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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guest Post: Autodesk

A ‘Wild West’ of Corporate GHG Target-Setting

As I have mentioned in my blog before, at BT we launched our Climate Stabilization Intensity Target in 2008. Until now we have been (as far as I am aware) the only company with such a target. However I am thrilled that Autodesk has now launched a target with a similar approach. Emma Stewart kindly agreed to provide some insights in a guest blog.

Emma Stewart, Ph.D., is the Senior Program Lead at Autodesk’s Sustainability Initiative, where she combines expertise in environmental trends analysis, policy and metrics design, and management consulting. Her award-winning work has been covered by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, Harvard Business, and Forbes, among others.

With the scientific and policy trends pointing to increasing and unprecedented levels of consensus on the scale of global emissions reductions, corporate leadership in defining a path forward remains varied, not comparable, and under-scrutinized. A bit like the Wild West, the domain lacks law, scrutiny and is full of somewhat aimless shooting.

Even amongst the leaders charting the frontier, targets are:
  • grounded in little more than ‘guesstimates’
  • very short-term in nature
  • at risk of accusations of ‘green washing’ because they mask an actual increase in absolute emissions
  • opaque due to intensity calculations or derivation from multi year commitment
To address these challenges, at Autodesk we have developed a Corporate Finance Approach to Climate-stabilizing Targets (“C-FACT”), a science-driven, business-friendly and transparent approach, which is grounded in climate science but recognizes that companies are GHG emitters and simultaneously create economic value.

In 2008, BT announced a Climate Stabilization Intensity model, which introduced the idea that corporate carbon reductions should be set relative to economic value-add. Autodesk strongly endorse this idea and applaud BT’s leadership. To make this concept applicable outside of the UK, we have suggested a universally acceptable metric for ‘value-add’.

With consultation from Clear Carbon Consulting, we have built the model to be compatible with existing business reporting norms, replicable and verifiable, accommodating of organic and inorganic changes in business, proportional to company's contribution to GDP and predictable, appropriate to attain climate stabilization.

I see a strong foundation for brand-enhancement through communicating that the approach is data-driven, grounded in science and a rigorous approach to a complex problem.

We applied C-FACT to a set of leading tech companies and found that if they were to adopt this approach, global GHGs could be reduced by a whopping 3,801,112,763 metric tons by 2050, equivalent to roughly 9 percent of the global target laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

I hope that other companies will, in the spirit of open source tools, consider this model, analyze its strengths and weaknesses, improve upon it, and then adopt it. For a video tutorial and White Paper that explains the methodology step-by-step, please go to and help Autodesk and BT turn the Wild West into a Renaissance.


  1. Good to see rigorous work carried out in one sector being transferred to another, and across borders.

    I’m sure that both BT and Autodesk have learned from similar but failed attempts in the past. In the mid-1990s a leading European chemicals company (ICI – since dismembered) introduced a concept called Environmental Burden. This would have been called a Footprint today.

    ICI environmental scientists worked out an equation which produced a burden number. This reflected impact of wastes and other emissions on the environment. The goal was to reduce that number every year.

    Great idea, but the equation was so fiendishly complicated that it made the idea really difficult to communicate to normal mortals. Other companies toyed with using it, but Environmental Burden never made it outside of ICI. Much the pity, because it had merit in helping to report on environmental performance.

    Let’s hope the same fate does not befall the Intensity model, which is but one of many excellent ideas that BT has produced in the area of sustainability metrics and reporting. All power to Autodesk for adopting the concept and promoting its use.

    (Interest declared: Context has helped BT report for the past six years.)

    Peter T. Knight
    Context America

  2. Thank you, Peter. I agree with you that the ability to communicate the model - while allowing it to be complex enough to address the sophistication of the challenge - has been one of our main concerns. We are still perfecting our ability to explain it. Perhaps our best attempt is with a 5min video (available at, which is intended to speak to corporate sustainability practitioners and major customers.

    We would appreciate any and all feedback on how to fine-tine our explanations to 'normal mortals', as you put it.
    -Emma Stewart