What is an Emission Intensity Ratio?
Learn how Emission Intensity Ratios can serve as a compass for businesses to align with global climate targets and enhance their sustainability efforts.
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What is an Emission Intensity Ratio?
Learn how Emission Intensity Ratios can serve as a compass for businesses to align with global climate targets and enhance their sustainability efforts.
Published:
Loading reading time...
What is an Emission Intensity Ratio?
Learn how Emission Intensity Ratios can serve as a compass for businesses to align with global climate targets and enhance their sustainability efforts.
Published:
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An emission intensity ratio can quantify the environmental impact of an industry, process, or activity

It is measured by quantifying the emission of greenhouse gases or other pollutant emissions per output unit.

For instance, it could be used to compare the emissions per unit of energy produced between different types of power plants or emissions per gross domestic product.

It offers a precise picture of a system’s emissions efficiency or inefficiency. The ratio allows you to assess the environmental “bang for the buck” of a specific process.

Measuring and enhancing sustainability initiatives

Understanding emission rates is essential for sustainability initiatives for several compelling reasons.

  • Organisations and industries can establish a baseline and measure their carbon footprint. This baseline forms the basis for setting reduction goals and tracking development.
  • Benchmarking is made possible by these ratios when compared to industry norms and best practices. Comparing an organisation’s performance against benchmarks might help it find improvement areas.
  • Emission intensity ratios offer a data-driven foundation for setting challenging emission reduction objectives. These objectives show a company’s dedication to climate change mitigation and align with global climate targets.
  • Emission intensity ratios appeal to investors and consumers prioritising ecologically responsible behaviour as sustainability becomes a more critical factor for investors and customers. Companies with lower emission intensity ratios frequently have an easier time luring capital and clients.
Direct, indirect and supply chain emissions all contribute to a firm's carbon footprint
The role of Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions in business activity (Image Source:  WRI/WBCSD Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard (PDF))

How is emissions intensity determined? What metrics are used?

An emission intensity ratio is calculated using the following key parameters and procedures:

  • Emissions: The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by a particular process, industry, or activity during a predetermined period.
  • Output or Activity: The number of commodities produced, energy produced, or services provided by the same activity, process, or industry over a given period.
  • Consistent Units of Measurement: Emissions and output must be expressed in consistent units to facilitate correct estimates. Typically, output is expressed in a relevant unit (such as megawatt-hours, tons of product, or passenger miles). At the same time, emissions are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) units, depending on the context.

Next, one may get the emission intensity ratio by dividing emissions by output. The resulting number shows the emissions of creating a particular production or offering a specific service.

How do the intensity ratios of different industries compare?

The nature of their processes and the quantity of emissions connected with them significantly affect the differences in emission intensity ratios between industries.

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Source: Climatewatch

An overview of how various industries stack up is shown below:

  • Energy and heavy manufacturing industries tend to have higher emission intensity ratios. This frequently happens due to the burning of fossil fuels, which produces significant emissions.
  • Because it depends on fuel consumption, the transportation sector, including aviation and shipping, significantly increases emission intensity.
  • Although it is crucial for food production, agriculture can also have a high emission intensity ratio. Methane emissions from cattle, agricultural equipment, and the energy-intensive nature of various farming practices are the leading causes.
  • In contrast, the renewable energy industry, particularly in producing wind and solar electricity, boasts comparatively low emission intensity ratios. These innovations generate electricity without releasing greenhouse gases while they are in use.

Understanding these variations is essential for politicians, corporations, and organisations wishing to target carbon reduction initiatives successfully.

What are practical methods to reduce the intensity of emissions?

Reducing life cycle carbon emissions is a major concern for many industries. The following are practical tips:

Transition to clean energy

Reducing emissions intensity by switching from fossil fuel-based energy sources to renewable options, including wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. Electricity is produced by renewable energy sources with little to no direct emissions of greenhouse gases.

Energy efficiency

Implementing energy-efficient technologies and practices can significantly reduce emissions per unit. These advancements include more effective building designs, lighting setups, and equipment.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

Carbon dioxide emissions from industrial products and power plants are captured using CCS systems before being discharged into the environment. Storing the captured pollutants underground or using them for different industrial uses can lead to a decrease in emission intensity.

Sustainable agriculture output

The agriculture industry can lower emission intensity by implementing sustainable farming techniques. These techniques include establishing no-till farming, maximising fertiliser use, and reducing animal methane emissions through nutrition changes.

calculating net emissions. A strategic assessment of climate change
Source: Pembina

Industries and organisations can considerably lower their emission intensity and support global emission reduction targets using these measures.

Do any case studies show downward trends in emissions?

Several case studies from diverse industries show how emission intensity can be successfully reduced:

Gigafactories operated by Tesla

Tesla, a leader in the production of electric vehicles, has achieved considerable advancements in sustainable manufacturing techniques.

