Carbon and energy are inextricably linked. In most cases whenever energy is used to provide electricity, as fuel to power a vehicle or during the manufacture of a product the result is carbon emitted to the atmosphere. Reducing carbon emissions is a key cornerstone of a sustainable society. In addition, many carbon emissions come from non-renewable resources and the issue of energy security is a rising concern.
For most organisations carbon sustainability means energy use reduction and efficiency. For a waste management company the situation is more complex and may be demonstrated by example.
A landfill site will use energy: Electricity to light and heat offices and welfare facilities and to power the weighbridge which measures how much waste is being received, diesel to fuel the heavy mobile plant used to move wastes and so on. A recycling plant will also consume energy for all of those uses. However, it will also use energy to power the recycling equipment it needs to perform its function. As a result a recycling plant will use more energy for every tonne of waste received than a landfill site. Does this mean that landfills are better for carbon and the environment than a recycling facility?
Ofcourse the answer is no. Landfill sites produce methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas. A recycling plant produces recyclate products so avoiding the carbon burden associated with virgin raw materials. Simply using energy consumption and efficiency as the only measure of carbon will not reveal this for waste management companies a more sophisticated measure is required.
For this reason we use carbon avoidance as our key measure of carbon sustainability. We can measure how much carbon is avoided as a result of the recyclate materials we produce, the green electricity we generate and the waste derived fuels we supply. For example, if a power station is using coal as its fuel the amount of carbon emitted for each tonne of coal burnt can be calculated. Likewise if the same power station is using a waste derived fuel we can also measure how much carbon will be emitted. The carbon avoidance is the difference between these two figures.
This does not mean that our energy use is not also important. We measure and report on this and seek ways to use less energy and become more energy efficient, as demonstrated in the eco driving initiative case study. However, the carbon avoidance our activities produce is the key measure in our carbon footprints.