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Carbon footprint,carbon trajectory,decarbonization whatdoes it all mean?


Carbon footprint, carbon trajectory, decarbonization, carbon offsetting, neutrality: The proliferation of terms used to discuss the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions have made the topic all the more confusing. To make sense of this new lexicon and explore the ways in which companies can concretely decarbonize their activity, we talked to Laurent Barbezieux, the co-founder of Aktio, a platform that specializes in measuring and reducing companies’ carbon footprints.

 Decarbonizing a sector, an activity, a company, an individual, or even a country consists of reducing its carbon footprint by decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide…) resulting from its activities. The goal is clear: limiting the impact on climate – and the planet. But how can companies concretely achieve this goal? And using which decarbonization strategy? The first step is the same for anyone who wants to start an energy transition: consuming less – and better. Reducing our primary energy consumption, which is the product of fossil fuels, is the most efficient measure we can take. This can be achieved through implementing energy sobriety or switching to renewable energies. Other measures are also essential: opting for equipment that is more effective and less energy-consuming; reducing waste; using low-carbon modes of transport (like the train, public transportation and non-motorized mobility); comparing the carbon footprint of the products we buy and opting for the ones that produce fewer emissions, etc. Once all these measures are in place, it’s also possible to finance projects for carbon capture and storage like agroforestry, tree planting, restoring mangroves, and more.

What’s a carbon footprint? And how is it calculated?

Decarbonization is a process, and as for every process, it consists of a series of actions and operations implemented to achieve an intended goal: “That’s when carbon footprint comes into play,” explains Laurent Barbezieux, who helps companies with their carbon trajectory as co-founder of Aktio. “The carbon footprint method is used to precisely evaluate an entity’s carbon footprint by conducting an inventory of every greenhouse gas (GHG) it emits over a certain period before defining a concrete action plan to reduce them. That way, a company can measure the totality of its emissions each year.” Each source of emission – direct or indirect – is calculated in “COequivalent”, making it possible to compare the impact of different greenhouse gases over 100 years (called “PRG” for “potentiel de réchauffement global” or “global warming potential”).

This “carbon accounting” approach, first used in the 1990s, is the answer to a major global issue: mitigating global warming and its consequences (loss of biodiversity, rising waters, extreme climate events, etc.) Just like the 195 signatories of the Paris Agreement and the European countries who signed the Green Deal for Europe, companies play a major role in limiting the warming of the planet to 1.5 degrees and reaching carbon neutrality before 2050, as stated in the European climate law.

The three carbon footprint scopes

  • Direct emissions, which refers to everything that is directly rejected in the atmosphere by equipment, a tool, a site, an installation: gasoline, gas, fuel, coal… (Scope 1)
  • Indirect emissions linked to the energy consumed by the company, which refers to everything that is indirectly rejected during the production of the electricity or heat used by equipment belonging or used by the entity. (Scope 2)
  • The rest of the emissions indirectly rejected in the atmosphere during the making of equipment bought and used by the entity: computers, vehicles, products or services. (Scope 3)

Making carbon assessment and decarbonization strategies accessible to all

For companies, conducting an inventory of their carbon emissions may seem complicated,” says Laurent Barbezieux. “But it’s a well-established process. An international framework and climate policy, called the GHG protocol, were defined to develop calculation standards and a method of reporting that are common in order to establish a true inventory of GHG emissions. We work from energy bills, waste monitoring forms, the number of computers in the IT infrastructure and their lifetime, the number of fleet vehicles, and accounting data. Every company can do it, although bigger organizations are often more mature when it comes to the means and resources they can allocate to conduct a carbon assessment.

Once the inventory is conducted, we can move on to the second phase of the carbon assessment. It consists of establishing a list of concrete actions to reduce the emitted GHG: “To successfully complete this step, you need to be ambitious and think globally over the long term, but also be pragmatic and realistic in the short term. Switching your vehicle fleet to electric, implementing a carpooling system, insulating offices and sites, replacing more energy-consuming equipment with high energy performance ones (boilers, air conditioning, etc.): each company must act according to its abilities to serve this common goal.

Decarbonized Companies and Industries: How Does It Work?

However, aiming for results that are too ambitious without implementing a governance and dedicating the appropriate human and financial resources is bound to fail. It’s important to remain realistic and put quantifiable, measurable, and concrete actions in your roadmap. “The implication and the posture of the management team are central in the process: they determine the priorities, provide the means to take action, but also make sure not to deprioritize the engagements because of external factors. A determined and committed management team ensures credibility with the rest of the company. Without transparency and communication, these actions are obviously useless.”

To support this dynamic, teams need to be concretely mobilized. It’s not about building awareness anymore, it’s now about training them. “How do we measure an indicator? How do we comply with new legislation? How do we internally fix the carbon cost? Employees need to have both the means and the resources to act so they can efficiently contribute to the action plan that’s been defined.”

Accelerating energy transition and decarbonization across every sector

In France, the national low-carbon strategy is moving in the right direction. Restrictive sectoral objectives are being defined which helps to accelerate the decarbonization in some sectors. “Things are moving in construction with the RE2020 and Décret tertiaire regulations in France. I can also mention the transport industry which is allocating important resources to electrify light vehicles and to develop biofuels. And also the electrification of freight and the hydrogen train (Alstom is developing projects in these domains).

The decarbonization of the industry is not left behind – especially for the bigger groups, where they have more resources. Saint-Gobain and Schneider Electric are moving fast and have defined their carbon trajectory. However, most economic and individual players still find it difficult to plan ahead for several decades to implement a structural change. We tend to underestimate the impact of our activities. Right now, what we need is a complete 180 of our behaviors. We need to look further. And if we all pitch in, this will work.”

Sectoral alliances, for instance, have already helped ambitious decarbonization strategy projects come to fruition. One example of a successful collaboration is the one between Yuka, Marmiton, and La Fourche. Their project? Creating an “ecoscore” to help consumers make better choices. Each product has a grade that takes into account its carbon and water footprint and its impact on biodiversity. Other players have added reducing their emissions and circularity to their core values, as was the case for ecommerce player Vestiaire Collective, whose model relies on purchasing and selling second-hand articles.

 “It’s all moving in the right direction and it’s supported by restrictive legislation that will finally force companies to be transparent regarding their emissions (see our article on CSR and the future CSRD). But what’s more pressing is to put in the effort that’s needed to reach the goal of carbon neutrality. Just like the United States in the 60s when they needed to land on the moon in less than ten years,” concludes Laurent. “Colossal means for a colossal objective!”

Carbon trajectory is a scenario established by the company to specify how it plans to concretely reduce its direct or indirect greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a long-term projection of the evolution of its carbon footprint.

Carbon neutrality is the balance between carbon that was emitted and carbon that was absorbed (sequestered) by carbon sinks such as soils, oceans and forests.

Carbon offsetting” (or “carbon sequestration”) is the mechanism by which greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are permanently captured and stored, for example in natural settings (forests, fields, meadows…).

  • Get your carbon diagnostic with the Diag Décarbon’Action plan, launched in 2021 by the ADEME in collaboration with Bpifrance. It helps small companies, PME and ETI with less than 500 employees, measure their GHG emissions and define a suitable transition plan, and they benefit from personalized assistance.
  • Calculate your carbon footprint with the Ademe.
  • Learn more here:

– How to reduce the footprint of an industrial site?

– How to reduce my company’s heating consumption?

– About the legislation : introductionCSRDwebinar