Regarding low emission intensity ratios, their Gigafactories set the bar high. Tesla has achieved impressive reductions in emissions related to the production of electric vehicles by utilising renewable energy sources and putting in place energy-efficient processes.

Tesla’s Gigafactory focuses on recycling and renewable energy.
Tesla’s Gigafactory focuses on recycling and renewable energy (Source: Business Insider)

Walmart

The world’s largest retailer is driven to cut emissions across its extensive supply chain. Walmart has achieved considerable reductions in emission intensity through programs including energy-efficient lighting, refrigeration, and transportation, highlighting the potential for huge firms to lead in sustainability efforts.

Denmark’s transition to wind energy

Denmark’s dedication to wind energy has led to a notable reduction in the intensity of emissions in the energy sector. Denmark has drastically cut electricity generation emissions while boosting renewable energy by investing in wind turbine technology and infrastructure.

What rules or recommendations apply to the emission intensity ratio?

Different rules and recommendations exist for the level of carbon emission intensity ratios by area and industry. Organisations frequently use international standards like the ISO 14064 series and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol as a reference for measuring and reporting emission intensity ratios.

These standards offer a framework for performing emissions inventories, determining emission intensity ratios, and guaranteeing reporting transparency. They also assist organisations in coordinating their emission reduction efforts using widely accepted standards.

Governments across the globe are putting in place emission reduction goals and incentives in addition to international norms to promote an emission intensity decrease. These policies include cap-and-trade programs, carbon pricing schemes, and subsidies for green technology.

What emerging technologies or trends might affect emission intensity metrics?

The prospective developments and technologies in the future of emission intensity measures are anticipated to have an impact on how businesses monitor and manage their environmental impact:

Move to a low-carbon economy

Prominent initiatives to decarbonise industries will probably result in lower carbon emissions intensity ratios in various sectors.

Investments in renewable energy and energy-saving technologies will be crucial to this transition.

Advanced monitoring technologies

Advanced monitoring methods, including remote sensing, satellite data, and Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets, will offer more precise and up-to-date information for calculating emission intensity. Organisations will be able to better monitor their environmental performance thanks to this.

Carbon pricing and policy

Implementing carbon pricing tools like carbon taxes and emissions trading systems may encourage businesses to reduce their energy intensity. Metrics for emission intensity will continue to be shaped by strict climate policies and regulations.

Electrification of transport

The mainstream adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and the gradual phasing out of fossil fuel-powered cars are expected to alter the emission intensity ratios in the transportation sector significantly.

Investment in electric infrastructure, such as charging stations and grid improvements, will be crucial to supporting this transformation. As a result, organisations in transportation and logistics may see a substantial shift in how they measure and manage their carbon footprints.

Circular economy

The transition from a linear model—focused on ‘take, make, dispose’—to a circular economy that emphasises reusing, recycling, and regeneration could play a key role.

The key drivers for this change include investments in sustainable product design, biomass energy and waste management technologies. By focusing on resource efficiency, organisations can reduce product life cycle carbon emissions.

Hydrogen economy

A move towards a hydrogen-based economy, especially if the hydrogen is sustainably produced, could be a game changer for emission intensity metrics in industries like manufacturing, energy production, and transport.

Investment in hydrogen production technologies, such as electrolysis powered by renewable energy, will be vital to make this transition possible.

Consequently, organisations that integrate hydrogen into their operations may experience a notable recalibration of their carbon footprint intensity ratio.

Emission intensity ratios – a compass for a sustainable future

Emotion intensity ratios are a compass to steer businesses and organisations toward a more sustainable future. We can traverse the complex climate change issues and move towards a society where environmental responsibility is central to every endeavour by comprehending, monitoring, and actively reducing emission intensity.

As the significance of emission intensity ratios increases, they become a glimmer of hope in the effort to make the world greener and more sustainable. By adopting these metrics, businesses and organisations can lessen their adverse effects on the environment, join the fight against climate change, and preserve the earth for future generations.

Frequently asked questions

An organised process is required to determine and improve your company’s greenhouse gas emissions intensity: 

  1. Gather data on carbon dioxide emissions. This covers emissions from business travel, transportation, energy consumption, and other relevant sources. Ensure the information is complete, accurate, and pertains to a particular time frame.
  2. Identify the pertinent activity or output indicator related to your emissions. This could be the quantity of goods produced, services rendered, or consumption of energy. Establishing a distinct connection between emissions and output is the aim.
  3. Divide the overall emissions by the applicable output metric to determine the intensity of the emissions. Your emission intensity ratio is the end outcome, and it’s frequently represented in kilograms of CO2e per output unit (such as per megawatt-hour or product carbon emissions).
  4. Benchmark your emission intensity ratio compared to industry averages or firms of a similar size. Comparison with peers enables the identification of areas in need of improvement.
  5. After determining your emission intensity ratio, identify the places where emissions are disproportionately high about your output. Put plans in place to lower emissions in these locations. This could entail switching to more environmentally friendly energy sources, improving energy efficiency, or implementing sustainable practices.
  6. Track progress by monitoring your emissions and emission intensity ratio. Reporting on emission reduction efforts improves accountability and transparency.
  7. Involve stakeholders in your sustainability activities, including your team members, vendors, and clients. Their assistance and participation can promote progress.

