The First Step to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emission is Measurement

The First Step to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emission is Measurement

There is a powerful sense in our country and around the world that climate change is real and it will take strong, immediate action to reduce the causes of global warming and lessen the worst that climate change portends. While there are many problems facing the environment, greenhouse gas emissions are clearly a main driver of climate change.  

We are told we need to reduce by well over half the GHGs we put into the atmosphere in only a few years to reduce their impact on climate change. Various timetables and targets are debated nationally and internationally, but agreement among national and world leaders over the timeframe in the short term seems unlikely. We should not wait for global or national accord before we act. The building industry represents nearly half of our national GHGs, and it is our professional responsibility to assess the GHGs from the facilities within our purview, and aggressively focus on cutting back on them.

As the saying goes, "if you can't measure it, you can't change it." A number of organizations are reporting out their GHG emissions according to different benchmarks in terms of employees, rentable square feet, and gross square feet. Other common intensity measures include tons per dollar in revenue or sales (Tons/$) and tons per unit produced (Tons/Unit Produced).  

Identifying and sharing an accounting tool that calculates the GHGs of our facilities with clients and colleagues has been a personal quest for some time. I recently became aware of "A Greenhouse Gas Protocol: A Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard," a work by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. This GHG Protocol is an international accounting and reporting standard used by businesses and other climate initiative organizations to inventory, report, and track greenhouse gas emissions.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol outlines a step-by-step process that assists users in:
?    Establishing the boundaries of what they are to report
?    Identifying the GHG sources, which include Scope 1 (fuel burned in facility operations and company owned vehicles), Scope 2 (purchased electricity) and Scope 3 (indirect emissions from commuting, business travel, products, waste streams, etc.)
?    Calculation of emissions
?    Developing a base year of emissions, so that users can compare reductions in future years
?    Developing strategies for GHG reduction by tracking emissions and trends

I sought WRI's permission to share their GHG protocol calculation tools and introduce certain adjustments I felt would make them more user-friendly. They were of great assistance and now you can download the "GHG Calculator for Facility Operations" from Please start with my Introduction and Sheet 1. Then explore the remaining Sheets in the Workbook to calculate the GHGs of facilities within your purview.  

It is human nature to examine how our organization performs when compared to industry colleagues. For benchmarking purposes, I refer you to some of the GHG registry and reporting platforms that are currently available:

?    The California Climate Action Registry has public available data for participating companies.
?    The Carbon Disclosure Project has helpful information on the emissions from Fortune 500 companies.
?    The Climate Group has some useful case studies with emissions/employee information on a variety of companies. 
?    EPA's Climate Leaders program includes a list of partner GHG reduction goals.
?    In addition, there is some work being done to organize and analyze this type of information in the UK from the Carbon Trust and Carbon Benchmarking, which may be useful for your purposes.

The science of measuring and reporting emissions is constantly evolving and there are categories where no commonly accepted protocols yet exist. Additionally, WRI and WBCSD will be issuing updates to their spreadsheets in the very near term. I am planning on updating the GHG Calculator for Facility Operations when these updates are issued. Check their GHG Protocol site for updates on the templates as well as other reference materials.

I encourage each of you to find out where your organization stands using the calculator and then take action towards achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions.  

Christopher (Kit) Ratcliff is the third-generation leader of Ratcliff, the century-old, award-winning architectural firm in Emeryville, Calif. He has pledged the firm's resources toward sustainable practice in concert with the AIA's 2030 Challenge and is committed to bringing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change to the attention of clients and colleagues. Visit to learn more.