It's all about the Scope 2 emissions.
Note: While a lot has changed because of the pandemic, we’re still moving forward with the B Corp certification process. Our goal of formalizing our commitment to making a social and environmental impact hasn’t changed, and we’ll continue to share our progress. Thanks for following along, and we wish you health and comfort during this crazy time!
Part of becoming B Corp certified is collecting and organizing the data necessary to assess your company’s sustainability, mainly in terms of operations and sourcing. In this post, we will focus mostly on the data we used to calculate our carbon footprint, but we’ve also crunched the numbers around other important data points such as local sourcing (a high percentage thanks to our loyal local consigners!) and wages. A common phrase used when thinking about how to go about making a business more sustainable is, “What gets measured gets managed.” We hope that our data collection efforts through the B Corp certification process help us to highlight where we’re doing well and where we can improve, as well as help us to set goals to become even more sustainable in the future.
Before we get into the specifics, we want to mention that there are some limits to what we can control. Because we rent our space, we’re tied to the overall building's energy providers -- we can’t, for example, install solar panels on the roof. Still, measuring our carbon footprint is an important and insightful exercise, and helps us determine what things we can do to improve our energy efficiency.
Preparing your company’s carbon footprint sounds like a daunting task, but once you get all of the data you need, the process is actually quite simple. All of the steps described below follow the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol as advised by B Lab in their guidance for questions concerning carbon footprinting. The GHG Protocol is governed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. According to their guidance documents, “the GHG Protocol seeks to develop internationally accepted GHG accounting and reporting standards and tools to promote their adoption worldwide.” There are three types of emissions addressed by the GHG Protocol: Scopes 1, 2, and 3. Scope 1 emissions are those generated directly by your business, such as driving a company-owned vehicle. Scope 2 emissions are generated by your use of energy utilities, such as your purchased electricity and gas. Scope 3 emissions are the emissions generated in your supply chain. For this post, we will focus entirely on Scope 2 emissions, as Merry Go Rounds does not own any directly emitting equipment, and the complicated nature of calculating Scope 3 emissions means that we're not ready to tackle that side of the business. Scope 2 emissions are commonly calculated by businesses looking to better understand their overall footprint, and we’re excited that we were able to calculate them for ourselves!
There were five steps to calculating our Scope 2 emissions, explained in more detail below:
- Collect the utility bills from the past 12 months to document how much electricity and gas were used each month and then sum the total for the year;
- Download the eGrid summary tables from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website;
- Use the emissions factors eGrid tables to calculate the total emissions from electricity in carbon dioxide equivalents based on what part of the US grid that we operate;
- Convert the therms (the unit of measurement for natural gas, essentially the amount of heat produced) of natural gas consumed to carbon dioxide equivalents based on EPA estimates;
- Add the emissions from electricity and gas to get our carbon footprint.
Now, to break down what each of these steps mean. First, it’s important to collect utility bills from both store locations to ensure that the full energy use for the business is accounted for. In our case, our energy use was reported in kilowatt hours, which we converted to megawatt hours to do our calculations (divide the kilowatt hours by 1000).
Next, we used the eGrid summary tables to make our calculations. These spreadsheets seem intimidating at first, but once you know what to look for, they're actually quite simple! First, we located Massachusetts on the map in the table of contents and determined that we are in the NEWE subregion. Next, we used the Subregion Output Emission Rates to calculate how many pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) our electricity use emits into the atmosphere. You likely often hear about carbon dioxide as the GHG that drives climate change. Carbon dioxide is actually one of many GHGs that collectively contribute to climate change, but in order to simplify reporting, companies often use CO2e, which normalizes the other types of emissions based on how much stronger or weaker they are than carbon dioxide in each particle’s contribution to climate change.* The eGrid summary tables show us, based on the mix of energy types that utility providers use in different regions of the country (combinations of coal, natural gas, solar power, etc.), how much of each type of gas (in pounds) per megawatt of energy is produced. Based on that, they do the calculation of CO2e for you, you just have to multiply your energy use by the number provided for your region. The B Corp certification asks for emissions in metric tons, so to make that conversion, we divided the pounds of CO2e we calculated by 2205.
Finally, we calculated our emissions related to our natural gas use. To do this, you simply multiply the number of therms consumed by 0.0053 to find the metric tons of CO2e emitted by our gas use. We then added together what we found for our emissions from electricity and gas use, and voila, we have our carbon footprint! For the certification, we report both our total emissions as well as our carbon intensity. Carbon intensity is calculated simply by dividing our emissions by our revenue. The smaller the number, the more efficient we are! The eGrid summary tables are also very helpful in learning the likely percentage of our energy that comes from renewable sources. While we know that different parts of the grid likely have different energy mixes, as some areas use more renewables than others, these estimates provide us with a proxy for our renewable energy use.
One of the goals of calculating our carbon footprint is to understand where we stand now both in an absolute sense as well as from an efficiency standpoint. It helps us to explore questions such as can we grow our business without growing our environmental footprint by as much, or what kinds of targets can we set to reduce our overall footprint. Sustainability is not a one-match game. We will always be pushing ourselves to be more sustainable, find more innovative practices, and be better stewards of our environment. Collecting and analyzing our data in this way helps us to set those goals and keep pushing Merry Go Rounds to be a leader in sustainability.
*For those who are interested, we wanted to provide a bit deeper of an explanation for what CO2e is. For example, methane is also a GHG, however, it has a stronger effect on climate change than carbon dioxide, what is known as its “global warming potential.” The EPA states,
“The Global Warming Potential (GWP) was developed to allow comparisons of the global warming impacts of different gases. Specifically, it is a measure of how much energy the emissions of 1 ton of a gas will absorb over a given period of time, relative to the emissions of 1 ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). The larger the GWP, the more that a given gas warms the Earth compared to CO2 over that time period. The time period usually used for GWPs is 100 years.”
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body within the United Nations, methane has a global warming potential of 28 over 100 years, or in other words, methane’s contribution to global warming is 28 times that of carbon dioxide over a 100 year period. The pounds of methane produced by a particular area’s electricity generation is multiplied by 28 to find the methane’s CO2e.