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Using Science to Reduce Greenhouse Emissions

Posted by Matthew Gardner on Mar 16, 2017 4:34:03 PM

Editor’s Note – Matthew Gardner, Ph.D., is Managing Partner of Sustainserv. He will serve as moderator of the AIM Sustainability Roundtable on April 8.

InnovationSmall-5.jpgIt’s one thing for a company to commit to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It’s another to base those reductions on strict, science-based targets.

But that’s exactly what AIM members like Walmart, Dell, Coca Cola and Procter and Gamble are doing. Another 170 global companies have committed to do the same.

The science melds global scientific greenhouse-gas reduction research with a disciplined understanding of a company’s own generation of greenhouse gasses.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by up to 70 percent by 2050 to limit global warming to 2°C , the threshold below which irreversible climate change can be averted.

Following the UN Climate Talks in Paris in 2015, an initiative was launched for companies to establish “science-based” GHG reduction targets consistent with the 2-degree C warming limit.

The standards give companies clear quantitative benchmarks against which to guide their GHG reduction efforts.

The targets apply to all of the categories of GHG emissions for which a company may be responsible. Such emissions include

“Scope 1” and “Scope 2” emissions, those related to the amounts of fuels that the company consumes in its operations (think heating, process-related and/or fuels used in company vehicles), as well as emissions related to the generation of energy that a company then uses on site (such as electricity).

By ensuring that a company has energy efficient buildings, operates an energy efficient vehicle fleet, or maximizes the efficiency of its process-related energy usage, the employer can reduce both its Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions and its expenses. 

So-called “Scope 3” -  those associated with the production and/or delivery of goods or services that are provided to the company by others on its behalf - emissions, are more complicated Scope 3 includes GHG emissions associated with business travel, emissions resulting from the production of materials that a company uses to manufacture its own products, or emissions from services such as shipping and logistics for which it contracts.

Scope 3 emissions can be many multiples greater than Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions. Reducing these emissions can be difficult, however, as it requires significant engagement with the suppliers of those products or services, and an awareness of the GHG impacts of those products or processes by all parties.

Establishing science-based targets, and the implementation plans to achieve those targets, is a technical process that needs careful consideration and planning. GHG emissions must be calculated carefully and according to accepted protocols. Most importantly, an action plan must be developed to achieve the goals in an economical and technically feasible manner.

Done properly, science-based targets can provide context and focus to GHG emissions programs and the actions required to make them successful.

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Topics: Environment, Sustainability, AIM Sustainability Roundtable

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