Carbon footprint’s shape matters

Knowing where energy is being used is the secret to making carbon management an exercise in profitability rather than just compliance.

So said Coffey Environments, a specialist sustainability engineering service with the benefit of 10 years experience assessing and analysing carbon footprints.

Coffey Environments Sustainability Engineering Services is a major sponsor of the second Carbon Reduction & Trading Expo in Melbourne.

Coffey Environments manager of sustainable engineering, Kirsty Gregory, expects that most visitors to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre over the expo’s three days from March 31 to April 2 will still be in information-gathering mode rather than ready to cut emissions.

That thirst for information about the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit drove 11,521 visits to last year’s event, which ran in conjunction with Safety In Action and Melbourne Materials Handling in April 2008.

Gregory said changes to the Australian government’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reporting requirements and the imminent introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme has encouraged companies to actively explore how their obligations will be met.

“The number of companies now approaching Coffey Environments to undertake carbon footprint assessments shows industry is beginning to appreciate the broad implications of the Act.

“The starting point is to understand your carbon footprint. Without measuring it, your organisation won’t know whether it is required to report under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) Act.”

Carbon footprint — urgent action necessary

The National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) Act came into effect on 1 July, 2008 and corporations that exceed 500 terajoules (TJ) or have facilities that use more than 100 TJ of energy must report their 2008/09 emissions by October 31 this year.

The federal government anticipates around 1000 Australian businesses will be affected, with many more caught under far lower thresholds the following year.

Payoffs for emissions control

“The good news is that this is not just an exercise in red tape in determining a company’s carbon footprint.

“Coffey can also undertake an energy audit that will, for most businesses, identify plenty of energy savings that can be achieved with a payback period of less than three years,” Gregory said.

“The important aspect of a carbon footprint isn’t the size. It’s far more important to know where the energy is consumed because this allows Coffey Environments to identify where savings can be made. Often these are low-cost initiatives: the ‘low-hanging fruit’.”

Gregory said far greater savings and improvement in sustainability are achievable when companies commit to an ongoing management program for carbon emissions by:

  • measuring existing efficiency levels of operations, plant and equipment;
  • benchmarking against other facilities and best practice;
  • highlighting improvement opportunities;
  • evaluating implemented improvements; and
  • tracking ongoing performance.

Blending engineering with accounting and environmental management, Coffey Environments believes the secret to identifying energy savings is a good understanding of business operations.

To achieve this objective the input of environmental engineers is integral to energy audits that underpin an accurate carbon footprint.

“We find that environmental management expertise is not sufficient to create a working emissions program — you need specialists.” Gregory said.

“We employ electrical, mechanical and chemical engineers to look at the equipment, maintenance programs and to analyse the business processes. Their recommendations often blend new technology with streamlined operations that bring a variety of efficiency gains.”

Gregory said the fiscal drivers of environmental policy should not be overlooked. To bring added financial rigour to emissions management, Coffey Environments has teamed up with accountancy firm, RSM Bird Cameron.

“It’s important that businesses build in an assurance system into their environmental accounting practices,” said Gregory.

“Our alliance with RSM Bird Cameron allows clients to go beyond mere compliance and prepare for the future. Aside from measuring, monitoring and reporting emissions, this combination of engineering and financial expertise provides for the verification and assurance of emissions reports.

“The dollars involved in carbon trading will mean that evidence will be required to substantiate claims. Just as accountancy firms complete annual financial audits, they are now beginning to undertake annual emissions audits.”

Gregory said large emitters were also using the combined skills of environmental engineers and accountancy practices for strategic planning and scenario modelling of the impact of permit pricing.

“Most companies are currently looking for a three-year return on their investments in carbon saving initiatives but the carbon trading scheme will probably mean that measures that would normally take four or five years to break even will be more appealing to companies,” she concluded.

The Carbon Reduction & Trading Expo and Conference will be held at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre from March 31 to April 2.

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