December 10, 2008
Carbon calculators put to the test
For a small business wanting to do the right thing by the environment, it’s useful to be able to calculate the firm’s
carbon footprint. That means expressing all business activities in their carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, which
gives the firm a way to measure its environmental impact, and track progress in adopting sustainable business practices.
But which carbon calculator to choose among the options available online? Small businesses don’t have the money to pay
for expensive bespoke services, and typically international calculators don’t take into account specific emissions
guidelines for New Zealand or the uniquely small size of its SMEs.
Waikato Management School masters student Paulien de Haes has assessed four widely-available low-cost carbon calculators
designed specifically for New Zealand small businesses to see which are the most accurate and effective.
They were the Catalyst R ACE Calculator (available from www.sustainable.org.nz), the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development
(NZBCSD) Emissions Calculator (www.nzbcsd.org.nz), the Trees for Canterbury Business Calculator
(www.treesforcanterbury.org.nz) and the Em-Calc Emissions Calculator (http://cware.co.nz).
She looked at key issues facing a typical small business: energy consumption, transport (company cars, taxis, air
travel), and waste disposal, and scored each calculator on its accuracy of measurement, comprehensiveness, ease of use
and how well it provided feedback and guidance.
De Haes says online carbon calculators are a useful first step for a small business wanting to go green, but currently
they do little more than provide an initial snapshot of the organisation.
“Overall two of the four calculators rated were accurate, but none of them provided any guidance to users to understand
and act upon the results of the carbon footprint calculations. This is critical in effectively trying to improve
businesses’ sustainable practices, so it’s disappointing that the available online carbon calculators don’t reach their
goal of providing a meaningful low-cost service to SMEs.”
De Haes has a few tips for firms wanting to get the best use out of an online carbon calculator. “Read up on carbon
footprint measurement so you know what information you’re getting; check the methodology used by the calculator – you
can do this by using the 2008 Ministry for Environment guidelines, and pick one that has a graphical display for both
data entry and the results.”
Dr Eva Collins, who supervised de Haes’ work, says it’s an excellent example of the practice relevant research Waikato
Management School supports. “Our business students quickly get past the idea that there are benefits for business in
adopting sustainability practices and spend much longer grappling with the real-world practicalities of what exactly a
business should do and how should they do it,” she says.