Measuring GHG Emissions

The measurement of GHG emissions produced by an event is a popular sustainability indicator chosen by event producers.

It is however fraught with controversy and confusion as there are no clear direction or agreement on how far down the line a GHG emissions calculation should go.

Each event will have a certain set of circumstances which make it unique and that makes creating a one-size-fits all directive or methodology quite impractical and almost impossible for our industry.

We can make a start by following guidance developed by such protocols and standards as GHG Protocol (international), ISO 14064 (international), PAS 2060 (UK) and the National Carbon Offset Standard (Australia) amongst others.

The first step should be to identify and estimate likely GHG emissions, next to make measurable reductions through our own actions, and only then head for carbon neutrality via carbon offsetting.

The National Carbon Offset Standard (Australia) sets the following principles to consider in the calculation of a ‘footprint’ include:

  • Relevance: ensure the GHG inventory appropriately reflects the GHG emissions attributed to the event.
  • Completeness: account for all GHG emissions within the defined boundary. Disclose and justify exclusions.
  • Consistency: ensure methodologies from event to event are consistent to allow for meaningful comparisons.
  • Transparency: ensure collation of GHG emissions data can be evaluated by auditors. Disclose assumptions and reference methodologies and data sources.
  • Accuracy: Ensure quantification is accurate.

Setting a Boundary for event GHG Accounting
The boundary defines event venues/sites/activities should be included in the calculation.

  • Events (venues, locations, activities) which are in direct control of the organising body
  • Events (venues, locations, activities) which are not in direct control of the organising body but which are perceived to be ‘part of the event’.

For example a single event is easy to determine a boundary for, but a city-wide festival which has a concert series in a park produced by the event organising body as well as satellite events and venues through the city under the event’s banner (eg many city-based performing arts and fringe festivals) would find determining boundary a very important step.

Operational control is usually the deciding factor, however stakeholder perception is also a contributor to deciding what would be included within the boundary of reporting. Operational control is defined as where the event has authority to introduce or implement operating policies, health & safety policies or environmental policies.

What should be measured?
The Greenhouse Gas Protocol prescribes that Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions are included. That is pretty straight forward;

Scope 1 emissions are those from sources that are owned or controlled by the event – ‘direct’ emissions. Energy generated onsite at an event would include;

  • mobile power generators,
  • bottled gas
  • fuel used in site plant, equipment and vehicles
  • vehicles owned by the company and used offsite
  • if waste is disposed of at the event site and emissions are estimated to be generated (ie methane from buried waste) these are also included in Scope 1.

Scope 2 emissions from ‘indirect’ sources – purchased heat, steam or electricity used by the event.

For example:

  • mains electricity supply
  • mains gas supply

As previously mentioned, event industry as a whole does not have a determination on what should be included in emissions calculations over and above Scope 1 & 2 emissions.

Scope 3 emissions are ‘other indirect’ emissions – these are emissions that occur because of an event’s activities but occur at sources owned by others. This includes;

  • transport of employees (including all paid contractors, talent, crew)
  • hotel nights for event production (crew, talent, staff, contractors)
  • significant additional freight impact of equipment, goods and services required by the event or waste produced by the event.
  • hired transportation (shuttle buses, taxis, limos, boats, aircraft)

And then going deeper:

  • emissions embodied in the products and materials purchased by the event
  • transport of products and equipment for the event
  • energy used or emissions created in processing waste (liquid & solid)
  • transport of waste (liquid & solid)
  • energy and transport to produce and supply water

and possibly, but the jury is still out on:

  • attendee travel – the single GHG contributor for many events
  • hotel nights of attendees (for example delegates at a conference/convention)

The National Carbon Offset Standard (Australia) prescribes that at a minimum organisations (which may or may not be events) should report Scope 3 emissions from:

  • Business travel of employees
  • Disposal of waste generated (landfill emissions)
  • Use of paper in the course of its business

The recording of emissions from landfill is problematic for countries which have not published a national or statewide emissions factor. Also, there is controversy around accuracy of landfill emissions factors in the first place. A national figure does not really work, especially if you are sending your general waste to an effective landfill methane extraction facility.

The GHG Protocol guides scope 3 emissions calculations by firstly determining relevance to the organisation (event). Determining relevance is guided by:

  • include them if particular scope 3 emissions are large or relatively large compared with the event’s scope 1 and scope 2 emissions
  • include them if particular scope 3 emissions are deemed critical by key stakeholders
  • include them if the organisation (event) could undertake or influence the potential reduction

The event must transparently document and disclose which scope 3 emissions have been included in its carbon footprint when making any assertions about emissions reductions.

So What Scope 3 do we include?
We need to decide how far we cast our net over what to include in Scope 3 emissions calculations.

  • Do we include audience/attendee travel? If we use the premise of  ‘direct control or significant influence’ then in some cases audience travel would be included.
  • What about emissions from the processing and transport of waste, water, sewage?
  • Or embedded energy in materials, food, supplies?
  • Do we include freighting of materials and products, equipment, infrastructure, etc?
  • How do we separate what would be considered staff commuting, from crew event transport?
  • Do you include only air travel for talent/performers/speakers/VIPs, or their ground transport as well?

Some events are measuring electricity only, others are going into extravagant detail and measuring everything that has a sniff of carbon emissions about it.

In the UK, the British Standards Institution (BSI) has published BSI PAS 2060 – Specification for the demonstration of carbon neutrality. This standard offers guidance to organizations on quantifying, reducing and offsetting GHG emissions. It guides us to include all emissions resulting from core activities to the production of the event. But that is still not a cut and dried directive on what would be considered core.

The event industry needs to still discuss what is appropriate to include as Scope 3 emissions as ‘core’ emissions and what ‘non-core’ emissions could also be voluntarily reported which the event takes responsibility for.

Guidance on when to include audience travel needs to be developed, along with when does it become ‘bothersome’ to try and gather primary emissions data for other Scope 3 emissions, versus, perhaps ‘secondary’ data that has been provided by consolidating bench marked figures from our industry’s activities.

Carbon Offsetting and ‘Neutrality’
PAS 2060
requires the following to calculate emissions and then make carbon neutrality claims:

  • Identify and define what will be included in a carbon emissions calculation.
  • Define, clearly communicate and adequately justify what is included, the methodologies undertaken and emissions factors used.
  • Measure and disclose what the emissions for an event were, or in advance, anticipated to be.
  • Take action to make measurable reductions in carbon emissions.
  • Report/disclose performance indicating what reductions were achieved and  how they were achieved

Where and How to Offset?
The next step is to learn more about the types of carbon offset projects you could invest in…. and that’s a whole new story. The events industry should support the VCS/Social Carbon-style voluntary offsetting projects which add more than just a carbon reducing benefit. Actively seek out some of the wonderful projects that have ongoing and broad sustainability benefits.