Variability in product-level greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting standards and methodologies can prevent companies from understanding both their true emissions and their progress in reducing them, according to a new analysis from World Wildlife Fund (WWF). While rigorous organization-level GHG accounting has enabled companies to identify and address emissions hotspots, greater harmonization in product-level accounting could accelerate progress and enable cross-organizational comparison.
This is especially pertinent in the agriculture sector, where emissions on farms are significant but often poorly understood. Companies typically aggregate a patchwork of data from different suppliers, each of which may have its own formula for calculating GHG footprints. WWF’s analysis argues these discrepancies render monitoring efforts irrelevant, both within a company’s own scope and when comparing across industries.
“Companies’ efforts to cut emissions are critical to the global effort to mitigate climate change. In our current situation, this mishmash of methodologies makes demonstrating progress nearly impossible,” said Katherine Devine, director of business case development at WWF’s Markets Institute and co-author of the analysis. “Even for companies making good faith efforts, there’s a strong incentive to cherry pick whatever data and methodologies make you look best.”
Co-author Emily Moberg, WWF’s director of scope 3 carbon measurement and mitigation, added: “The range of emissions embedded in the same product varies astronomically, sometimes over 100-fold. Simply estimating greenhouse gas emissions by commodity doesn’t cut it. There’s no question that standardizing a system to collect reliable emissions will be a difficult, complex process. But as we get serious about tackling climate change, greenhouse gas accounting that enables good decision making must rise to the top of the priority list.”
To facilitate comparison across suppliers and investments, set meaningful targets, and effectively share knowledge, the analysis outlines four potential ways forward:
- Globally standardized or interoperable methodologies and reporting requirements for product accounting
- Quality control for collected data
- Pre-competitive collaboration
- Transparency in reporting
The analysis is available here.