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Sustainability Act. 21 Feb 2020

What is the carbon footprint?

Teresa Andrés Blanco (BBVA Creative)

The repercussions of climate change and the ensuing environmental commitment made by governments, the business community, and society as a whole have produced an onslaught of various terms that amount to a full glossary bound by sustainability. Carbon footprint is one of these terms.

In the fight against climate change, it is essential to understand what is meant by a carbon footprint. Human activity, specifically our energy consumption related to things like electricity or transportation, in many cases causes us to use fossil fuels, and in doing so we emit gases like carbon dioxide and methane. We thus increase the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere beyond what would be their normal levels. These types of gases, due to their chemical composition, absorb a portion of the heat that reaches us from the sun; as a result, the Earth’s average temperature rises more than it would under natural conditions.

The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide, and ozone. Greenhouse gases (GHG), which have been increasing in concentration in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, are directly correlated to the rise in Earth’s average temperature. The most abundant, resulting from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, carbon, natural gas, and liquefied gas) and which represents approximately two thirds of all the GHGs is carbon dioxide (CO2).

According to data from the United Nations, global carbon dioxide emissions have increased 50 percent since 1990. Particularly striking is that they increased more between 2000 and 2010 than in the previous three decades. Hence, one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined by the United Nations, number 13 to be precise, focuses on the need for developed nations to adopt urgent environmental measures that will lead them toward a low-carbon economy.

Calculating carbon footprint

Reducing or eliminating the greenhouse gases produced by an organization’s products, services, and processes or as a result of our consumption habits is one of the solutions companies, governments, and communities can adopt in order to align themselves with the SDGs and curb the fallout from climate change.

But how is a carbon footprint measured? It is determined by multiplying energy consumption figures (activity data) by the corresponding emission factor.

 

The consumption figure is the parameter that defines the level of the GHG emission producing activity, for example, teh amount of natural gas used for heating (kWh of natural gas).

The emission factor is the amount of GHG emitted for each unit of the parameter “activity data.” To determine this figure, one has to take the emission figures for the main fuels as established in the National Inventory of Greenhouse Gases into account, as well as their sources (vehicle fuel consumption; fuel consumption in buildings; air conditioning or refrigeration; electricity consumption; purchasing and contracting; aircraft; ships; internal or external transport, travel; and waste management).

BBVA’s commitment for 2020: a zero carbon footprint

From January 1st, the bank has committed to being carbon neutral in 2020, an ambition that entails assigning an internal price to its emissions. Carbon neutrality is achieved when carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are offset by eliminating the same amount through other avenues, leaving you with a balance of zero, also called a zero carbon footprint. 

This commitment will be incorporated into BBVA’s decision making prices as well as into its planning and budgeting. This is an initiative over and above the bank’s Global Eco-efficiency Plan, which promotes energy efficiency measures in its buildings, the consumption of renewable energy, providing group transportation options (company buses and car-pooling), and encouraging the widespread use of video-conferencing tools in order to avoid creating travel associated emissions.

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