The Value Of Reducing Carbon Footprints Environmental Sciences Essay

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This report examines the concept and value of measuring and reducing a business or product carbon footprint as well some renewable energy systems available, that could contribute to Carbon reduction and energy efficiency. Guides and legislation already exist. In anticipation of future developments, regarding sustainable practices and strict mandatory requirements for organizations and businesses, it is important to take action. Finally, several renewable energy systems are presented and evaluated with recommendations for the company’s building.

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The last three decades the detrimental human impact on the environment became the subject of extensive study. Today it is internationally acknowledged that the extensive use of fossil fuel and overexploitation of earth’s resources has led us into an environmental crisis. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuel are the most threatening factor to Climate Change (IPCC, 2007). The international commitments concerning carbon reduction emissions, at the recent Climate Change Summit in December 2009, show the need for quick and effective measures. To meet this challenge the industry and commerce sectors must also take action.

Today the quantification and makeup of GHG emissions is expressed by the term ‘Carbon Footprint’. This report analyses the composition of a business’s Carbon Footprint in relation to its activities, products and properties. Moreover, it’s explained why this course of action is necessary and how it could benefit the whole business and its production process. Finally, some of the most typical renewable energy technologies are examined and suggested for the company’s office premises located in Athens Greece.

The definition of ‘carbon footprint’.

Throughout time there were many attempts to define what a ‘carbon footprint’ is. Nowadays, the definition of Wiedmann and Minx (2007, p.4) is what is widely accepted: “‘The carbon footprint is a measure of the exclusive total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that is directly and indirectly caused by an activity or is accumulated over the life stages of a product.’ This includes of individuals, populations, governments, companies, organizations, processes, industry sectors etc. Products include goods and services. In any case all direct (on-site, internal) and indirect emissions (off-site, external, embodied, upstream, downstream) need to be taken into account”.

The above reference to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions includes all six Kyoto Protocol (1997, Annex A) Green House Gases (GHGs). These gases, besides Carbon Dioxide, (CO2) are Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). They are all aggregated and quantified in tonnages of CO2 equivalent (CO2e). The conversion is based in each gas’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) over a period of 100 years. The GWP is defined as the relative impact of a GHG compared to Carbon Dioxide (CO2) over a given period of time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) in its 3rd Assessment Report (2001) provides the values as well as the calculation method.

Carbon Footprint for business, companies and organizations.

There are two types of Carbon Footprint for a business or an organization.

Organizational carbon footprint

Product carbon footprint

Organizational carbon footprint

The Organizational carbon footprint is made up from all direct and indirect GHG emissions caused by the organization’s activities (Carbon Trust, 2010).According to the ‘Greenhouse Gas Protocol’ the direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions are divided into three scopes (categories) (WBCSD & WRI, 2004).

Scope 1: Direct greenhouse gas emissions

These are emissions created by the organization’s assets and production processes e.g. on site fuel use for production process, vehicle use for transportation of employees, materials, products and waste, refrigerant loses, oil and fuel leakages, physical or chemical processing etc. Generally, emissions resulting from the organization’s activities.

Scope 2: Indirect GHG emissions

Emissions created by the use of electricity, heat and steam purchased for in premises use of the company or organization. (The energy supplier’s emissions).

Scope 3: Indirect GHG emissions other than the Scope 2 category

Emissions created from activities needed for the company to function but not made buy the company or organization itself. Extraction and transportation of raw material from suppliers, commuting of employees, transportation of fuel for use, recycling, waste transfer and disposal are examples of what is included in this category. Generally any product or service purchased by the company necessary for its production process except from electricity and heat (scope 2).

Product carbon footprint

The product (goods or services) carbon footprint is made up from the emissions of its life cycle. This includes all the emissions generated from the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing or service provision, use, reuse and finally its recycling and disposal as waste. Those emissions are generated similarly like the organizational carbon footprint by the use of energy, fuel combustion for manufacturing and transportation, and losses and leakages that emit directly to the environment like refrigerants, gases (methane) etc (Carbon Trust, 2011).