Keep in mind that reducing emission intensity is a continuous process. Maintain a constant strategy evaluation and improvement process to achieve significant, long-lasting emissions reductions.

Regional and industry-specific regulatory requirements for reporting emission intensity ratios differ.

Although reporting on environmental performance, including carbon intensity ratios, is not always required, organisations are being urged to do so for several reasons:

  1. By disclosing emission intensity ratios, stakeholders, investors, and consumers can benefit from transparency and accountability.
  2. It’s essential to stay up to date with regulatory trends. Many places are attempting to enact climate-related laws, which may include reporting obligations.
  3. International standards, including the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and the ISO 14064 series, provide recommendations for measuring and reporting emissions, including emission intensity ratios. Following these guidelines might show that you value using the best practices.

To guarantee adherence:

  • Keep up with local and industry-specific laws and regulations.
  • Seek the advice of sustainability specialists or solicitors to understand your reporting responsibilities better.
  • To quantify and report emission intensity ratios precisely, put in place reliable tracking and reporting systems for emissions. For example, CSRD reporting software.
  • Even though it is not required by law, think about voluntary reporting because it can improve the standing and competitiveness of your company.

To achieve carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions, emission intensity ratios are crucial:

  1. Baseline Assessment: To start down the road to carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions, a company must create a baseline of its present emissions, frequently quantified as emission intensity ratios. The baseline serves as the foundation for establishing reduction goals.
  2. Setting Goals: organisations can set challenging reduction goals with emission intensity ratios. These goals are intended to align with international climate goals, such as keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and are often guided by science-based criteria.
  3. Monitoring Progress: An objective indicator for monitoring progress towards carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions is the emission intensity ratio. Businesses can determine if their emissions per economic output unit are declining over time.
  4. Offsetting Emissions: When eradicating all emissions is difficult, businesses can offset their residual emissions by funding carbon offset initiatives. The number of offsets necessary to attain carbon neutrality can be calculated using emission intensity ratios.
  5. Continuous Improvement: Achieving net-zero or carbon-neutral targets necessitates continual initiatives to lower emission intensity. Organisations must continuously look for ways to improve efficiency, switch to renewable energy sources, and adopt sustainable practices to lower intensity ratios.

Organisations committed to reaching carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions must understand emission intensity ratios. They help set realistic reduction goals and paint a clear picture of developing a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future.

Technological advancements play a pivotal role in reducing emission intensity ratios. Innovations in clean energy sources, energy-efficient machinery, and data analytics can greatly contribute to lowering emissions per unit of output.

Companies can utilise technology to automate data collection processes, ensuring accurate and timely information that facilitates better decision-making. Advanced software can also predict future emission levels based on current practices, aiding in strategy formation.

Technologies such as carbon capture and storage or more efficient transportation methods can directly reduce emissions. Investing in technology should be viewed as a long-term commitment to reduce emission intensity and remain competitive in an increasingly eco-conscious market.

External partnerships can be highly beneficial in managing and reducing emission intensity ratios. Collaborating with organisations that specialise in sustainability can offer expertise and resources that may not be readily available in-house.

Joint ventures with other firms can also lead to shared responsibilities and costs in adopting greener technologies or practices.

Moreover, being a part of an industry consortium that focuses on sustainability can provide valuable insights into best practices and potential pitfalls. Partnerships with government bodies can even lead to financial incentives for reducing emissions.

Overall, collaboration expands the scope and effectiveness of your efforts to lower emission intensity.

Employee engagement is an often overlooked but critical factor in reducing emission intensity ratios. A workforce that is educated about the importance of sustainability is more likely to be committed to practices that result in lower emissions.

Training programs and workshops can help employees understand how their roles specifically contribute to emissions and what changes they can make to mitigate this.

Encouraging employees to identify and report inefficient practices can also lead to grassroots improvements in emission intensity. Some companies adopt incentive schemes that reward teams or departments for achieving specific emission reduction goals. The collective efforts of an engaged workforce can significantly amplify a company’s efforts to reduce its emission intensity ratios.

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Author

Muhammad Mahad Malik
Muhammad is pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical power engineering. His research interests include smart grids, power systems, RES, and computational coding in energy systems.

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