The climate context and recent government experiments such as the Citizens’ Climate Convention have put the spotlight (LED, naturally) on concepts such as energy transition, decarbonisation and energy conservation.
Before a company can act on this wishful thinking, it is always faced with the question: what is the impact of all our activities?
There are several tools that can partly answer this question: the Bilan Carbone® if we wish to consider the impact on global warming, or the Life cycle analysis, which has a more holistic approach. These studies can be complex to implement due to the amount of data to be collected across all the value chains. Databases have been compiled to dispense with these time-consuming analyses, such as ADEME’s Base Carbone[i], whose emission factors enable a physical flow to be simply linked to the related CO2 emissions.
Mandatory but far from exhaustive reporting
To date, greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting standards divide GHG emissions into three categories, also known as “scopes”:
Scope 1: direct emissions from equipment owned by the organisation: in the case of a company in the services sector, this would include vehicles, boilers, air-conditioning systems, etc.
Scope 2: indirect emissions associated with energy, which can more or less be summarised as gas/electricity bills.
Scope 3: “other” indirect emissions, meaning the hidden part of the iceberg. This scope in fact reflects the impact of most of the company’s activities: material/product flows, freight, business and personal travel, building occupancy, etc.
Article L229-25 of the French Environment Code[i], which has been applicable since 2010, stipulated that any company with over 500 employees that did not produce its greenhouse gas emission reports (BEGES) on Scopes 1 and 2 at least every four years was liable to a fine of €1,500. This penalty was not very severe and was rarely applied. This article was therefore updated[ii] in November 2020 and the penalty was increased to €10,000, or up to €20,000 for a repeat offence.
Scalian Group, which carried out a GHG assessment of its activities in 2018, chose to go further than the legal requirement by also assessing most of its emissions attributable to Scope 3. It found that Scope 3 accounted for more than 96% of the emissions of the items calculated in the GHG assessment. It is therefore surprising that the carbon reporting obligation only covers Scope 1 and 2 emissions!
In fact, a decree is currently being drafted[iii] to extend this obligation to include the most significant Scope 3 items.
The digital black box
Let’s take a look at Scope 3. In the case of service companies, a significant part of the emissions for this item is attributable to transport, through the employees’ business travel and commuting. For Scalian, these represented more than 60% of Scope 3 emissions in 2018.
Emissions associated with transport have, in most cases, fallen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, one item that is currently rarely assessed by companies – digital technologies – has seen its share increase significantly.
The emission factors for the activities under this item have only recently been made available in ADEME’s Base Carbon®.
|1 online purchase|
|1 email with attachment|
|1 web browsing request|
|1 internet request|
|1 conventional software transaction|
The difficulty in obtaining an accurate estimate of this item is compounded:
- As the digital value chain is particularly complex and geographically dispersed, it is very difficult to obtain reliable data that are stable over time for characterising the associated emissions. Today, the emission factors listed above have 100% uncertainty.
- The concatenation of raw data (number of internet requests per year, number of emails, etc.) may be impossible if the company’s IT department does not have the necessary statistical tools.
It should be remembered that by 2025, digital technology alone will be responsible for more than 5%[i] of global GHG emissions, and that despite the energy efficiency gains of data centres and networks, the exponential growth in the use of these resources will probably lead to an increase in these emissions in the future.
While the health crisis has demonstrated the vulnerability of our lifestyles to external threats, this is merely a taste of the potential consequences of the climate crisis[i].
The Paris Agreement, which is largely based on the work of the IPCC[ii], aims to limit global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100. In terms of emission reductions, this would require a crisis like Covid every year.
What drivers are needed to initiate and maintain this process? Several lines of work are being considered:
- Breakthrough technologies to reduce the carbon footprint of energy, or to promote CO2 capture: development of a “clean” hydrogen industry is one option.
- Binding legal mechanisms that apply financial pressure: the introduction of a carbon tax for example.
- A change in consumption and lifestyles: energy conservation, reuse and recycling of products at the end of their life are all possibilities that contribute to a reduction in emissions.
Companies will have to adapt to these unavoidable future changes, and the first step in initiating their low-carbon transition is to measure their current impacts accurately and exhaustively. The Bilan Carbone® is a methodology that meets this need to identify a company’s CO2 emissions on all the items in Scopes 1 to 3, and can be applied to any sector.