Scientific leaders have long been concerned about the effects of greenhouse gases (aka GHGs). The existence of GHGs was discovered by Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, in 1896 when he first proposed that fossil fuel combustion may result in increased global warming. Graham Bell continued to warn in 1917 that “[The unchecked burning of fossil fuels] would have a sort of greenhouse effect” and “The net result is the greenhouse becomes a sort of hot-house.” While its effect continues to be a hot topic for debate, the science behind the emission of green gases is based in fact, as is the Environmental Protection’s Agency regulatory stance.
The debate about the greenhouse effect primarily began with the Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that GHGs could be regulated by the EPA if it was determined these gases were harmful to humans. In 2009, the EPA proved that increased temperatures would lead to an increase in infectious diseases, water scarcity, damage to plants and animals grown for food, wilder weather patterns and other negative effects to natural processes. One year later, the EPA began tailoring regulations to lower the amount of GHGs allowed to be emitted. Between the years of 2011 to 2014, the EPA began to require states to draft State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to lower emissions. In 2020, each state’s clean power plans will be in effect.
How is the greenhouse effect defined?
In an ideal scenario, the earth absorbs about 50% of the sun’s heat and the remainder is reflected back into space by clouds; however, fossil fuel burning (natural gas, coal, oil) creates gaseous compounds that hold infrared radiation causing thermal radiation (heat). The result is the earth’s surface temperature rises above normal levels because less of the sun’s heat can be reflected back into space. It is believed that even one degree can make a big difference to planetary conditions.
How might this impact a business?
The ruling by the EPA in 2009 requires that any corporation or institution that emits more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year must track and report GHG emissions to the EPA. Many small businesses will not fit this criterion; however, larger multifamily projects may meet the criteria. In order to know whether you fall under the EPA’s regulation, you need visibility which requires tracking utility usage in a meaningful, accurate way. The second step in this process is to upload that data into the EPA’s e-GGRT Data Reporting System annually.
There are 3 scopes of emissions that need to be measured and reported to the EPA. Scope 1 and 2 emissions are required to be reported to the EPA.
Scope 1 Emissions: These types of emissions are referred to as “direct emissions” and are created on site by the owner or controlled by the corporation or institution. This would include the production of electricity, heat, steam in boilers and furnaces, as well as energy leaks. It also may include the transportation of products with corporate owned vehicles. Approximately 90% of the businesses required to report to the EPA fall into this category.
Scope 2 Emissions: These types of emissions are referred to as “indirect” emissions. These result from the purchase of utilities by a corporation or institution from a utility company.
Scope 3 Emissions: These types of emissions are anything not covered in scope 1 or 2 and mainly refer to purchased materials, transportation and fuels or the use of sold products. This type of emission reporting is optional.
The point of all this data gathering and analysis is to move forward in 2020 with State implementation Plans (SIPs) to reduce carbon emissions. By tracking and reporting what is being emitted now we can work on ways to significantly reduce emissions. States are deeply involved now in drafting their proposed plans to further regulate how much carbon waste can be released by a corporation or institution. Investigate and educate your stakeholders on the proposed state regulations so you can plan accordingly. The majority of large businesses have started drafting business plans to implement carbon emission reduction now with hard deadlines for capital improvements, alternative clean energy sources or innovative changes in business strategies. Your business will soon be required to operate differently and more efficiently. Now is the time to prepare for a cleaner future.
Kate Forsyth is Director of Energy Management for Minol. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org