Best practices for collecting carbon data

Best practices for collecting carbon data

A carbon footprint analysis necessarily begins with the collection of data on the company's activities. This complex stage must be carried out intelligently, so as to produce a quality carbon footprint and be able to use it as part of a decarbonization strategy.

Vincent Lorich

Vincent Lorich

VP Climate

Update :
7/2/2024
Publication:
22/9/2023

Since the first carbon audits were carried out, companies have often encountered a number of difficulties in collecting the data needed to calculate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This involves processing a large amount of data from a wide variety of sources, often with very different levels of reliability.

To obtain a usable carbon footprint, each company must find a data collection model and organization that suits its size, sector and business model. As the subject is specific to each company, it's a complex one to tackle. We are therefore seeing the development of exchanges within dedicated structures such as APCC or C3D, which aim to exchange best practices in decarbonization with peers, or ABC, which supports the carbon footprint methodology and develops it over time.

At Traace, we have observed that the tools historically used to manage climate strategies within organizations are no longer adapted to the scale of the climate challenges they face, and are hampering their ability to achieve the carbon footprint reduction targets they have set themselves.

Indeed, for several years now, we've seen companies launching into the creation of homemade tools or Excel files which, as the company grows, become real gasworks, requiring collaboration via endless email loops. The implementation of the CSRD, which will require the collection and processing of new data linked to the impact of companies, risks making these tools and internal collaboration processes even more complex.

We therefore need to take a fresh look at the issue of collecting business data to measure carbon impact, to ensure that we have a reliable, sustainable and efficient system capable of monitoring the company's development and providing concrete support for its decarbonization plan.

The subject is vast: governance, tools, collaboration processes, data quality, automation of recurring tasks, etc.... 

So the first questions you need to ask yourself are the following.

  • Where are the activity data?
  • Who has it?
  • How do you collect them?
  • Where to centralize them?
  • Are they reliable?
  • Are they usable?

Governance, the cornerstone of data collection

For a carbon footprint reduction strategy to be effective, there must first and foremost be a genuine willingness on the part of the company and its management to put in place a solid data collection system that will subsequently enable concrete action to be taken.

Framing the collection plan

A carbon footprint needs to be thought through in terms of objectives, organization, budget, tools and timeframe.

Why does the company want to carry out a carbon assessment? This decision will define the scopes on which the company wishes to focus, and the data to be collected.

The budget (and for the moment we're only talking about the budget dedicated to data collection) will also determine the team in charge of the assessment, and the tools it will be able to call upon to optimize this collection. The tool is obviously a central element, if not the most important, in data collection.

As for timing, it often depends on external factors, such as legal obligations. However, the company can determine the frequency of collection according to the regulatory and organizational constraints of its structure.

Finally, we'll be thinking in terms of organization 👇

Identifying the right contacts

The first step will be to define the team responsible for setting up the carbon footprint and collecting data, both internally and from stakeholders (suppliers, service providers, etc.), and then to use the right tool to centralize information from these different sources.

tree of contributors to a company's carbon footprint
Example of a tree of contributors to a company's carbon footprint

Internal stakeholders

The distribution of roles is essential. It's all about finding the key holder. The person who will manage and centralize data collection from all contributors, and who will have an exhaustive view of the state of data collection at any given moment.

In companies that are already mature in the field of carbon footprint analysis, we will often find a CSR director to wear this hat. Teams of external consultants can also take on all or part of this role.

But beware: as important as this position is, the person appointed to steer the project is not omniscient. Once he or she has drawn up the list of data to be collected, he or she will need to identify the right contacts in each department and/or site capable of providing the information required to draw up the carbon footprint.

This step is essential to avoid entering a chain of delegation, which will dilute the responsibility of each player, and inevitably have an impact on the quantity and quality of the data collected.

The ideal tool will enable you to integrate all these contributors within a collaborative platform, and to call on them for each new data collection, by means of personalized forms distributed directly from the platform. The tool will centralize all data as soon as it is collected, and process it on an ongoing basis.

External stakeholders

This exercise must also be carried out with all stakeholders whose role influences the company's carbon footprint. This mainly concerns those who have a direct impact on the company's scope 3.

In general, scope 3 accounts for the bulk of a company's greenhouse gas emissions, up to more than 90% of the carbon footprint. This is particularly the case for many Traace customers, for whom the mobilization of their value chain is critical in establishing their carbon accounting. Identifying a reliable contact at service providers and suppliers will enable better data collection and, a posteriori, the implementation of more efficient decarbonization actions.

In the same way, these data will be integrated into Traace, traced by source and immediately associated with the corresponding emission factors.

Involving all stakeholders

The role of good governance will also be to ensure the involvement of the various stakeholders by explaining the ins and outs of a carbon footprint project in concrete terms.

This involvement is necessary both in the collection phase and in the future deployment of the company's decarbonization projects.

It should never be forgotten that data collection is a project that involves many stakeholders whose main task is not to collect data. An informed player will therefore be more inclined to contribute actively and qualitatively to carbon data collection.

Data quality, the key to a sustainable carbon footprint

Identify data

Needless to say, you don't just throw yourself into a carbon footprint project. A long phase of framing and analysis is required upstream. It requires in-depth knowledge of the company's operations. Even the most seasoned teams call on specialist consultants, at least for the first instance, to support them in this phase.

Depending on the objectives set, the aim is to draw up an exhaustive list of activity data, by scope, and to associate them with appropriate emissions factors that will enable the quantities of emissions generated for each element to be measured accurately.

Each piece of data will have to be linked to a production site, a service provider, etc., which will then make it possible to know who holds the information and is able to contribute to its collection.

