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PG&E To Measure Scope 3 Emissions: Is Anyone Watching?

PG&E is the first American energy utility company to measure its scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions.

Pacific Gas and Electric, Northern and Central California’s energy provider and the Golden State’s largest utility, announced Tuesday that it would be measuring its scope 3 (or indirect) greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). This stunning announcement marks the first time an American energy utility has ever taken such a deep dive to account for how procurement decisions contribute to its overall carbon footprint. And with a $4 billion annual energy sourcing budget, there’s little doubt PG&E can push the needle in influencing the demand curve for more clean energy in California.

The ambitious carbon accounting and life-cycle analysis (LCA) initiative began piloting  year ago and will unite scholars and industry experts from UC Berkeley and the NGO Climate Earth, Inc.

“We’re proud to help PG&E enter a new frontier in environmental leadership,” said Chris Erickson, CEO of Climate Earth Inc, “Climate Earth’s system will be used to quantify all of the company’s supply chain carbon emissions, something that has never been done for a utility. It will be exciting to discover ways in which PG&E’s procurement can be a powerful force for minimizing environmental impacts.”

As Independence Day arrives tomorrow, PG&E’s leadership is an example of American ingenuity, leadership and synergy. Combining partners from the public, private and non-profit fields is uniquely American and should provide PG&E with the critical human capital they will need to pull off such a difficult accounting project. But is anyone watching? And more importantly, what does this mean for the Obama administration’s wilting energy bill in Congress and consequently, the private sector’s role in reducing the most carbon intensive country’s emissions?

Here are three reasons to celebrate PG&E’s leadership on the 4th of July for those us who don’t believe patriotism and clean energy policy are mutually exclusive:

  1. Upstream, Baby — Progressive American consumers have begun installing CFLs, buying EnergyStar and reducing behavioral of use of energy whenever possible. These folks, yours truly included, can provide peer pressure, but ultimately cannot move the needle for a cleaner American energy sector. Technology and policy upstream will have to determine whether the energy mix changes, and by measuring its entire operation, PG&E should find eco-efficiencies that will influence millions of consumers’ footprints downstream.
  2. Back of the Napkin No More — There is a believe in some CSR circles that all carbon footprints regardless of how carefully calculated using WRI/GHGP tools are still just back of the napkin estimates with wide confidence intervals. This is probably true and is especially the case of scope 3. The PG&E project will no doubt improve market carbon calculation best practices, making it easier for major corporations in California with large energy footprints to  measure and manage  their own operations.
  3. Public Goods — PG&E already provides the best smart meter incentives and technologies on the market for consumers interested in reducing their own carbon intensities. This scope 3 project will no doubt yield additional tools, resources and best practices for other utility companies, large companies and consumers.

Image Credit: PG&E

Written by Lane Jost

A lifelong conservationist, angler, gardener and writer, Lane is a Corporate Responsibility strategy consultant based in Chicago, where he currently works a CR consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Prior to joining PwC, Lane was a global sustainability performance and stakeholder engagement specialist for Sodexo North America. He has experience in microfinance program evaluation at Grameen Foundation. A former President of the Net Impact Chapter at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Lane has a master's in International Development Economics from the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UCSD (IR/PS) and a bachelor's in history and international studies from Kenyon College. Prior to working in the sustainable business sphere, Lane spent six years as a communications and marketing professional focusing on arts and culture in New York City, where his work included the creation of the jazz website and serving as the publicist for the New York Philharmonic.


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