Introduction to carbon accounting and measuring emissions

Introduction to carbon accounting and measuring emissions

Master the basics of carbon accounting with our comprehensive guide. Learn key concepts, methodologies, and why accurate measurement is essential for your business's sustainability goals.

Anya Chodosh
Anya Chodosh
January 18, 2023
# min read
Table of content


What is carbon accounting?

The process of measuring the amount of greenhouse gas that is emitted by an entity – whether it be a country, corporation or individual – is referred to as carbon accounting. The practice of carbon accounting involves translating greenhouse gas emission into an internationally recognized measurement of CO2 equivalents.

Carbon accounting allows for consistency, comparability, and transparency when measuring the impact of emissions across a variety of sources.  Like all accounting methods, it will not be perfect but the aim is to be as complete and accurate as possible.

A carbon footprint is the measure of greenhouse gas emissions for a company, activity or product

A carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all the activities across an organization or for a specific product or service. There are two main types of carbon footprint:

  • Organizational carbon footprint - An organizational carbon footprint measures GHG emissions from all activities across a company. This includes energy used in buildings and industrial processes, company owned vehicles and may measure indirect emissions associated with activities outside an organization’s own operations - the value chain. Value chain analysis looks at every step a business goes through, from raw materials to the eventual end-user.
  • Product/service carbon footprint - A product carbon footprint measures the GHG emissions over the life of a product or service. This involves calculating emissions from the extraction of raw materials and manufacturing, through to emissions associated with the use and disposal of a particular product.

Carbon footprints enable you to identify and quantify your key emissions sources. This helps pinpoint the opportunities to reduce carbon emissions within your organization, allowing you to monitor and manage carbon emissions by setting emissions reduction targets and measuring your progress.

What are emission categories?

An emission category is an activity of the company (e.g. Travel, Hosting, Heating consumption, Power consumption) for which emissions can be calculated. Emission categories are always associated with a specific emission scope as defined by the GHG protocol.

A log will always be associated to a specific emission category and is based on a data input of an underlying business activity/process that can be provided through different means. After this input is provided, the footprint is directly calculated through our emission calculation algorithms.

How to calculate emissions

There are two main methods for quantifying carbon emissions: emission factors and direct measurement calculation.

Emission factor method

This is the most common method: companies collect data on their operations and activities and then multiply these with emission factors to estimate the amount of carbon emissions that these operations and activities are releasing into the atmosphere.

Activity data * emission factor  = CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions

As an example:

Activity data is a quantitative measure of a level of activity. On the Cozero platform, companies need to enter their own activity data, depending on which activity data and units are available to them. Cozero is taking care of doing the necessary unit conversions and applying the right emission factor to calculate emissions.

An emission factor is a coefficient which allows the conversion of activity data into GHG emissions. It is the average emission rate of a given source, relative to units of activity or process/processes (e.g., kg CO2e emitted per liter of fuel consumed, kg CO2e emitted per kilometer traveled, etc.).

To calculate GHG emissions from company data, Cozero also applies emission factors from its extensive database. The user can also add their own emission factors when entering data into Log (e.g. when the company has supplier-specific data to improve accuracy and relevance).

Direct measurement

This approach refers to when a company is using physical measuring devices and equipment to directly quantify carbon emissions. Direct measurement should be more accurate than calculating emissions with emission factors and activity data, however not all companies can apply this method.

On Cozero, the user can enter a CO2 value directly when direct measurement has been undertaken.

Please get in touch with our team if you require additional support in the calculation of emissions.

Where are emission factors coming from?

For carbon accounting to be as accurate as possible it is necessary to have a broad amount of data. There are many different databases and sources from organizations and governments which have gone through the effort of collecting data relevant to emission assessment and carbon accounting. The Cozero carbon accounting module relies on over 40k emission factors from various public and scientific databases.

For more information about our solution, contact us.