In an era where climate change is not just a buzzword but a business reality, the concept of carbon accounting has swiftly transitioned from a novel idea to an indispensable tool for modern businesses.

Carbon accounting, at its core, is a mechanism for quantifying the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from corporate activities. This process, akin to financial accounting, goes beyond mere number crunching to provide a narrative of a business’s environmental impact.

Originating in the early 2000s, carbon accounting today stands at the intersection of environmental responsibility and corporate governance.

What sets carbon accounting apart is its role in enabling organisations to understand and manage their carbon footprint. This understanding is not just a compliance requirement; it is a strategic imperative.

By quantifying emissions, businesses can identify key areas for reduction, thereby not only mitigating environmental impact but also optimising operational efficiencies and driving innovation.

Carbon accounting in practice: A holistic approach

The process of carbon accounting involves two critical steps: data collection and processing. This process demands comprehensive data gathering, encompassing both business activities and emissions factors, followed by a rigorous methodology to translate this data into meaningful insights.

The methodologies employed, whether spend-based, activity-based, or a hybrid approach, offer varying degrees of accuracy and relevance depending on the business context.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the most widely recognised standard for carbon accounting, advocates a pragmatic approach combining both methodologies to achieve the most accurate emissions profile.

The protocol breaks emissions sources down into three categories called ‘Scopes’:

  • Scope 1 emissions are direct greenhouse gas emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by the reporting organisation. For example, emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles.
  • Scope 2 emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling. They are accounted for by the reporting organisation as they are a result of the organisation’s energy use.
  • Scope 3 emissions include all sources not within an organisation’s scope 1 and 2 boundaries. Scope 3 emissions often represent the majority of an organisation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Scope 3 emissions fall within 15 categories, though organisations may not incur emissions in all categories. Scope 3 emission sources include emissions both upstream and downstream of the organisation’s activities.

The business case for carbon accounting

The rationale for integrating carbon accounting into business operations extends beyond regulatory compliance. It encompasses several strategic dimensions:

  1. Competitive advantage: In today’s market, sustainability is a significant differentiator. Carbon accounting enables businesses to showcase their commitment to climate change mitigation, thereby enhancing brand equity and customer loyalty.
  2. Risk management: Accurate carbon accounting is crucial in avoiding the pitfalls of greenwashing, whether intentional or unintentional. By providing a true picture of environmental impact, it helps businesses in making informed decisions and mitigating sustainability-related risks.
  3. Operational efficiency: By identifying emission hotspots, carbon accounting helps businesses uncover areas of inefficiency, often leading to cost savings and operational improvements.
  4. Future readiness: As global regulations around sustainability reporting tighten, early adoption of carbon accounting positions businesses to navigate this evolving landscape with ease.

Understanding PPN 06/21

A significant development in the realm of carbon accounting has been the UK Government’s mandate, under Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 06/21, for applicable organisations to publish their Carbon Reduction Plans from September 30, 2021.

The term ‘In-Scope Organizations’ within PPN 06/21 generally refers to entities engaged in contracts valued at £5 million per annum or more (excluding VAT). This encompasses a wide range of businesses, making the policy a significant driver in the UK’s broader strategy for carbon reduction in the corporate sector.

PPN 06/21 mandates these organisations to calculate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions following the GHG Protocol carbon accounting standard. While the target-setting process mirrors that of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), there are notable differences in the approach.

The policy necessitates organisations to fill out a succinct form which requires a declaration of current and future GHG emissions across Scope 1, Scope 2, and select categories of Scope 3. This process is integral to setting a clear trajectory towards achieving net zero carbon by 2050.

Carbon accounting: A gateway to sustainable business practices

Ultimately, carbon accounting is more than an exercise in compliance. It is a conduit to a more sustainable and resilient business model.

By enabling businesses to measure, manage, and report their environmental impact, carbon accounting is not just responding to a global challenge but is reshaping the very way businesses operate in the 21st century.

As accountants navigate an increasingly environmentally-conscious business environment, carbon accounting emerges not just as a tool but as a catalyst for transformation, driving businesses towards sustainability, efficiency, and innovation.

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