The amount of data to be collected may seem immense, so it's important first of all to make methodological choices that will enable you to determine the main emission items you wish to map, and the granularity of the activity data you wish to collect.

We advise you to adopt an iterative approach. Start by identifying the most important data, and then refine the main emission items by applying a higher level of granularity. You can refine this analysis as the years go by, and as carbon audits are carried out, to broaden your scope of action. By following this method, you will have a matrix view of your main greenhouse gas emissions, and will be able to activate levers that will have a substantial impact on your carbon footprint.

To facilitate this step, you need to ensure that you have a platform capable of supporting you in this mapping and the level of granularity essential to the exploitation of your carbon footprint.

Tools such as Traace make it easy to draw up this list and associate the corresponding emission factor with each item of data collected. A rich database of emission factors (including that of ADEME) is natively integrated into the tool and regularly updated. It is also possible to import emission factors specific to your sector of activity or created to order.

Collecting quality data

Data is only meaningful if it can be used. And the first criterion for usable data is its value.

At Traace, we strongly encourage our users to prefer the physical approach to the monetary approach whenever possible.

The monetary approach consists of converting monetary source data, such as your balance sheet or energy bill, into carbon emissions using a "monetary" emissions factor expressed in kgCO2e/€.

The physical approach relies on physical data (number of kilometers traveled, tons of materials purchased) to establish GHG emission levels.

The monetary approach may seem simpler. It's much quicker to produce a carbon footprint using a chart of accounts alone. However, it is far less reliable. Monetary data cannot be used to identify precise levers for action. The only solution is to buy less or at a lower price, which rarely leads to an effective reduction in emissions. Reducing expenditure on materials does not necessarily mean consuming less of them, especially in times of inflation. The carbon footprint will follow price trends, which makes it impossible to monitor over time.

ABC therefore recommends the systematic use of physical flow data to limit uncertainties in the calculation of carbon emissions. This method is now a recognized quality standard for the preparation of a carbon footprint.

We also believe that the monetary approach is not inevitable. Thanks to modern tools, we're convinced that it's possible to obtain quality, physical data that will enable us to provide precise, fine-tuned levers for action. It was with this in mind, of course, that we developed the data collection module of our software. We have made available all the tools needed to collect data in a collaborative manner, with automated processing, thus simplifying access to quality data and its exploitation.

However, we are well aware that, given the amount of data that needs to be collected, it is utopian to believe that they will all be of equal quality. Only in cases where it has not been possible to collect concrete data will it be necessary to extrapolate. In this case, monetary data can also be used when no satisfactory alternative is available.

In this context, we enable you to associate degrees of uncertainty with your various data, so that you can better identify, at the time of your analysis, information that comes from extrapolated data and is therefore less reliable.

By applying the iterative method we mentioned earlier, you can also improve the quality of the data you collect over the years with each new exercise, thereby reducing the level of uncertainty linked to the analysis of your GHG emissions.

Choosing the right carbon data collection tool

Establish selection criteria

The tool you use to collect your activity data is therefore a key element in obtaining a reliable, usable carbon footprint without having to devote inordinate amounts of time and energy to it. Its functionalities should enable you to respond to all the difficulties we have mentioned above.

To sum up, the perfect tool should enable you to : 

  • Collaborate effectively with all those involved in your carbon plan, including external parties, by means of multiple-choice questions.
  • Identify the collection manager for each perimeter
  • Map all your data sources
  • Enable data to be collected and processed on an ongoing basis
  • Determine data quality by assigning a degree of uncertainty to the data
  • Associate a corresponding emission factor with all data, which will be regularly updated.
  • Weight data with advanced processing rules (bonus/malus)
  • Trace the data collected to find its origin and make it auditable

Only then will you have a sufficiently rich and high-quality carbon database to successfully carry out your future decarbonization actions.

A good data collection module must also be flexible. Your company will evolve. It may integrate new sites, launch new products, have to adapt to new legislation. The tool must therefore be able to collect data in euros, kg or kWh, and even adapt to statistical approaches for extrapolation purposes.

Assume that a good module is one that doesn't know in advance what data it will connect to, and yet will be able to adapt to each of them.

The Traace collection module

Traace's data collection module enables you to create data collection campaigns using customized questionnaires. These will be sent to all stakeholders with the activity data required to draw up your carbon footprint.

A data flow system recovers the data collected and automatically associates the emission factor you enter to convert the information into generated carbon emissions. All the data collected is then centralized in an analysis module, giving you an exhaustive view of your company's GHG emissions.

You can also trace data by emission site, collection date, product concerned... making your carbon analysis fully auditable.

Last but not least, the tool enables you to track your data collection campaigns at a glance, and visualize any gaps in the data. Contributors will be automatically reminded to fill in any missing data.

Carbon data collection campaign template
Simplified carbon data collection campaign model

CSRD and ESG data: a new challenge for data collection

The arrival of the CSRD reinforces the need for companies to collect their data via a dedicated tool. The CSRD and the inclusion of ESG indicators will multiply the amount of data that companies will need to collect. It will also require the inclusion of many new conversion factors (impact on biodiversity, land use, etc.).

Your carbon accounting Excel file, no matter how powerful, will quickly become unreadable and, above all, won't give you a clear picture of your impact. The effectiveness of your decarbonization or impact reduction actions will therefore be severely penalized.

Measuring your actions effectively can become a real headache when, for example, by reducing your carbon emissions you are likely to increase your impact on biodiversity. Only a tool with an advanced, powerful and flexible processing rules engine can actively support you in your data collection phase, and enable you to exploit the data afterwards.

Traace's data collection module is designed to adapt to all these scenarios, and will enable you to process a single piece of data from different angles, by associating several conversion factors to it, thereby simplifying your future analyses and actions aimed at reducing your social and environmental impact.

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