Diminishing Grace

Last year the UK’s Ad watchdog was the busiest they’ve ever been looking into green claims. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) conducted the highest number of formal rulings on green issues in 2023 than they ever have before. In previous years, businesses may have been given grace to make mistakes, learn and adapt. Yet as new standards and regulations get updated and made more explicit, that grace period is coming to an end.  

Set the Foundation

In the quest for environmental accountability, carbon footprinting has become a cornerstone practice that can be quantifiably measured and reduced. There’s more to ‘sustainability’ than just carbon, however as a key environmental practice, decarbonisation should now be a foundational strategy for any business. Yet there are several common missteps that can compromise the accuracy and effectiveness of carbon footprinting efforts.  

Here are the top 5 carbon footprinting faux pas that we often see with organisations:  

Air Travel Emissions - Eight Versa

Airlines have been particularly scrutinised by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading claims.  

1. Underestimating Scope 3 Emissions

Scope 3 emissions, which encompass indirect emissions from sources such as supply chains and consumer use from sold products, are often overlooked. Many organisations have got to grips with their Scopes 1 & 2 but may not fully appreciate the extent of their Scope 3 emissions. Considering that Scope 3 emissions typically make up between 80-90% of the majority of businesses carbon footprint, it’s not to be underestimated. Understandably the challenge of tackling Scope 3 can be a bit overwhelming considering the scale and complexity of these emissions sources. Yet it’s fast becoming the focal point of whether an organisation is taking their decarbonisation strategy seriously or not. By facing this challenge head on, a company can demonstrate a serious commitment to their environmental impact and start to make headway in bringing their supply chain along with them.  

2. Measuring the Bare Minimum

It is often found, either intentionally or unintentionally, that businesses only measure limited data points with their carbon footprint. They get sucked into thinking they are measuring everything they can, but later find that the calculation tool they were using only required financial data. Meaning that the bare minimum has been measured and several assumptions will have been made which ultimately weakens the strength of their baseline carbon footprint. You can then see that when businesses set targets based on this flawed starting point, they will eventually have to start again after wasting time, money and effort on pursuing a lackluster commitment. The quality of your dataset from the very beginning must be a priority and you should spend the time collecting as much primary data as possible to then give yourself the best starting position. As a result, any targets you do set will have the assurance that its’s backed up by credible data.

3. Ambiguous Reports and Targets

Transparent reporting practices are essential for building trust and credibility in carbon footprinting efforts. Without clear documentation of data sources, methodologies, and assumptions, assessments may be met with scepticism. It seems there has been a rush of pledges over the years that certain 2030/40/50 targets will be met. But when looking for the evidence of how these commitments will be achieved, you’re left bewildered by the lack of any detail. You end up with numerous vague statements or ambiguous claims that make you wonder whether some organisations have managed to make up their own definitions completely. Getting past this is quite simple – ensure transparency by disclosing all relevant information and adhering to standardised reporting practices. That way your carbon footprint reports and pledges will become bulletproof.  

4. Lack of Third-Party Verification

Failing to validate data and methodologies can compromise the reliability of your carbon footprinting assessments. Verification processes are essential to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the results – and there’s no question that this needs to be via a third-party. Otherwise, it’s like marking your own homework. We’ve seen in recent months how many organisations have had their commitments dropped by the SBTi. This is likely because many of these businesses weren’t getting their annual reduction efforts third-party verified. By measuring and reducing year-on-year and having this process analysed by an accredited and designated organisation, you’ll be able to confidently move forward with your decarbonisation plans.  

5. Greenwishing

Misleading or inaccurate carbon footprint assessments can greenwash the true environmental impact of an entity. We’ve seen this widely in the market already as exaggerated claims of emission reductions or sustainability achievements make way for complacency and a false sense of progress. However, sometimes this is done unintentionally. Some businesses with every best intention are attempting to do the right thing. Yet either through lack of resource or lack of understanding end up following a misdirected path and have nothing to show for it. We call this ‘Greenwishing’. This can be avoided by not just looking for the cheapest carbon calculator or learning how to decarbonise from unreliable sources but instead by prioritising quality. It’s better to start small and be accurate, than big and miss the mark.  

Dandelion - Eight Versa

Greenwishing [verb]
Setting Net Zero commitments with good intentions, but not practically preparing for how to actually achieve said targets. 

Armed and Ready

By avoiding these carbon footprinting faux pas and embracing best practices, organisations can accurately deliver a decarbonisation strategy to be proud of. For far too long we’ve seen a lukewarm approach to carbon footprinting, but now there is all the ammunition available to demonstrate a genuine commitment to sustainability. This is not saying that the market is perfect, and mistakes won’t still be made, but by arming yourself against these common pitfalls you’ll be in a much stronger position than those who continue to overlook these mistakes  

Robert Franklin, Lead Sustainability Consultant

Robert is a Lead Sustainability and Carbon Footprinting Consultant at Eight Versa who specialises in assisting clients with the calculation of their organisational carbon footprint and supporting the development of dedicated strategies to reduce operational emissions. 

Robert Franklin - Eight Versa