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Monday, September 8, 2008

Avoided Emissions are Just Fat-Free Equivalents

I am always suspicious of companies that quote their "emissions avoided" as the primary measure of their environmental achievements, i.e., "If we hadn’t done this or that then our emissions would have been so much worse."

As supplementary information to reduced emissions, avoided emissions can be a valuable measure to help employees, customers and other stakeholders understand the relative contribution of energy reduction activities.

We do this at BT. Our absolute emissions have been reduced from 1.2 M to 0.6M tonnes CO2 since 1996. In fact, last year we avoided 97k tonnes CO2 through our use of teleconferencing and about 50k tonnes through encouraging telecommuting. That helps employees really understand the contribution they are making to the whole, when they avoid traveling for a meeting and attend by teleconference instead – and that understanding is a great motivator. But, what really counts is the 0.6M tonnes CO2 absolute emissions. The avoided number is meaningless without the absolute reduction achieved. So, next time you see a company quote an achievement in terms of "avoided," look for the absolute number and, absent that, don’t give the avoided number any credence.

So, what does that have to do with "fat-free?" It reminds me of the claims I sometimes see on food stating, "95% fat-free." It’s the emissions that count, just like it’s the 5% fat that counts. The 95% avoided, while perhaps technically accurate, only tells half the story!

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