ICT Sustainability

Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future

An Online Graduate Course & Book by Tom Worthington MEd, FACS CP

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As part of their eco-management and audit scheme, the European Union (1993) defines an environmental audit as:

"... a management tool comprising a systematic, documented, periodic and objective evaluation of the performance of the organization, management system and processes designed to protect the environment with the aim of:

(i) facilitating management control of practices which may have impact on the environment;

(ii) assessing compliance with company environmental policies;"

National Carbon Offset Standard

The then Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy released a National Carbon Offset Standard (2015). This sets minimum standards for calculating and auditing the carbon footprint of an organisation. The standard covers calculating the greenhouse gas emissions associated with an organisation's activities, product or service. It also includes the general principles of acquisition and retirement of carbon offsets.

Legislative and Standards Base

The Australian carbon auditing scheme is based on the international standards, particularly the ISO 14000 Environmental Management Standards:

  1. ISO 14040: Environmental management - Life cycle assessment standard series
    • ISO 14040: Principles and framework
    • ISO 14041: Goal and scope definition and inventory analysis
    • ISO 14042: Life cycle impact assessment
    • ISO 14043: Life cycle interpretation
    • ISO 14048: Data documentation format
  2. ISO 14064.1: Greenhouse gases standard series
    • ISO 14064.1: Specification with guidance at the organization level for quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and removals
    • AS ISO 14064.2: Specification with guidance at the project level for quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas emission reductions and removal enhancements (ISO 14062-2:2006, MOD)
    • ISO 14064.3: Specification with guidance for the validation and verification of greenhouse gas assertions

Also used is the Greenhouse Gas Protocol corporate accounting and reporting standard (GHGP, 2004).

The primary legislation is the "NGERA" National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act (2007) and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Regulations (2008). The procedures for domestic offsets are derived from the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC 2006).

Elements of the Offset Standard

The National Carbon Offset Standard (2015) comprises:

  1. Principles of carbon footprint calculation;
  2. Organisation calculation of greenhouse gas emissions;
  3. Product or service calculation of greenhouse gas emissions;
  4. Verification of carbon footprint calculations;
  5. Eligible offset units and their retirement; and
  6. Public disclosure.

Carbon footprint calculation

Carbon footprint calculation principles

The calculation of the carbon footprint is based on the principles in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol corporate accounting and reporting standard (GHGP, 2004):

  1. Relevance: Ensure the greenhouse gas inventory of an organisation, product or service appropriately reflects the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to that organisation, product or service.
  2. Completeness: Account for and report all greenhouse gas emissions sources and activities within the defined boundary of the organisation, product or service. Disclose and justify any specific exclusions.
  3. Consistency: Use consistent methodologies to allow for meaningful comparisons of greenhouse gas emissions over time. Transparently document any changes to the data, boundary, methods, or any other relevant factors.
  4. Transparency: Address all relevant issues in a factual and coherent manner, based on a clear audit trail. Disclose any relevant assumptions and make appropriate references to the calculation methodologies and data sources used.
  5. Accuracy: Ensure that the quantification of greenhouse gas emissions is systematically neither over nor under actual emissions, as far as can be judged, and that uncertainties are reduced as far as practicable. Achieve sufficient accuracy to enable users to make decisions with reasonable assurance as to the integrity of the reported information.

Carbon footprint calculation of an organisation

The steps for calculating the greenhouse gas emissions for an organisation are designed to be consistent with the NGER Act.

The boundary of an organisation defines the activities that an organisation should include in its carbon footprint calculation. This includes all corporate group members; and all facilities under the operational control of corporate group members.

Greenhouse gas emissions sources

Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions are defined as in the Guidelines for National Greenhouse Inventories from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2006).

  1. Scope 1 emission sources:

    • the combustion of fuel for energy;
    • the extraction, production, flaring, processing and distribution of fossil fuels;
    • industrial processes where a mineral, chemical or metal product is formed using a chemical reaction that generates greenhouse gases as a by-product; and
    • waste disposal - either in landfill, as management of waste-water or from waste incineration.
  2. Scope 2 emissions sources: activities that generate electricity, heating, cooling or steam that is consumed by a facility but do not form part of the facility.

