A carbon footprint, what is it and what is it for?

The carbon footprint is a tool that calculates all of a company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thanks to the results obtained, the company’s managers can get an idea of the carbon footprint of their activity on the environment, especially with regard to global warming. The establishment of a carbon footprint is not mandatory for companies. Only those with more than 500 employees are required to account for their emissions through a “regulatory GHG report.”

In concrete terms, the carbon footprint has two main uses and allows companies to:

  • Know their level of greenhouse gas emissions and then establish a plan of action to reduce them.
  • Anticipate fluctuations in fossil fuel prices and emancipate them at least partially.

Carbon footprint: operating principle

First, you need to know that anyone cannot do the carbon footprint. The company carrying out its carbon audit must call on a service provider certified by EPA or have a project manager trained in this method. 
Then the process breaks down into several distinct stages:

Sensitization

The company in charge of the mission begins by giving an overview of the carbon balance method to the company’s managers, as well as the stakes of the approach. At the end of the first discussions, a priority interlocutor will be appointed within the “client” company.

Identification

This phase allows the team responsible for carrying out the carbon assessment to define upstream the entire greenhouse gas emitting activities. Using the data provided by the company, this step leads to a precise and exhaustive mapping of the generating flows of CO².

Harvest

According to the information provided by the company’s managers, the service provider’s team in charge of carrying out the carbon assessment, are responsible for collecting all the necessary data and performs the various calculations that make it possible to determine the quantity of greenhouse gases. 

Analysis

Once the results are obtained, it is possible to identify the most polluting elements in the company and to put in place economic projections in case of decrease or increase of certain activities. An action plan can then be developed to reduce the company’s emissions.

Carbon balance: the benefits for the company

Beyond its primary purpose, the carbon footprint can bring many benefits to a company if it uses it well:

  • By showing that it has taken initiatives to measure its emissions and eventually takes measures to limit them, the company will have an additional advantage to be argued during calls for tenders, for example. A greener brand image that shows that the company is committed to sustainable development is indeed seen by a growing number of companies.
  • The carbon footprint also allows companies to more effectively anticipate future regulatory obligations in terms of pollution and not to find themselves at the bottom of the wall when they are implemented.
  • Making a carbon footprint is also effective in reducing the company’s energy costs, which allows it to store or re-inject the money earned in this way elsewhere. By being aware of its main emission factors, the company can also make sure to reduce them to avoid having to pay too much carbon tax.
  • One of the main obstacles to the achievement of the carbon footprint for the company is the sometimes high cost generated by the service. Yet subsidy of EPA support between 50 and 70% of the costs of the operation depending on the company size. So, it’s an initiative that is not as expensive as it seems.

The limits of the carbon footprint

Although this is a very relevant tool, the carbon footprint has a number of limitations. They must be taken into account before starting:

  • It is not uncommon for the harvest phase to be extremely long, which in some companies may be problematic.
  • The carbon footprint only deals with greenhouse gas emissions. It is thus largely insufficient to have a global vision of the ecological footprint that a company can have: soil pollution, particle rejection and many other factors are not taken into account at all in the establishment of a carbon footprint.
  • The budget needed to carry out some action plans sometimes very high. If on certain points, there is no problem, the “heavy” investments can be very demanding in money for companies having only little liquidity: renovation, change of material, insulation, installation of solar panels…).
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