Caution is necessary when calculations of both the organizational and product carbon footprint are made so as to not undercount or over count its quantity due to the complexity of these calculations.

The necessity of carbon footprint calculation and reduction.

There are many reasons why a business or organization should develop a management system for the reduction of its carbon footprint. As mentioned above there are two types of carbon footprint organizational and product (goods and/or services) It’s noteworthy that the calculation of either or both footprints sets a reference point for the comparison and evaluation of progress made (Carbon Trust, 2010).

Organizational carbon footprint reductions

The organizational carbon management and reduction will lighten the environmental burden of a business’s activities. Uncontrolled anthropogenic GHG emissions from usage of fossil fuel, deforestation, manufacturing, industrial procedures (steel, iron, cement production) and other activities thicken the greenhouse gas layer. This layer traps more re-radiated solar energy from the earth’s surface into the lowest atmospheric layer the Troposphere. This results to global warming (Denman K.L et al, 2007).

Furthermore the quantification of the carbon footprint helps managers and employees to recognize the areas which have the greatest potential for further reductions and cost savings over time (Carbon Trust, 2010) .

Another major reason is to report the reductions to third parties concerned with GHG emissions. According to the Carbon Trust ‘Carbon Footprinting’ guide (2010), this should be done in order to:

Display social conscientiousness or for marketing purposes

Answer requests of businesses, customers, investors for carbon emission data

Show compliance with mandatory climate change legislation such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) (2010) or European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) (2008)

Provide information by the company’s participation to initiatives that have a purpose to help organizations, investors, governments, consultants, academics and generally anyone concerned, develop energy and emission policies, reduce their carbon footprint and make research. An example is the Carbon Disclosure Project CDP (2001).

To enforce a carbon reduction strategy or purchase or sell carbon offsets.

Carbon Offset transactions are made based on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol (1997).

Product carbon footprint reductions

Many of the benefits from the reduction of the product carbon footprint result from the way these reductions take place. In order to reduce its product’s carbon footprint, the company should monitor and try to make changes to its whole manufacturing process. Emissions come from the whole life cycle of the product. Thus, reductions should be made in every stage of this cycle, to every input and output. Correct selection of materials and suppliers, product design and manufacturing and decreased energy consumption, are all key contributors to effective carbon management. As a result, aside from environmental benefits and reduced costs, the organization will ultimately drive change to the whole supply chain. Furthermore, develop better relationship with its suppliers and help them identify and reduce their own inefficiencies (Carbon Trust, 2010)

There are also advantages for the market and public image of an organization. Public conscience and awareness about environmental friendly practices and sustainability has grown notably the past two decades. The reduction of a product’s carbon footprint can enhance a brand name and attract more customers and shareholders (Carbon Trust, 2010). This is a result of the differentiation from other products, which have not yet developed carbon management programs or have bigger footprints.

Current common practice and approach to calculation, reduction and publication of carbon data is by the use of the GHG Protocol and Publicly available specification (PAS) 2050 for organizations and products respectively. Independent validations and certificates for greenhouse gas emissions denote transparency of the organization, could attract interest and provide reassurance to stakeholders. Continuous progress is necessary for both the organizational and product carbon footprint in anticipation of future (and stricter) legislation and tougher competition.

The company’s carbon footprint.

An indication of the company’s carbon footprint in Athens Greece, can be given by the annual energy consumption of its building. In 2010 the energy consumption of natural gas and electricity was 225230kWh and 379125kWh respectively. The Greek Regulation of Building Energy Performance in table B.1 (2010, p.5336) gives values of 0,989kgCO2/kWh for electricity and 0.196kgCO2/kWh for natural gas. This means, that approximately 419 tones of CO2 per year are produced by the company’s office premises alone.

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Renewable energy technologies

Renewable energy comes from natural sources abundant in our environment. Solar, wind, rain, waves, heat from earth and newly produced organic material are all used to provide zero carbon energy. The most common applications are passive solar designs, solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, biomass heating, ground source heating and wind power generation. Other Low Carbon technologies such as absorption cooling and combined heat and power (CHP) can also be incorporated with the use of this technology. Considerations should be made relative to different building types and locations as well as costs.

