Remember your first report? Whether you're an expert or a beginner, here's some valuable advice for sustainability reporting.
By Derek Eisel
Awkward First Times
First times can be awkward. You’re not sure what you’re doing, but you want to seem like you do. You don’t understand the equipment involved, but there’s a lot of pressure to make it work. Sound familiar? That’s how things were for my first corporate carbon footprint too. I fumbled around in spreadsheets for what seemed like forever, but with a little coaching, your first time can be a good experience.
What you’ll need to get started
First you need to ask yourself why you’re doing a footprint. Is this your pet project because that Al Gore movie freaked you out? Did one of your customers ask you for CO2 numbers? Did a supply chain partner request you complete the CDP response? Did your CEO hear a TED talk that got her fired up? Ask yourself who cares, not generally, but specifically, who within or outside of your organization wants this info. In my case we started tracking our corporate footprint because a few key customers requested the data through CDP.
Once you know who wants the info, establish how you’re going to share it. Are you going to create a CSR report for shareholders, just answer the CDP questions, or keep the information private and internal until you figure out what it means to your organization? Is your CEO going to announce an INCREDIBLY BOLD CLIMATE GOAL THAT IS NO LONGER BUSINESS AS USUAL? You need to know what will be done with that first report.
Answers to these questions will dictate your next step: how you go about selecting a methodology, collecting the raw energy, fuel and other data, calculating the footprint and contextualizing what it means to your organization. I partnered with local university grad students who needed a project. They researched various methodologies according to our business needs and selected the World Resource Institute. Once my company execs bought off on the decision to use WRI, It was as simple as me going to the WRI website and downloading the spreadsheets… except that it wasn’t.
A cement company has a different footprint than a shipping company or a sports retailer. Identify what is material (big impacts) in your organization in order to choose the right spreadsheets. With this information you can select the spreadsheet appropriate for your industry sector and you can decide if you want to calculate Scope One (tailpipes you own) and Scope Two (electricity you buy) or also include parts of your Scope Three (everything else) footprint.
Is this starting to seem complicated? Nobody said first times are easy.
You’ll need to collect your raw usage data for the things you’re going to report. I used a free survey tool (Key Survey) to send questions to the company’s green teams in each facility asking for their annual kilowatt hours and liters of fuel. The green teams gathered their utility bills and entered the data in the survey and sent it back to me where I dumped the data into the spreadsheets. This took a fair amount of work to follow up on the data and get it in the right rows depending on the country (the conversion factors adjusted for energy in coal-heavy locations versus energy from dams and other sources). It was a plodding, error prone experience, but worth it because we were able to calculate our footprint and the process of asking for the data got a lot of people involved. It took months to crunch the numbers, create the pie charts and start to understand what the data meant before I was able to publish it internally and then (after working with if for another year), publish it externally via the CDP.
While my organization followed a do-it-yourself model, many opt for more help, which can range from outsourcing the whole process (methodology selection, data collection, calculation, understanding, reporting) to consultants on an annual basis – to purchasing software to automate this process – to a mix of both. There are many ways to have a first time, but the important thing is to just get started. You don’t want to wait so long that you find yourself as the only person in the room who’s never done it. That’s awkward.