Global climate change, rising seas, warming of the earth; and two degrees temperature limit! If you are confused or perhaps just tired of being inundated by all the terminology, jargon and mixed messages associated with climate change, I am afraid I am going to have to introduce you to another familiar favourite – the Carbon Footprint.

This article isn’t intended to facilitate or debate the merits of any of the arguments related to climate change, but rather help you understand how to capitalize upon and extract meaning and value from your business or organisation’s Carbon Footprint.

An annual carbon footprint assessment usually forms part of an organisation’s governance requirements, as such it’s one of the biggest motivation for companies to continue measuring their carbon footprint; the figures are often included in their integrated annual reports. However, as organisations begin realising the benefits of collating a non-financial database as a reference and management tool, this encourages them to assess their footprint year-on-year.

Undertaking an annual carbon footprint assessment provides organisations with a database of non-financial data. This data can then be used to benchmark the company’s performance year-on-year, as well as provide comparative reference against industry standards and competitor’s performance; thereby highlighting inefficiencies within the organisation. Identifying these inefficiencies and implementing projects to reduce them results in direct cost saving opportunities for the business.

Often the largest portion of an organisation’s carbon footprint assessment (especially in South Africa) is electricity consumption. Through the analysis of electrical data; which primarily includes identifying anomalies and benchmarking, inefficiencies can be identified. For example, Terra Firma Solutions calculated the carbon footprint of a large shopping mall located in South Africa and found that it was inefficient when benchmarking its kWh/m2 against industry standards. The mall therefore undertook an energy assessment which led to a lighting retrofit project. It’s worth noting that this mall had only just completed a major renovation two year’s prior which included installation of the lighting that was subsequently retrofitted! A clear indication that the Electrical Services company had not considered the most energy efficient solution but rather the cheapest. If you haven’t read our earlier article, “Is your Electrical Services company designing for efficiency in mind?” read it here.


There are unfortunately limited industry specific Carbon Footprint benchmarks available to us, however in South Africa we are able to use SANS (South African National Standards) 204: Energy Efficiency in Buildings; which includes the maximum annual consumption for different building classifications and different climatic zones. For example, the SANS 204 specification for an office building in Johannesburg is 200 kWh/m2 for energy efficiency.  Therefore, by reviewing the Carbon Footprint of your organisation and attributing the amount of CO2 relative to your facilities or organisation in general, you can quickly identify inefficient operations.

A lot of what has been discussed above refers only to electrical energy as it is often the most common portion of the Carbon Footprint that can be identified and addressed, however, it should be remembered that there are various other contributing factors to a Carbon Footprint, including all other fuels utilised by an organisation such as petrol, diesel, gas, coal etc. Even staff and supplier’s activities and fuel consumption plays a role.

A Carbon Footprint is often one of the only non-financial reporting tool an organisation has available to understand its own environmental impact, hence the importance of it identifying where inefficiencies exist.

So who assesses your organisation’s Carbon Footprint? You have two avenues of choice here; first, train someone in your department to undertake this task. This is not to be taken lightly! It requires the recording of annual, non-financial data which can be difficult to find and collate, but also requires detailed analysis to ensure it meets the GHG (Greenhouse Gas) Protocol which is the industry standard. Or you could employ a specialist consultant to help you through this process by conducting the analysis and developing the report for you

After an organisation has completed its carbon footprint it is a good idea that the footprint is externally verified by audit. External verification by an independent, and unbiased third party improves the credibility of your carbon footprint assessment. After verification, you receive a verification statement which proves that your footprint has been audited. The verification statement can additionally be used to meet mandatory and voluntary reporting requirements. You will also receive a verification report which includes recommendations on how to improve your footprint overtime, as well as high-level recommendations on how to reduce your emissions. Hence, verification delves further into your organisation by identifying inefficiencies and promoting cost saving opportunities.

One final consideration; not only can you identify your organisation’s annual Carbon Footprint, but you can also assess a product’s impact on the environment by undertaking a Product Carbon Footprint, often referred to as a Life Cycle Assessment.

A product carbon footprint explores the value chain of a product, including both upstream and downstream activities –from raw material production to end-product (cradle-to-gate) or from raw material production to consumer use and disposal (cradle-to-grave). Including upstream and downstream activities allows an organisation to gain insight into the broader impact of its product(s). Therefore, inefficiencies throughout the value chain are identified and the organisation can work with suppliers to reduce emissions.

There is a great deal more to elaborate on regarding the above, however hopefully this article provides some clarity and insight into what value a Carbon Footprint can bring to your organisation. If you want to find out more about being trained to undertake a Carbon Footprint Assessment for your organisation, have a look at Terra Firma Academy’s training here. If you would like to speak to someone about getting a professional to undertake this for your organisation or perhaps assist in Verifying your Carbon Footprint, please contact us to find out more.