Back 10.08.2012

Carbon footprint: new challenges and opportunities for the business sector – Huella de carbono: nuevos desafios y oportunidades para el sector empresarial

Climate change is doing what many ideologies have failed to do: changing our development models. It is making us reconsider the economic growth and development paradigms which for a long time have accompanied our everyday lives.

The climate phenomenon is a matter of global concern which has moved beyond exclusive circles of scientists and organizations and has become a matter of broad social impact and concern also for business and industry. New concepts, such as the carbon footprint, are emerging to help incorporate the opportunities arising from the urgency of confronting climate change into business management.

We hear more and more about the need to move towards a low-carbon economy, focused on reducing greenhouse emissions at source through climate-friendly production. Similarly, the promotion of clean energy, low emissions transportation, sustainable forestry and plantations, low emissions intensity supply chains and many other activities, are part of what has come to be known as climate competitiveness. Economic and environmental accounting at country-level as well as for companies and organizations will become a fundamental issue.

Climate change is also affecting international trade: the carbon footprint of products, goods and services is starting to play a leading role. For example, in France, the Grenelle Law came into force in January 2011, establishing that consumers must be informed of the equivalent carbon content of products and their packaging as a requirement for entering the French market.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States is working on a law which sets product import tariffs based on carbon intensity: products that have generated more greenhouse gas emissions will be subject to higher tariffs whilst products made through less carbon intensive production processes will benefit from lower tariffs.

The shift towards climate-compatible development could represent a second industrial revolution. Businesses ranging from the telecommunications, agriculture and technology sectors to oil companies, supermarkets and SMEs are all joining this trend.

The carbon footprint will be one of the central tools for evaluating our performance. It is the objective, transparent and verifiable measurement of the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the actions of an individual, company, region, city or country, in a year. The carbon footprint provides the baseline information as a first step towards managing carbon emissions. The three steps for managing the carbon footprint are:

1) measurement or calculation;

2) reduction, through different types of actions, ranging from options as simple as turning the lights off or reducing electricity use, to activities that require investment, for example in efficient technology or making changes in supply chains; and

3) offsetting the remaining carbon emissions.

Multiple benefits arise from reducing the carbon footprint, including improvements in energy efficiency, reducing fossil fuel consumption or replacing more carbon-intensive fuels with others that produce less emissions, and making better use of resource inputs and raw materials. By reducing the carbon footprint we can directly reduce operating costs.

The transition towards a low-carbon economy is happening across the world. Whilst Gaia is working on carbon footprint measurements with clients mostly from Europe, its Latin American strategic partner SASA has launched a carbon footprinting initiative in Bolivia, where companies are now able to offset their emissions through local projects. SASA is also preparing to start work on a regional project to assess and reduce the carbon and water footprints of three major cities, La Paz, Lima and Quito, seeking to promote public-private action.

Gaia’s Project Manager Juan Carlos Enriquez, based in Bolivia, has 25 years of professional experience in the environmental and sustainable development fields in the public and private sectors. The author thanks Nicky Scordellis from SASA for the English revision.