Tracking Your Carbon Footprint

A car stuck in traffic with visible exhaust fumes

How employers can measure the CO2 savings they generate through their sustainable commuting programs.

Hard data is the most reliable source of information about your organization’s sustainability progress and the gaps you need to address. As such, tracking your carbon footprint is a critical element of any environmental responsibility initiative.

This commuting-focused guide to tracking carbon footprints explains the different types of CO2 emissions and where they come from. It also explains techniques for calculating emissions and introduces some beneficial ways employers can apply the insights they gain from their emissions data.

What is a carbon footprint?

In sustainability circles, “carbon footprint” has become something of a catch-all buzzword that tends to overlook the term’s very specific and precise definition: an organization’s carbon footprint includes all direct and indirect carbon emissions resulting from operational activities.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) uses a classification system that groups carbon and other GHG emissions into three types, called “scopes.” It has become a widely used international standard for tracking carbon footprints from specific origins and sources.

These emissions types include:

  • Scope 1. These emissions originate from sources that the organization owns or controls, such as emissions from the gasoline used by a company’s vehicle fleet.
  • Scope 2. All organizations use energy, and many energy production methods generate carbon emissions. Scope 2 covers all emissions caused by an organization’s use of externally produced energy. For example, if a business sources its electricity from a coal-fired power plant, the carbon emissions from the electricity consumed by the business would fall under Scope 2.
  • Scope 3. These emissions include all other emissions resulting from upstream and downstream activities in the organization’s value chain that are not covered in Scope 1 or Scope 2. Emissions caused by employee commuting fall under Scope 3, unless the employees use company cars to commute (see Scope 1). So do activities like waste disposal, business travel, and emissions from products and services purchased from third parties.

 

Scope 1 emissions are also known as direct emissions, while Scope 2 and 3 emissions are indirect emissions.

Commuting's impact on carbon footprints

While actual impacts vary by industry, a 2022 PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis found that Scope 3 emissions tend to account for 65% to 95% of most businesses’ carbon footprints. Of those emissions, about 10% to 15% result directly from commuting, according to Sustainability House. Clearly, the daily commute should be a prime target for any employer looking to improve its sustainability profile.

Regulatory bodies around the world increasingly require businesses to track their carbon footprints and disclose the results in their corporate reporting. For example, the European Union recently introduced the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which specifically includes Scope 3 emissions from commuting and similar sources. In 2023, California passed similar climate disclosure laws that will come into effect in 2026.

Regardless of whether it’s required by compliance regulations, tracking your carbon footprint can help your organization address and reduce the indirect Scope 3 emissions your commuters generate. Tech tools offer accurate and powerful yet easy-to-use tracking solutions, which is why they form an integral part of many employers’ sustainability programs.

How to measure and calculate commuting-related emissions

The GHG Protocol recognizes three main ways to track carbon footprints directly related to employee commuting. They include:

  • Fuel-based tracking. This method tracks both the type and amount of fuel consumed by employee commuting. Analysts then apply the emissions factor that corresponds to each fuel type to arrive at a total emissions impact. This method is particularly useful for company-owned vehicles, for which a logbook including fuel bills is usually kept.
  • Distance-based tracking. Organizations can track data related to each employee’s commute mode and the distance they travel. For modes that generate emissions, the appropriate emissions factor can then be applied to obtain the result. For example a typical passenger car emits about 8,887 grams of CO2 per gallon of gasoline. This method is often applied to survey results from employees who indicate which main means of transportation they use to commute to work and how often.
  • Average-data tracking. In some cases, it is not feasible or possible for organizations to use fuel-based or distance-based tracking methods exclusively. Average-data methods offer a solution by allowing organizations to create estimates based on large-scale, reliable data sets that track commuting patterns and their variable environmental impacts.

Track commuter emissions with Pave Commute

You can also use Pave Commute’s built-in features to track the emissions your commuters generate. Pave Commute has tools that link with GPS technology to track travel distances and automatically collect emissions data based on the commuter’s mode.

On the plus side, this approach yields accurate and specific results, not estimates. However, it only counts commuters using the Pave Commute app. To track non-users, you’ll need to supplement the app with ongoing surveys or commuter logs.

Applying the insights from your Scope 3 emissions data

Beyond tracking your carbon footprint for reporting purposes, you can also use the insights you gain from your emissions data to reduce your Scope 3 output and make life easier and better for your commuters.

Here’s how:

  • You’ll gain deep, detailed knowledge of your commuters’ habits and modes. This will help you craft programs that match their transportation needs while also guiding employees toward lower-emissions alternatives.

  • Collected data will help you get to know your employees better, creating opportunities to build personalized commuter programs and support tools. Personalization is critical to getting commuters to stick with mode changes for the long term.

  • You will better understand how to direct your resources and investments to optimize your commuter infrastructure while controlling costs.

The Pave Commute app offers a turnkey solution that can help you achieve these outcomes while also recognizing employee contributions and incentivizing sustainable change. Ninety-seven percent of Pave Commute users say the app has helped them make meaningful contributions to their employer’s sustainability programs while 63% say they’ve seen a positive change in company culture since adopting the app.

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Corey Tucker
Head of Innovation
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