If you have regularly been monitoring and reporting on the greenhouse gas emissions of your organisation over the past few years; chances are you’ve seen a reduction. Which is great. But do you really know what has caused this change? Have you looked deeper at the underlying information to work out where this has come from and whether it is down to action within your organisation?
One of the problems with reporting on something like greenhouse gas emissions is that you must work them out based on the usage of another commodity (such as gas or electricity). You then convert this into carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. You aren’t measuring the actual emissions. This is a familiar problem if you think of it in terms of trying to measure your energy use by monitoring how much you pay for your energy bills. Prices fluctuate so you don’t get an accurate measure of what’s happening with your energy consumption.
It is an issue with every type of fuel or activity, but the problem particularly applies to the use of electricity from the national grid. As this tends to be a large part of any organisation’s energy consumption, it has a significant impact on the calculated greenhouse gas emissions.
Each year the government publish a new set of conversion factors for greenhouse gas emissions for all fuels and activities. These conversion factors allow businesses and other organisations to calculate their greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2014, the weight of emissions associated with the use of grid electricity has reduced by 43%. This is a fantastic achievement and should be celebrated.
However, this change is because of the energy mix feeding the grid, shifting significantly towards cleaner and renewable technologies, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with generating this energy. It should not be confused with energy reductions and efficiency improvements locally within individual organisations. An organisation could have used the same electricity each year from 2014 – 2018 and still achieved this 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Only a reduction larger than this would show real change within an organisation.
In fact, the real risk is that this reduction may have masked increases in electricity use by still showing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, when actual electricity consumption has been going up. Energy Managers are familiar with this issue and know to look in more detail at what is really going on. But for those outside this field, and particularly for decision makers who often only have time to look at headline figures, it is vital to make this distinction. Emissions monitoring is of fundamental importance to our work, but without explanation and context, all meaning is lost. It can never replace energy consumption monitoring; it’s only when you view both alongside each other that the true value of each becomes clear.