  3. Scope 3 emissions are not defined in the draft standards and are not required to be included. Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions caused by the organisation, such as from business travel.

Greenhouse gas emissions factors and calculation methodology
  1. Collect activity data relating to the greenhouse gas emissions sources within the boundary.
  2. Calculate the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the sources using one of the options:
    • default emissions factors from the National Greenhouse Accounts (NGA) Factors (Department of Environment, 2015);
    • direct measurement using: industry practices or standards for sampling, or using continuous or periodic emissions monitoring.
  3. Apply the calculation to a specified period of time, such as 12 months.
  4. Assess the uncertainty of greenhouse gas emissions estimates.

Carbon footprint calculation of a product or service

The draft standards requires the use of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) in accordance with ISO 14040, reporting:

  1. Scope;

  2. System boundary;
  3. Greenhouse gas emissions sources within the system boundary;

  4. Greenhouse gas emissions factors and calculation methodology;

  5. Inventory analysis; and

  6. Calculated greenhouse gas emissions attributable to each stage of the life cycle of the product or service.

Verification of carbon footprint calculations

The draft standard cites the ISO 14064 series for verification and auditing and requires independent verification and review an entity accredited under ISO 14065.

Carbon offsetting

Eligible offset units

Units accepted for carbon offsetting are:

  1. Australian carbon pollution permits;
  2. Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) except long term (ICERs) and temporary (tCERs);
  3. Emission Reduction Units (ERUs); and
  4. Removal Units (RMUs).

Domestic abatement projects may also be applied.

Public disclosure

A publicly available annual report is required, detailing: total greenhouse gas emissions generated, records of abatement and quantity and the type of credits purchased.

Public statements

Organisations can make public statements, such as:

"The greenhouse gas emissions generated from this product have been calculated and offset in accordance with the National Carbon Offset Standard";

"We are committed to offsetting our carbon footprint consistent with the National Carbon Offset Standard"; and

"This offset meets the National Carbon Offset Standard".

External Auditors for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

The Register of Greenhouse and Energy Auditors is maintained by the Clean Energy Regulator (2016). Organisations with emissions of 125 kilotonnes of CO2-e or more, are obliged to have their annual emissions report independently audited.

Australian Government Carbon Emissions Strategy 2011

On 10 July 2011, the then Australian Government released its Clean Energy Future strategy (Commonwealth of Australia, 2011), including an initial carbon price of $23 per Tonne. The price was to increase by 2.3% per year for three years, after which a trading scheme with a market price was to be introduced. The carbon price was only to be levied on very large carbon emitters, with numerous exemptions and compensation for industry sectors and individuals. It was unlikely that any IT companies will be large enough emitters to be included in the scheme, but IT systems would be needed to assess and audit emissions and implement strategies for reductions.

Australian Government Carbon Emissions Strategy 2013

In December 2013 a new Australian Government released a Green Paper on a new "Emissions Reduction Fund" (Department of the Environment, 2013). This envisaged replacing the previous government's carbon trading scheme with a reverse auction. Under this scheme, businesses submit bids for carbon reduction and the lowest bid is selected. The new scheme took effect from 1 July 2014. The existing standards are used for measuring and auditing the new strategy.

GHG Protocol Corporate Standard

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP, 2004) provides guidance on the inventory development process: Accounting and Reporting Principles, Business Goals and Inventory Design, Setting Organizational Boundaries, Setting Operational Boundaries, Tracking Emissions Over Time, Identifying and Calculating Emissions, Managing Inventory Quality, Accounting for GHG Reductions, Reporting Emissions, Verification of Emissions, and Setting Targets.

The standard details the internal processes needed and preparing for an independent verifier (auditor). The information needed by an auditor are similar to that detailed in the Australian standards.

