy grail of carbon neutrality.

In the last 18 months we have seen some truly amazing and unprecedented investments by governments globally to ensure businesses stayed afloat and citizens financially survived the Covid pandemic. I have no doubt that these measures were and are necessary.

Those same governments need to continue to take ambitious steps in addressing the sustainability issue and make the necessary investments in fighting climate change. Its impact on all of us citizens will be much more devastating than Covid, unless we get this right.

Michael O’Hara is group managing director of DataSolutions and founder of Techies Go Green

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