Quantifying the impact of
universities on carbon footprint reduction

hefce, Cranfield University

Underlying Principles & Methods

The methods used were based on established approaches to carbon footprinting, in particular PAS 2050:2008 and the Carbon Trust good practice guide, which are underpinned by the guidance from the IPCC and the methods of life cycle analysis (LCA). A set of basic guidelines were drawn up at the start of the project, then revised in the light of experience during the case studies.

One of the key ideas of these methods is to record all emissions of greenhouse gases that arise directly or indirectly in the production, use and disposal of a good or service. In practice it is necessary to define the boundaries of this assessment, and these differ according to the purpose of the assessment.

For example, when considering the fuel used by transport, the boundary may be drawn tightly, including only the emissions from combustion, known as Scope 1, or more widely to include the extraction and refining of the fuel, known as Scope 3.

In the case of a carbon brainprint, which is a measure of total impact and will not be used within inventories, it is appropriate to include all the indirect emissions, whenever this is feasible.

The boundaries also include the time scale used. Again, as the brainprint is a measure of total impact, it is usually appropriate to consider a comparatively long period, such as 10-20 years, though annual values are more meaningful in some cases.

A third type of boundary is the level of precision required. The guide that was arrived at was to ignore any emissions falling below 1% of the total and avoid excessive precision in the results.

The brainprint calculation should be limited to the direct effects of the innovation under consideration and not try to predict indirect consequences, either positive or negative.

It also pays close attention to addressing uncertainty, especially when predicting the long term effects of university activities.

The emissions are calculated before and after the university contribution. The overall lifetime GHG saving is the carbon brainprint.