GHGP Calculation Tools

GHGP provide sector and industry-specific tool-kits for calculating greenhouse gas emissions. No toolkit is provided for ICT based industries. However, a toolkit is provided for the Service Sector (GHGP, 2010).

Environmental Claims for Ubiquitous Broadband

In Environmental Load Reduction Effects of Ubiquitous Broadband Services (Sawada, Origuchi and Nishi, 2007), three researchers from NTT estimated the CO2e emissions reduction from using broadband. ICT is assumed to reduce the environmental load by making the movement of people and things more efficient and replacing physical media, such as paper and compact discs with on-line transmission. The researchers then calculated the energy consumed by the network to replace physical goods. The result was an estimated reduction of at 46% for wired networks and 79% for wireless, for each subscriber.

The researchers carried out their calculations for NTT's B-FLET optical fiber service and FOMA mobile communication service (provided by NTT DoCoMo). The total reduction in CO2 emissions of all users in 2005 was calculated to be 3.14 million tons.

Evaluation method

The amount of CO2 emitted in the acquisition of raw materials, manufacture, use, and disposal were calculated. Users were surveyed as to their use of the Internet services. ICT services and actions were classified into nineteen categories and their energy use evaluated.

Daily Internet usage time for the optic fibre service was estimated at 27.53 minutes per person per day and 36.54 minutes per person per day for the wireless service.

An example of the energy use estimates is a music-downloading service. The energy used by the data centre holding the music, the network and the terminal the user uses much be considered. The corresponding purchase of CDs at a retail store involves CO2 emissions from CD manufacture, distribution, and disposal, as well as the purchaser's trip to the store.

However, for wired services it was information services, including government web pages and social networking which were found to have the largest environmental savings, not e-commerce. 79% (120 kg-CO2e/year). For wireless service it was telephone, videophone, email, and accessing national and local government information which had the greatest effect. It should be noted that NTT included voice telephone calls as a broadband service, although it could be argued that a non-broadband, or even analogue phone service would give similar results.

Now Read

  1. Department of Climate Change and Energy National Carbon Offset Standard (2010).
  2. Environmental Load Reduction Effects of Ubiquitous Broadband Services (Sawada, Origuchi and Nishi, 2007).


  1. Which activities are in Scope?: Which activities of your organisation produce Scope 1, 2 or 3 greenhouse gas emission sources, as defined in the National Carbon Offset Standard?

  2. Five principles for calculating a carbon footprint: The five principles in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for calculating a carbon footprint are: Relevance, Completeness, Consistency, Transparency, and Accuracy. How would you suggest using ICT to assist your organisation convince an independent auditor that these principles has been complied with?

  3. Does broadband reduce carbon emissions?: Three researchers from NTT have claimed emissions reductions from the use of broadband of 46% (wired) and 79% (wireless) per subscriber per year. They include savings from the use of email in place of paper mail and music downloads instead of buying CDs from a store. How would you use the National Carbon Offset Standard to check this actually reduced emissions?

Next: Methods and Tools.

About the book: ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future

Edition Notice

ICT Sustainability is about how to assess, and reduce, the carbon footprint and materials used with computers and telecommunications. These are the notes for an award winning graduate course on strategies for reducing the environmental impact of computers and how to use the Internet to make business more energy efficient.

Copyright © Tom Worthington, 2017

Second edition.

ISBN: 978-1-326-96794-9. (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-1-326-95850-3. (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-326-95849-7. (ePub eBook)
ISBN: 978-1-326-96791-8. (PDF eBook)

Cover shows Power on-off symbol: line within a circle (IEC 60417-5010).

These notes have been used for the courses:

  1. ICT Sustainability (COMP7310), in the Graduate Studies Select program, Australian National University (first run July 2009), and
  2. Green ICT Strategies (COMP 635), Athabasca University (Canada). Adapted for North America by Brian Stewart.
  3. Green Technology Strategies: offered in the Computer Professional Education Program, Australian Computer Society (first run as "Green ICT Strategies" in February 2009),

Course materials available free on-line, under at Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license at http://www.tomw.net.au/ict_sustainability/