Passive solar designs use the building’s design and structure (orientation, design, shading, window glazing and thermal insulation) to store or deduct heat and provide ventilation. The basic concept is to optimize the direct use of the energy available from the building’s environment. Although best suited for new buildings, existing could use some of its concepts. The benefits from such an application include better working environments, less temperature fluctuation, natural air ventilation and less dependence and use of mechanical means for heating and lighting. This results to, increased productivity, low maintenance, higher asset value, lower energy bills and emissions (SEEDA).

Photovoltaic systems, convert solar radiation to electricity. The systems consist of a set of PV cell panels, inverters and wiring. PV cells are made from semiconductor material abundant in earth like silicon. The panels can be installed in either the roof and/or sides of a building, or directly on the land. The effectiveness and efficiency of such an application depends a lot from the available area, its orientation as well as from the shading of neighboring buildings and other obstacles. They have low maintenance requirements, long warranties and even longer life expectancy. Still they have high initial capital costs. These systems are mostly recommended when correct conditions like lighting, orientation and available area exist and/or grants from governments. It is anticipated that soon these systems will be highly competitive due to fuel price increments and continuous evolution and optimization of the technology (SEEDA). For a 750Kwh /year system prices average at £6000 minus any grants and tax returns that may exist.

Solar thermal water heating, is a system, installed on roofs, that collects the sun’s radiation to heat a non corrosive (antifreeze and water mixture) liquid. This liquid runs through a coil in a water cylinder and transfers its heat to the water (Menzies, G.F, 2009) The Carbon Trust (2005) reports that approximately 60 % of hot water demand could be covered by solar water heating. It’s considered one of the most effective and cheap solutions for carbon reduction and cost savings. Menzies (2009) reports 1-3% carbon reductions for commercial applications sized to cover 50% of hot water demand.

Biomass heating, uses boilers that burn organic material from plant and animal matter to produce heat, fuel or electricity. The system typically consists of a furnace with piping that transfers heat for space or water. It is considered as carbon neutral because the CO2 and CH4 are part of the active carbon cycle (accumulated from plants and animals recently and now put back in nature, unlike the carbon emitted from the burning of fossil fuel which was out of the system for millions of years)( Menzies, G.F 2009). Biomass Boiler fuel comes cheaper than electricity, oil, LPG heating (Menzies, G.F, 2009). More so, flexibility to convert to heat, fuel or electricity is also a plus. Still, high initial costs, space requirements for fuel storage and availability of suppliers should be carefully considered. It’s typically best for businesses with organic byproduct material as result of their industrial process and/or for longer hours of operation than usual. Payback periods usually range from 3 to 9 years depending on the replaced system ( Carbon Trust, 2011)

Ground Source heat pumps, use the relatively constant underground temperature, for space and water heating purposes. These systems are not considered carbon neutral (but low carbon) because, pumps use electricity or gas to convert the gathered low level heat to useable high-grade. Still carbon reductions could be substantial for non domestic applications especially if used for the whole heating demands. Carbon reductions of 14%-27% and 16%-23% have been reported for new build and retrofit applications respectively though, 100% demand coverage may be impossible for large buildings (Menzies, G.F, 2009). One the downside these systems have high initial capital costs for installation or retrofitting. Generally, they difficult to apply because of the required ground surveying, long piping, large collectors and empty space (Carbon Trust, 2005).

Wind power generation, comes from the conversion of wind energy to electricity or kinetic energy (wind mills, water pumps) through wind turbines (Menzies, G.F, 2009). They come in varying sizes to suit energy demands. The viability of this option depends largely on wind speed, direction, as well as sufficient wind data and lack of obstacles. Noise and vibration should also be taken in consideration (SEEDA). For roof applications there could be prohibiting building regulations or planning permissions needed (Carbon Trust, 2005). Their initial cost as well as the high probability of obstacles (e.g. neighboring buildings) and unpredictable wind patterns, of most urban locations makes the investment unsuitable for most buildings. On the contrary, well chosen sites with sufficient meteorological data could be highly energy efficient and lucrative plus enhance the company profile.

