At some point, we all started talking about the “accuracy” of emissions calculations. This is important, but it’s half the problem (and maybe less than half). At Altruistiq, we experimented a fair bit with different ways to measure “how accurate our calculation engine is” and we ultimately failed to quantify it.
Emissions calculation is basically an A x B = C calculation where:
A is a unit of business data (e.g. a dollar spent on potatoes, or a kilogram of potatoes purchased)
B is an appropriate Emissions Factor (i.e., the benchmark emissions number in grams of CO2e for the appropriate unit of business data)
C is the emissions estimate of the business activity.
I’ve simplified this for a more general audience. In this equation:
A (the business data) is not likely to be 'inaccurate' at a meaningful scale (if it is, the business likely has bigger problems). However, the granularity of your business data can vary e.g., ‘100g of Irish Maris Pipe potatoes’ or just simply ‘100g potatoes’.
B will always have some degree of inaccuracy, which can be reduced by making it more specific. But you cannot have a more specific emissions factor unless you have more granular business data. For example, ‘100g of organic Irish Maris Pipe potatoes’ and ‘900g of regular English King Edwards potatoes’ could both be matched against a specific Emissions Factor than simply 'potatoes, global average'.
So…the reason a third-party solution provider can't guarantee a given accuracy is because it ultimately depends on the granularity of business data available.
What a good solution provider should be able to do is:
access whatever business data you do have available (rather than needing it to be aggregated for them)
process large calculation volumes (i.e., millions of individual calculations)
apply a suitable breadth of relevant Emissions Factors
indicate where more accuracy is possible (through additional granularity).
And yes, this also means that any solution provider who tells you that they deliver the 'world's most accurate carbon emissions calculations' is not giving you the full picture.
Do you have a spare 2 minutes? We’d really appreciate it if you gave feedback on this newsletter.
Industry Insight: Why Our Suppliers Don’t Trust us
We might not trust our suppliers, but it’s safe to say that our suppliers don’t trust us either.
Your suppliers are looking to you for conviction. Right now they’re getting mixed messaging. When speaking to the procurement team they are getting a hard-nosed focus on cost, quality, volume and timing. Meanwhile, the sustainability team requests data, targets and regenerative agriculture (whatever that means to you).
To demonstrate any conviction on sustainability, we must move it into supplier contractual terms, making it a cornerstone of the business partnership. This commitment will be reinforced as we begin to factor carbon costs into the business.
Lessons Learned - Understanding Decathlon’s Circular Transformation Game Plan with Chris Allen
A section where we interview leading sustainability professionals, to share their advice on planning and executing initiatives. We sat down with Chris Allen, Director of Sustainability at Decathlon - a global sports retailer, to explore how the team is pushing a company-wide circularity agenda.
Team Size: 6 people.
Decathlon UK’s core circular economy team is a powerhouse of 6 individuals, led by Chris, Director of Sustainability. Three "Project Leaders" spearhead initiatives in BuyBack, Rental, and Repair, whilst three "Change Leaders" drive change across Educational and engagement, Financials, and Communication. This is supported by a circular refurbishment hub within their UK distribution centre.
Team Set up: Independent and Distributed Function.
Operating independently yet intersecting across all departments is a deliberate strategy to rally widespread buy-in. While the core team’s headcount remains constant, sustainability responsibilities are increasingly embedded across other functions (e.g., the UX team, operations and commercial). To consolidate this buy-in, there is a shared circularity OKR across the business, on which remuneration/bonuses are based on.
Why is Circularity Decathlon’s Big Bet?
Decathlon’s business model is based on driving volume at an affordable price. With such a large product range and volume, circulatory presented the biggest opportunity to reduce emissions by extending product life spans and reducing consumption.
Let’s Dig into Decathlon’s Latest Game-Changing Initiative: BuyBack
Rethinking the traditional return model (which historically ended up in products going to waste), Decathlon introduced the Bike BuyBack program. Customers trade in bikes and receive Decathlon vouchers in return. These bikes are refurbished and re-enter the market at a lower, more accessible price point.
So far, hundreds of bikes have been repurchased (~450) and hundreds of learnings accrued. Here are the biggest:
Prioritise financial viability as a way to get buy-in and continued support. A dedicated sustainability finance expert was onboarded to understand, model and demonstrate the commercial viability. This has been a strategic lever to pull to secure buy-in.
Don’t underestimate the magnitude of operational change management. Ensure you invest enough resources (time and money) behind the transformation. In Decathlon’s case, the process took a lot longer than expected (despite feeling that they had a robust understanding of the buy-in and financials needed). Moral of the story - add a buffer to your timeline and budget.
Learn to speak the language. Tailor messages to resonate with each function. Despite circularity being a core OKR for Decathlon, each function has to progress against multiple indicators. Clearly articulate the benefits to ensure your target is front of mind.
Listen to your customers. Align narratives with customer priorities. In Decathlon’s case, affordability and convenience resonate more than sustainability. Decathlon had to reposition its BuyBack narrative after limited initial engagement.
Feel free to reach out to Chris and dig further into his experience - there may well be grounds for collaboration!
Policy Pulse: What to Expect for Food Systems at COP 28
Despite our professional community having low expectations for COP 28 (due to a lot of noise around the presidency's "true intentions" and a general lack of faith in the COP process), we have reason to be optimistic.
Why? Well… food systems take centre stage at COP 28
COP 28 is set to have a major focus on food, with a dedicated Food Systems and Agricultural day and pavilion at the Expo (see you there). This is also the first time in COP history that the Presidency has made food an official priority. This is long overdue. Previous mentions of food have been confined to the sidelines of the climate conferences, mainly narrowed to sources of emissions under AFOLU. Granted, this did create a ‘supply side’ focus on reducing deforestation but failed to recognise the full picture.
Taking a full food systems approach needs to encompass four key elements:
Nature-positive food production
Healthy sustainable diets
Food loss and waste
What we can realistically hope for food systems from COP 28:
Inclusion of food systems actions in National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and long-term low emission strategies (LT-LEDS) before COP30.
Widespread engagement of the Emirates Declaration on Resilient Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture, and Climate Action, particularly from large agricultural-producing economies to drive implementation. By signing this declaration, countries commit to transforming food systems and pledge to seek innovative solutions to food-related challenges.
Political will for food systems transformation is clearly increasing. For businesses to really benefit from this momentum, these promises to be translated into clear, measurable implementation roadmaps, underpinned by good investments.