Professional Development: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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By Stanley Trim
Published in the July 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The management of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a growing issue for nearly every facility manager (fm) and business owner. The implications of this issue are not limited—they will have climatic and financial impacts for generations to come. But are fms ready to meet the new regulatory, political, and technical challenges of GHG management? While the challenge is significant, most fms already have the skills and processes in place and, with a little modification, may be far more ready to respond than ever imagined—with a little help from some integrated technology.

What is greenhouse gas management? GHGs are chemical compounds that potentially create a warming effect in the atmosphere. Although there are many exceptions, GHGs are most commonly created through the combustion of fuels—coal, natural gas, or gasoline and diesel. Some businesses are facing specific regulations requiring them to quantify the production of GHGs in their operations. Other companies have voluntarily adopted internal rules to quantify GHG production and ultimately reduce their GHG profiles.

You mean it includes emissions beyond my facility? The measurement of GHG can vary by scope. Scope 1 includes emissions from operations at the specific facility (including the combustion of fuel for space heating or production). Scope 2 includes emissions created offsite for energy used on site (like those at a power plant for the electricity used by the facility). Scope 3 includes other emissions associated with operations (such as commuter miles, business travel, and gas emissions of landfilled materials from production).

Many GHG sources are directly under the influence or control of the facility, production, and operations managers, and this new reporting requirement may add a burden to teams that are already trying to optimize performance and minimize budgets. Because companies are dedicated to accurate reporting and improvement, the ultimate requirement comes down to the accurate collection of data.

How can we collect greenhouse gas emissions data? Most facilities departments have a history of careful materials tracking associated with compliance regarding existing health, safety, and environmental regulations. In other jurisdictions, some chemicals must be reported as part of a toxic substances or air emissions report, and careful inventory and tracking of all chemicals is required. Typically, these chemical usage amounts are calculated by reviewing records (like purchase orders from vendors who would supply hazardous materials)—from bulk providers down to small quantity supply shops.

These same business processes can be adopted to include the tracking of GHG producing materials. Many times, available business records (such as electric or natural gas bills kept as part of the recordkeeping process) already provide the data needed to create GHG inventories.

How do we track and report on our compliance? While these systems may provide the data necessary to support GHG calculations, they may not be able to track improvements from specific projects over time. Typically, a technology upgrade may be required for more precise measurement of energy consumption (and GHG production). Consider the following technologies:

  • Individual metering on buildings, processes, and operations;
  • Measurement of material use from bulk storage to individual usage; and
  • Software to calculate GHGs based on available raw data.

When reported to outside agencies or industry groups, the work has to be accurate, supportable, and properly converted and calculated. Most fms will find tracking technology helps to assure the right data is collected, manipulated, and reported in a consistent, verifiable format.

Integrated meters and sensors can help fms leverage existing data sources into fully verifiable solutions. However, it’s also essential for fms to get appropriate technical support, so outcomes are robust, verifiable, and sustainable in the long term.

Greenhouse gas emissions: are we this close already? The EPA ruling on mandatory reporting of GHG emissions has already impacted many industries. With access to new data sources, and some further granularity of existing data sources, fms will be key in achieving GHG reductions. Couple this with data integration and reporting technology, and fms will be ready to meet current and anticipated requirements.

As the adage says, “what gets measured gets done.” The process of inventorying GHGs will raise awareness and begin to reduce emissions profiles, benefiting the environment, the future, and the business bottom line—and help fms get things done.

Trim is the VP of environmental sustainability for Critigen, a technology consultancy for critical infrastructure.

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