Application to the company’s buildings in Greece.

The Greek Ministry of Environment Energy and Climate Change (MEECC) (2009), reports that Buildings in Greece are responsible for 36% of the domestic energy use. This waste of energy happens, due the lack of use of modern technologies, the old age of most buildings and the lack of legislation concerning insulation standards (up until recently).

Moreover, electricity in Greece is the most carbon intensive energy, produced mainly by coal and lignite. This means, that by saving electricity or using an alternative energy source (renewable or other fossil fuel such as natural gas), has the greatest potential for CO2 emissions reduction. Furthermore, extensive sunshine periods make the use of solar energy a very efficient sustainable practice.

The company’s offices in Athens Greece (3600m2, 95 employees) are considered a mix of a naturally ventilated open plan and air-conditioned standard type (Action Energy, 2003). An investment for a 40kWp solar PV system as well as a solar hot water system of 8m2 (500lt) would result to emission reductions of approximately 15% (Appendix). These, combined by passive solar upgrades (insulation, window glazing, sunshades) could achieve an even greater reduction of CO2 emissions.

Overall the use of renewable energy sources, will upgrade the energy performance certificate of the company’s building, enhance its public image, asset value and reduce costs (after the investment payback period).


As outlined above, sustainable practices are not only an obligation towards our environment and future generations. The incorporation of carbon management systems and renewable energy sources is actually an investment which will yield profits for all areas of the production and commercial process. Furthermore, this course of action is anticipated to be adopted generally and enforced legally. Thus, it is clear that it’s in a business’s interest to develop sustainable low carbon development strategies and policies as soon as possible.

List of references

Action Energy, (2003) Energy Consumption Guide 19 – Energy use in offices. Revised Edition. London: Carbon Trust [ available at 9 ][viewed on 20/02/2011].

Carbon Trust, (2005) New and Renewable Energy Fact Sheet (GIL137). London: Carbon Trust [available at: ] [accessed on 17/02/2011].

Carbon Trust (2010) Carbon footprinting – The next step to reducing your emissions (CTV043). London: Carbon Trust [available at: ] [viewed on 12/02/2011].

Carbon Trust (2011) Carbon footprinting [accessed on 12th February 2011].

Carbon Trust (2011) Renewables [accessed on 28/02/2011].

Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) (1986) Estimation of Plant Capacity, Section A9 of the CIBSE guide. CIBSE, London.

Denman, K.L., G. Brasseur, A. Chidthaisong, P. Ciais, P.M. Cox, R.E. Dickinson, D. Hauglustaine, C. Heinze, E. Holland, D. Jacob, U. Lohmann, S Ramachandran, P.L. da Silva Dias, S.C. Wofsy and X. Zhang, 2007: Couplings Between Changes in the Climate System and Biogeochemistry. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA [available at:] [accessed on 15/01/2011].

Greece. (2009), Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change. Πρόγραμμα Εξοικονόμηση Κατ’ Οίκον (Energy Savings Program for Buildings). [accessed on 20/02/2011].

Greece. Government Newspaper – of the Hellenic Republic. 2nd issue, paper no 407, 9 April 2010. Regulation of building energy performance, Athens (GR): National Printing Establishment, pp.5333-5356, [available at ] [accessed on 25/02/2011].

Greece. Government Newspaper – of the Hellenic Republic. 1st issue, paper no 85, 4 June 2010. Regulation of building energy performance, Athens (GR): National Printing Establishment, pp.1753-1780, [available at ] [accessed on 25/02/2011].

Wiedmann, T. and Minx, J. (2007, p.4), A Definition of ‘Carbon Footprint’. Durham (UK): ISAUK Research & Consulting [available at: ] [viewed on 11/02/2011].

Menzies, G.F, (2009, pp. 127-147) Sustainable Practices in Facilities Management [D31SF]. Revised Edition. Riccarton Edinburgh: Herriot – Watt University: School of the built environment

World Resources Institute (WRI) & World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), (2004) The Greenhouse Gas Protocol – A corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard. Revised Edition. USA: WRI and WBCSD [available at] [accessed on 14/02/2011].


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