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ChristiansonNovember 16, 20232 min read

Carbon Accounting: Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Be Ready for Anything

By: Connie Lindstrom, Senior Biofuels Analyst, Christianson Benchmarking, LLC

The most frustrating aspect of carbon accounting — whether providing data for compliance with renewable fuel standards or for general sustainability frameworks — is waiting for confirmation on the details and rules. And waiting again the next time models or regulations change, which seems to be all the time. We try to stay two steps ahead, but how do we prepare to share operations information, when we’re not yet sure exactly what we’ll be required to provide?

After nearly two decades spent as a third-party collector and validator of financial and operational data from ethanol production facilities, Christianson Benchmarking has worked with hundreds of plant professionals, ensuring their data matches the framework we’ve created and adjusted over time. Preparation is always the key to good comparability against an external benchmark or framework.

When it comes to providing information to a third party, a few key preparatory steps can make following their rules easier, even if we’re not sure what we’ll be required to provide. These steps can be taken before you have final confirmation of a regulatory framework or model. The best part? After you’ve gone through the process once, subsequent efforts are much easier. Even if models change, you’ll understand the steps needed to make the process quick and relatively painless.

  1. Make sure leadership fully understands the goal. The ultimate goal of carbon scoring is not just assigning a number, but committing to meeting a low-carbon standard as it evolves over time. Leadership needs to understand the specific business benefits, and you’ll need buy-in on continuous process improvements.
  2. Do your homework. Read up on proposed standards specific to biofuels, as well as general sustainability frameworks. Specifics may shift, but the types of data you’ll need likely won’t, so you can ensure you’ve got the proper equipment and staff to measure and record it as expected. This will also help you understand specific definitions, terminology and protocols used to measure and collect data.
  3. Perform a gap analysis. After you know the metrics you’ll most likely need, review your systems to ensure you can provide them. You may think you collect or measure what’s needed, but digging into the specifics at ground level may show you don’t. (Are your electricity meters accurate? Do you have access to grower-level data on nitrogen application?)
  4. Consider your third-party partners, integrations and options. You may need information from partners up and down the supply chain; you may have existing software that can automate collection; you may need to work with external compliance teams. Don’t leave existing resources unused, and don’t assume partners can or cannot help you.
  5. Discuss how you’ll use your results. Carbon accounting is about more than just compliance. You are the voice of the industry to the public. Think about how you’ll share your work on carbon score reductions in your messaging, marketing and industry advocacy. Thinking through the end deliverable can yield surprising insights into the best ways to collect the initial data.