Carbon Tracking is Important — But a Calculator or a Credit is Not A Solution!

We need sustainability. But that’s a heck of a lot more than just calculating the carbon in your supply chain or buying credits from an unknown seller of dubious origin. However, in the last two years, we’ve seen dozens (upon dozens) of startups that, as of now, do just that — and only that.

If they have plans to do more, that’s great, we need more — a lot more, but for now, all they are adding is unnecessary duplication of capability and confusion to a space that needs more clarity.

First of all, you don’t need a custom “carbon calculator” to compute your carbon footprint. All you need is the data on the products you produce — specifically, how many units you buy, the carbon output by the factory on an annual basis, and how many total units it produces. Then, you can compute a carbon contribution by product. (Yes, this is a bit simplified, but you can have the factory track daily production by product and daily output and improve the estimate if you like. It’s still a simple calculation.)

And, most importantly, you can do all of these calculations easily in any Business Intelligence (BI) or Spend Analysis Tool. Just load the factory carbon / GHG output for a day and the number of products produced per day in a tracking table and create a derivation dimension for carbon and each GHG you want to track and that’s your output per product. Then, on your product purchase table you create a derived dimension that calculates how much carbon (and GHG) the products you bought contributed. Dump the table and there’s your report, which you can format how you like.

And you can even do all this work in, gasp, Microsoft Excel if you don’t have a spend analysis tool — you don’t need someone to build a custom mini spreadsheet tool to do this for you (or pay for it).

But even worse is an unregulated someone who will take your money and invest it in “carbon offsets” for you. Especially when the enterprises that someone invests it in may or may not be doing anything that’s actually reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The reality is that, today, many “carbon offset” investments are a complete and utter scam, as per this John Oliver segment, and many more that look like they are doing activities that will capture atmospheric carbon are just wasting time and money. For example, just planting a tree does nothing if the tree doesn’t survive. In many areas of South America and other locales undergoing rapid deforestation, especially where droughts are common, the climate quickly becomes similar to that of a semi-desert part of the year — and a young sapling in this climate generally won’t survive without irrigation. Also, if the entity doing the planting decides to plant a non-native species of tree that they believe should “grow faster”, chances are those trees won’t survive the climate either.

What we really need is a few internationally regulated organizations that create requirements and standards for an operation to be a real carbon offset operation and auditing requirements that must be met in order for an operation to be certified as being a true carbon offset operation — before it takes a dime of your money. Otherwise, yet another organization just wanting to do good is NOT enough.

And then, we need these companies that care to take the next step and provide meaningful guidance to global enterprises as to the steps these global enterprise clients can take to reduce their carbon footprint — technologies they, and their suppliers, can invest in to reduce carbon and GHG production, alternative raw materials and components they can use in their designs that produce less carbon in their mining and production, and ways to reduce consumer demand for carbon intensive products. (Which, by the way, doesn’t have to reduce profit — conscientious customers will pay more for sustainable products, especially if those products now last longer as a result!)

In short, we need actions, not calculations!