Digitisation to measure the carbon footprint. Why is it necessary?

8 September, 2022

The entry into force in 2005 of the Kyoto Protocol established six greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)- whose release in abundance contributes to global warming of the planet.

The carbon footprint is an indicator that calculates the amount of these greenhouse gases generated and emitted into the atmosphere, expressed in mass of CO2 equivalent, as it is the most abundant gas.

The calculation and monitoring of the emissions generated by an organisation, an activity, a product or people, allows us to:

  • Establish reduction strategies and measures
  • Assess the impact of changes
  • Establish best practices for sustainable development
  • Forecast future situations based on different scenarios

For companies, for example, measuring the carbon footprint is increasingly important. Both due to the obligation that companies with certain characteristics have to present a report on non-financial information, as well as to improve the efficiency of operations and obtain greater savings, or because it can represent an element of differentiation and a competitive advantage.

An ally for the energy transition

Knowing the carbon footprint of an activity is not as simple as measuring the gases that the activity emits. There are a number of added emissions that must be taken into account, even if they are not obvious. For example, the emissions of a vehicle are not only those arising from the use of fuel; it is also the environmental cost of manufacturing or transporting it to the point of sale (known as indirect or scope 3 emissions).

The emissions resulting from the production and use of energy are an important element to take into account to reduce the carbon footprint of a company, a country or a person. More so in a context of energy transition, in which progress is being made towards a more sustainable system in the production, distribution and consumption of energy.

The emissions resulting from the production and use of energy are an important element to take into account to reduce the carbon footprint of a company, a country or a person.

Digitisation has much to contribute to the energy transition. It has an associated energy consumption – for example, data centres, also known as the cloud, require huge amounts of electricity to function and, above all, to cool down – but at the same time it implies a more effective way to deal with the climate crisis because:

  • It simplifies data collection, automates emission calculations and improves information analysis: there are different digital tools to carry out these processes that would otherwise be tremendously expensive in terms of time, money and human resources.
  • It helps project a better future. For example, through digital twins (a virtual replica), which allow evaluating different situations based on different parameters from a realistic scenario, but avoiding the cost of carrying out these tests in reality. It is also possible to make models with artificial intelligence that allow different emission scenarios to be foreseen by modifying certain parameters to evaluate the results that this modification causes.
  • It allows the optimisation of processes and the reduction of associated emissions. For example, reducing the amount of paper (and all its associated footprint) used in processes that can be done digitally (such as billing); or reducing the long distance trips motivated by meetings that can be conducted through videoconferences.
  • Improve productivity, increase efficiency and reduce costs of the utilities, according to a Capgemini study. Consequently, the consumption of resources is reduced and production is improved, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The mix of energy transformation and digital transformation will be one of the keys to addressing this challenge of reducing emissions. It is vital to measure the main emission sources in an automated and governed way; it also has to be available to be shared and audited.

Issues, all of them, that are possible thanks to technology. Today, the greatest threat to the planet is climate change. The collaboration of all people and organisations is essential to minimise its negative consequences. And measuring the carbon footprint is the first step to share responsibilities and act with measures of greater impact.