Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Carbon Clarity

If you do an internet search for the phrase "carbon management", you will find a range of companies offering their services.  Rather worryingly, a number of these appear to have some confusion as what carbon management really is.  For example, one company seems to suggest it is basically a quick carbon footprint measurement followed by carbon offsetting.  Another seems to think carbon management is basically energy management with an emissions coefficient thrown in to get an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing the planet, so the more people engaged in carbon management the better - so long as they're doing it right.  Doing it wrong risks wasting time, energy, and money, and potentially delaying the transition to a low-carbon economy.

In this post, we'll discuss what carbon management is, what it isn't and why that difference is so important.

At Carbon Clear, carbon management is all about clarity. Carbon clarity means having the right information and using that information to make good decisions.

More specifically, we view carbon management as a systematic process to identify and address the risks and opportunities presented by climate change.

The basics of our approach are straightforward enough.  As they work through the process, clients who engage our services learn:

  • What is my climate change exposure?
  • How will my business be affected by climate change?
  • How can my business adapt to gain commercial advantage?
  • Will my processes need to change in a low-carbon world?
  • Are we prepared for these changes?
  • What can I do now? What do I need to do?
  • What do my stakeholders expect and how can I address them?
  • How do I measure success?

So far, so good - nothing that should surprise anyone who has worked with us before.

But there's a difference between saying and doing.  There are a lot of tools out there and a lot of specialist providers who have a hammer in search of a nail.  It's the first part of the definition that gives our approach to carbon management its clarity and power.

Note in particular the use of the phrase "systematic process".  At Carbon Clear we find that it is often counter-productive to pre-judge where a company's greatest exposure to climate change risks and opportunities will lie.  Perhaps the greatest risk is their exposure to energy prices that incorporate a rising cost of carbon.  Perhaps the risk lies in supply chain disruptions caused by increasingly severe weather.  Perhaps the risk is reputational, as the news media, customers and investors punish climate laggards and reward pioneers.

Limited tools can result in limited thinking.  Many larger companies already employ half-hourly energy meters and legislation like the UK's CRC Scheme means the number of meters in use is growing.  Companies can therefore deploy software that enables them to track energy consumption and engage in long term energy planning and targeting. Despite their power, however, these tools are not enough. As we have pointed out before, carbon management involves people throughout the company, from energy managers (the natural users of these software tools), to the HR director, the chief financial officer, and the communications manager. Each of these players will process information in a different way and have a different definition of a successful outcome.  At best, this diversity makes an energy-focused software tool a difficult sell.  At worst, it potentially leaves a company blind to all the other greenhouse gas emission sources in their business and to the other ways that climate change can affect them.

Similarly, unless we understand the resources and constraints available to the company, it may be premature to specify in advance the actions they should take to tackle those risks and opportunities.  Just as a physician will discuss all the options before sending a patient off to surgery, a carbon management professional should help a company understand the choices and trade-offs available to them.  The universe of possibilities is vast: should they invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy, demand management, supply chain optimisation, fuel switching, improved transport management, employee and customer engagement, corporate restructuring, new product development, etc, etc...? The answer, of course, is "it depends".

And within each of these categories lies a potentially bewildering number of specific approaches.  Within the category of energy efficiency should the focus be on improved metering, lights, motors, insulation, load management, user behaviour or some other solution? What's the trade-off between investing to optimise existing equipment and undertaking a retrofit before the current equipment has reached the end of its useful life?  And who decides?

Carbon clarity means using clear, systematic thinking to cut through these complex variables to find the right carbon management solutions for your company.  As the examples above illustrate, carbon management isn't a single tool.  It isn't just a carbon footprint, and it isn't a gadget you can buy.  And while carbon credits may play a role, carbon management isn't just (or even mainly) about carbon offsets.

At Carbon Clear, we're your carbon management partner.  We provide carbon clarity to help you change climate change from a risk to an opportunity. And we help you choose the tools that will translate those opportunities into results.

(Carbon Clear homepage)