The CarbonNeutral Protocol Index

2.6.1 Treatment of recycled waste – substitution within GHG assessments

An organisational - or entity-level - GHG assessment is typically an inventory of actual emissions and removals from the atmosphere. The leading guidance for organisational footprinting, the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard, advocates such an approach, known as attributional analysis.

The emission factors used for organisational - or entity - GHG assessments should relate to actual physical emissions or actual physical removals. However, some emission factors include a “crediting” effect for avoided emissions, and are therefore inconsistent with the principle of only counting actual physical emissions and actual physical removals.

Certain national GHG reporting guidelines (e.g. the U.S. Waste Reduction Model), include a substitution effect in the emission factors for recycled waste. The factors include a credit for the avoidance of embodied emissions that would have occurred had the waste not been recycled - i.e. they provide credit for emissions that do not happen.

This approach leads to negative emission factors for certain recycled waste streams. The result of including such factors within an entity-level inventory is that the calculated emissions are no longer a true assessment of actual physical emissions and actual physical removals.

GHG emissions associated with recycled waste should be quantified using national, regional, international, or other relevant emission factors, with preference given to national emission factors when they are available. If national emission factors are not available for recycled waste, the next most relevant source of factors must be used.

If the most geographically relevant emission factors take a substitutional approach within their waste stream methodologies, then recycled waste streams can be assumed to produce zero emissions for accounting purposes. “Zero rating” recycled waste is considered appropriate, as an organisation is rewarded with a lower footprint for sending less waste to landfill, whilst maintaining the attributional integrity of their GHG assessment.

2.6.2 Water consumption and waste water treatment

The 2013 revision of the Protocol introduced the inclusion of water consumption and waste water treatment as recommended emission sources for entity level CarbonNeutral® certifications. While the carbon footprint of water consumption and waste water treatment will be a relatively small emission source for most organisations (the water industry typically contributes around 1% of GHG emissions in developed economies), the water industry and its customers have an important part to play in reducing GHG emissions.

For corporates, water should not simply feature within a carbon management plan. Water warrants its own water management plan. A mature plan considers water volume in the context of both water stress and water quality to understand the full impact of corporate water use at the water basin level.

Including water as a recommended emission source in CarbonNeutral® certifications will encourage users of the Protocol to collect volume data and evaluate water use within their carbon management plan. In creating this awareness and disclosure we hope it will encourage corporates to explore more sophisticated water management plans.