What are emission factors and why are they important?

22 August 2022 


Understanding how your business performs in a number of key areas is fundamental to creating a strategy that can help you make positive changes, both now and in the future.

Being aware of ESG data, like how many emissions your organisation is responsible for, is critical to defining this, giving you a greater awareness of your wider operational impact. So, how do you know how many emissions your company is responsible for and how can you track and monitor them for enhanced performance? One of the main ways you can calculate and keep track of your emissions is by using an emission factor.

What is an emission factor?

According to Defra: “An emission factor gives the relationships between the amount of a pollutant produced and the amount of raw material processed or burnt.” 

Essentially, emission factors are a way to measure and match the quantity of pollutant in the atmosphere to an activity.

An ‘activity’ could be anything from water use and electricity consumption to materials, travel and food waste. All of these have a factor attached to them (think of a factor as a number) and some rank higher or lower than others. You can then use the factor (number) to help you calculate your emissions.

The United States Environmental Agency (EPA) outlines that factors ”are usually expressed as the weight of pollutant divided by a unit weight, volume, distance or duration of the activity emitting the pollutant”.

For example, if you want to know the emission factor for diesel (to calculate the emissions from your company’s fuel consumption) you can use the factor for per litre of diesel to work out how many KG of CO2 you are producing. You can then use the data to take action.

As well as CO2 (carbon dioxide emissions), CO2e also needs to be considered to take a broader view of greenhouse gas emissions. Cooler Future explains that CO2 (carbon dioxide) is based on gases that “enter the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, solid waste, trees and other biological materials.” While CO2 only accounts for carbon dioxide, CO2e accounts for all of the gases that can have a negative impact on the environment including: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide to name a few. Therefore, when calculating emissions, it’s crucial to take everything into consideration to get a wider view of your overall impact.

There isn’t one unified place to calculate emission factors, however, you can find explanations and guidance from sources like Defra and EPA (Defra has their own methodology and research, gathering data from various sources and creating an average).

Table of some emission factors from DEFRA Conversion factors 2022: full set

Organisations are doing their best to be transparent about emissions and improve their methodologies year-on-year but there are challenges around calculating emissions because calculations are ever evolving. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, we’re here to help; our expert team can collate the data you need on emissions factors and analyse it for you (read on to find out how).

Why are emission factors important?

Fundamentally, emission factors can help you calculate your emissions, which is critical for a number of reasons:

  • Calculating your emissions will give you greater visibility of your environmental impact, enabling you to have a better understanding of greenhouse gas emissions and the impact your business operations are having on the wider world
  • Knowing your emissions will empower you to make better business decisions. For example, if you calculate your emissions as being particularly high in one area you can take steps to change it and make a positive difference
  • Emission factors can help you make changes in key areas of your business, which can not only be better for the planet but better for your business too. Positive changes (like creating less emissions) can help your business appear more investable; investors look at a number of ESG criteria when assessing which companies to back (as do consumers) so keeping track of (and lowering your emissions where possible) can lead to a number of better business outcomes
  • Keeping track of your emissions can make producing things like sustainability reports much easier

How we can help

Our unique combination of intuitive technology and expert advice means we’re well placed to help you calculate and make sense of emissions data.

Our platform, Sustainion, provides built-in emissions calculations using reputable emission factors, taking away the stress and hassle of trying to find out where and how to calculate your emissions. All you need to do is log your activity and we’ll take care of the rest as our system will automatically calculate everything for you.

As well as capturing data, we can help you make the most of it too. Our experienced team have a wealth of knowledge in ESG and can make recommendations on how you can make improvements, working with you to build a roadmap to lower emissions. For example, if your emissions are high from electricity usage we can look at ways of reducing the amount of energy you use, such as recommending sensors that turn lights on/off when you enter and leave a room. If your emissions are high through diesel consumption, we might recommend using an alternative fuel source. Our approach is personalised to your business, the sector and market you operate in.

We realise that every business is different and ESG is not a one-size-fit-all approach, which is why our team is committed to getting to know you and your business needs. We can talk you through emission factors in more detail, how our platform can help you calculate your emissions and the steps we can take to improve your business performance. Contact us to find out more.


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