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Review of Four Carbon Calculators for Business (and a few other cool tools)

Posted Mar 17 2012 10:02am

If your company is just starting down the road of sustainability, and you’d like to get a sense of just how much your carbon emissions contribute to the CO2 on the planet, then taking advantage of one of the free internet carbon calculators for businesses is your ticket.  While these calculators can be scaled for almost any size business, the underlying assumptions are more suited to SMEs.  This is a quick (typically under an hour of time depending on the size of your company or organization) and relatively painless method of getting a snapshot view of your company’s annual emissions.

In all cases, it is beneficial to have several recent months of utility bills (or total amounts) handy, as well as an idea of annual totals.  You will also need good estimates of miles travelled in all forms – company cars and delivery trucks; business travel by rail/plane; and average commuting miles per employee.  Paper usage by type and amount (weight) should also be estimated since it is a significant impact of many office environments.  Once you’ve tracked down these numbers – or made educated estimates – the actual entering of data should only take a few minutes.

The four calculators detailed here are in no particular ranking and do not reflect a specific endorsement.

TerraPass Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

TerraPass offers carbon offset management services for individuals/families and businesses.  This business calculator evaluates emissions in 5 areas: building/site; server/data center; vehicle fleet; additional business travel and commuting—thus making it almost comprehensive.  It does, however,  leave out calculations for the impact of paper usage and printing.  See the additional tools listed below for an answer to that gap.  It is flexible enough to be used by a variety of organizations and non-office based businesses since it has preset assumptions to select for a school, restaurant, hotel, warehouse, retail, health care facility, or church.  Another helpful feature is that larger companies are able to include data for multiple office locations at once.

Results are shown in bar graph form and can be downloaded into PDF for future reference.  Their Carbon Balanced Business Advisors are available by email or phone to offer guidance.  Companies that sign up for their badge program can earn three levels of badges depending on metric tons of carbon emissions reduced by year.  There is also a separate event/conference carbon emissions calculator available.

In developing their calculators TerraPass used data from the EPA, Department of Energy (DOE), World Resources Institute (WRI) and industry surveys to establish emissions factors and protocols.  Additional background information is available on their website for those who want to understand more of the methodology and assumptions behind their calculators.   TerraPass was voted best carbon offset provider by TreeHugger in 2010 & 2011.

CoolClimate Network Small Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

This calculator was developed by researchers at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California, Berkeley.  Although it is labeled for small business, it is applicable for most sized businesses.  Data is entered under three main categories: facilities, transportation and procurement.  The inputs for transportation are less detailed than for other calculators, but the procurement category—which helps companies begin to track impacts through their supply chain—is very detailed.  It includes over 20 subcategories (each with default values available) including printing, computer equipment, paperboard, chemicals, fabricated metals, tires, etc.  Other extra features are that you can select gasoline, diesel or compressed natural gas (CNG) powered vehicles; energy usage of your office building can be compared to like commercial buildings by following the link to Energy IQ in the calculator.  While it doesn’t address commuting impacts separately, the data can be consolidated and entered under one of the ten possible vehicle entries.

The summary of results compares your company to averages for your industry.  Your company’s results can be saved to an online profile.  In the final “Take Action” section, 15-25 steps are suggested as ways to pledge to reduce your company’s carbon impact.  Each pledge action option also has more details available about the assumptions (which can be adjusted), specific actions to be taken and sometimes suggestions for further information.

Calculations and assumptions for this calculator are detailed on the website .  The data came from a variety of sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Transportation, the USDA, and the Carnegie-Mellon Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment model.  This calculator requires a bit more effort in tracking down a variety of input data and doing some pre-calculations.  In the near future improvements to this calculator will include considerations for amount of recycled material and water usage as they factor into carbon emissions.  This calculator was reviewed in the May, 2011 issue of Environmental Science & Technology journal .

Carbon Footprint Business Calculator

Carbon Footprint is a UK-based carbon management services company.  This business calculator is best suited for small businesses, and it offers both metric and American measurement options for flexibility.  It is also available in an array of languages—thirteen to be exact.  This calculator assesses emissions on energy use of the office building and transportation—which is divided into three sections: fleet mileage, flight travel and public transit.  There is an option to select estimated emissions for your office building based on the number of employees or to enter actual energy usage by category.  Up to ten flights and ten different vehicles can be entered.  Alternatively, total fuel amounts consumed can be used in the calculation instead of mileage per individual vehicles.  Similar to the CoolClimate Business Network Calculator, commuting mileage/impacts would have to be consolidated under the vehicle fleet entries.

Consultants are available by email or phone (remember they are based in the UK though) for additional guidance.  A PDF emissions report by source, ideas for carbon reduction and management planning guidance is available for purchase ($20-30).

This calculator’s assumptions and methodologies are based largely on Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) Voluntary Reporting Guidelines, but information from the EPA, WRI and others was also included.  Further information is available on Carbon Footprint’s website .

Carbonfund.org Business Carbon Calculator

Carbonfund.org is a nonprofit that provides carbon offset solutions for individuals and businesses.  This business calculator is comprehensive and evaluates emissions in seven areas: office site; vehicle fleet; additional business travel; commuting; special events (they also offer a separate wedding calculator); paper usage and shipping.  There is an option to base office/site emissions calculations on number of employees, actual utility bills or square feet of office space.  As with the TerraPass calculator, this one also considers the number of servers onsite.  Shipping impacts are broken out by air, train, truck, ship—and even zeppelin (nice to see there can be a bit of humor in this task!).   Business travel impacts even include hotel data.  Given the breadth of considerations, the amount of data required will demand a greater time commitment in collecting or estimating numbers.

There is no option for exporting a final summary report or viewing a graphical representation of your company’s performance.  They do offer you options to select from (renewable energy, energy efficiency or forestation) to immediately offset your carbon contributions.  Companies that purchase sufficient carbon offsets through them are offered a Business Partners CarbonFree logo to display.

For this calculator, protocols and assumptions come from a variety of sources, but EPA and DOE data are primary.  Details are available to review .  Carbonfund.org was the Reader’s Choice for best carbon offset provider by TreeHugger in 2010 & 2011.

Additional Tools

For the carbon calculators that don’t include calculations for office paper usage, there is a supplemental calculator provided by the Environmental Paper Network– the Paper Calculator .  It calculates carbon impacts for many different types of paper and paperboard based on weight (tons) and percent recycled content.  This can then be added to the results from one of the business footprint calculators.

For those who are more ambitious, there is the option of Office Carbon Footprint Tool Excel-based spreadsheets which follow the framework that is documented by the World Resources Institute/World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WRI/WBCSD) GHG Protocol Corporate Standard to calculate office-based greenhouse gas emissions.  This spreadsheet calculator is recommended by the EPA (as a guide) and Clean Air-Cool Planet (which provides a popular calculator for college campuses).  The latest 2009 version is available via the EPA site.

Once you have used one of the calculators to estimate your company’s carbon output, you may want to know how to communicate that to your employees effectively and with impact.  The Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies calculator from the EPA will help you do just that in thirteen different ways—including comparisons with number of barrels of oil, electricity use of homes, rail cars full of coal and even acres of forest that would sequester an equal amount of CO2.  CO2 or carbon can be entered as tons, metric tons, kilograms or pounds.  It will also consider other GHG gases—methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbon gases, perfluorocarbon gases and sulfur hexafluoride.

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