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GHG Protocol: What is the Greenhouse Gas Protocol?

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Companies and organizations that have adopted a CSR approach must be able to account for the carbon footprint resulting from their activities. The GHG Protocol is a widely used international standard for measuring and reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The protocol provides businesses and organizations with tools for reducing GHG emissions.


What is the GHG Protocol?


GHG Protocol logo

The GHG Protocol, for Greenhouse Gas Protocol, was created at the dawn of the 2000s by the American think tank WRI (World Resources Institute) and the international business coalition WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development), which brings together around 200 companies committed to sustainable development. This protocol provides economic actors around the world with tools and standards enabling them to measure, report and try to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The GHG Protocol then responds to an essential need for a standard of accounting for GHGs. To establish it, the two organizations worked in collaboration with major environmental groups such as the Pew Center on Climate Change (now the C2ES - Center for Climate and Energy Solutions) and WWF. It is one of the oldest international standards dedicated to carbon accounting, as well as one of the most widely used. The GHG Protocol defines not only a method of accounting for GHG emissions, but also a method of communicating the results, for voluntary or mandatory reporting, as well as for improvement purposes.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol takes into account emissions from the six main greenhouse gases generated by human activities, namely:

  • CO2 - carbon dioxide emitted mainly by the combustion of fossil fuels, agriculture and intensive livestock farming, deforestation.

  • CH4 - methane generated primarily by the breeding of cattle and other ruminants

  • N2O - nitrous oxide used in the cold industry and the automotive industry

  • HFCs - hydrofluorocarbons emitted in the context of mining and oil and gas operations as well as landfills

  • PFCs - perfluorocarbons present in cooling systems, air conditioners, and extinguishers

  • SF - sulfur hexafluoride used primarily in the pharmaceutical industry

More recent international standards are based on the GHG Protocol's carbon accounting method, such as the ISO 14064 standard created in 2006. This standard introduces the requirement for third-party verification of carbon accounting.


What are the goals of the GHG Protocol?

The GHG Protocol addresses a crucial challenge in the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: creating a common framework for comparing and tracking the evolution of extra-financial reporting emissions. The protocol was designed with 6 objectives in mind:

  • Creating global standardized calculation and reporting standards

  • Preparing a relevant and comprehensive inventory of GHG emissions

  • Simplifying and reducing the cost of inventorying

  • Producing key indicators for building an effective GHG reduction strategy

  • Facilitating the engagement of companies in voluntary GHG projects

  • Improving the transparency and relevance of carbon reporting through a fixed methodology and accurate data.

The GHG Protocol and the scopes 1, 2 and 3


Originally, the GHG Protocol's method of accounting for greenhouse gases was divided into two parts called scopes:

  • Scope 1 concerns direct emissions of greenhouse gases from the consumption of carbon products in the company's activities, i.e. fuel for vehicles and machinery, refrigerant gases for air conditioners and cold rooms, and fuel oil and gas for heating.

  • Scope 2 concerns all emissions related to energy consumption (electricity)

In 2011, an amendment to the protocol added a third category composed of indirect emissions necessary for the operation of the company:

  • Scope 3 therefore covers all other emissions, which are largely the majority, and include the purchase and transport of raw materials and services, employees' home-work travel, financial investments, as well as the use of sold products and waste treatment at the end of the product's life cycle.

Scope 1 2 3 - GHG Protocol - kabaun

Until now optional in France, the scope 3 will become mandatory from January 1, 2023 for companies with more than 500 employees, like scopes 1 and 2. This follows the publication of the Decree on the carbon footprint of greenhouse gas emissions on July 1, 2022.


The GHG Protocol methodology


The GHG Protocol's method of calculating carbon emissions is based on four main steps:

  • Defining the organizational, operational and temporal perimeter of the study: i.e. the organization concerned, the activities taken into account (scopes 1, 2 and 3), the GHGs measured and the reference year.

  • Calculating the emissions of different greenhouse gases expressed in a common unit of measure, CO2e, i.e. CO2 equivalent (which is why we can generally speak of carbon accounting).

  • Controlling the reliability and quality of the results, which involves calculating uncertainties. This control can be carried out by a third party (optional under the GHG protocol, but mandatory to meet the ISO 14064 standard).

  • Interpreting the results, with the definition of reduction targets and possibly an action plan.


In conclusion


The GHG Protocol was developed in a context of a climate emergency: the greenhouse gas emissions generated by our production and consumption modes are directly linked to the phenomenon of global warming and critical climate disruption. The GHG protocol is the basis for the mandatory carbon footprint declarations of the largest companies, and also serves as the basis for many standards and labels governing sustainable development and CSR commitments. Its standards are therefore valuable tools for obtaining ISO 14001, ISO 14064 and ISO 9001 certification, or one of the CSR labels based on the ISO 26000 standard.

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