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Published in: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 7/2023

17-03-2023 | CARBON FOOTPRINTING

Planning sustainable carbon neutrality pathways: accounting challenges experienced by organizations and solutions from industrial ecology

Authors: A. de Bortoli, Anders Bjørn, François Saunier, Manuele Margni

Published in: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment | Issue 7/2023

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Abstract

Purpose

Planning a transition towards sustainable carbon neutrality at the organization level raises several accounting challenges. This paper aims to shed light on key challenges, highlight answers from current accounting standards and guidance, point out potential inconsistencies or limits, and outline potential solutions from the industrial ecology community through systemic environmental assessment tools, such as life cycle assessment (LCA) and environmentally-extended input–output (EEIO) analysis.

Method

The study is based on the accounting difficulties related to GHG emissions as well as other sustainability concerns (environmental, social, and financial), reported to the authors by multiple organizations in developing carbon neutrality plans. The study then draws on a literature review of carbon neutrality-related standards and guidelines, as well as industrial ecology studies, to identify answers to these reported challenges.

Results and discussion

We propose a “Measure-Reduce-Neutralize-Control” sequence allowing organizations to plan their sustainable net-zero strategy, and discuss 24 accounting challenges occurring within this sequence. We then outline ways forward for organizations planning their carbon neutrality trajectory—pointing to existing resources—and for guidelines providers and the industrial ecology communities to address current limitations in the development of future accounting methods and guidelines. Overarching solutions to many accounting issues are to develop comprehensive, open-source, and high-quality life cycle inventory databases, to enable improved dynamic assessments and prospective LCA through integrated assessment models, to refine methods for assessing mineral scarcity and environmental impacts—the supply in some metals being expected to be a bottleneck to the energy transition—and to identify the appropriate climate metrics for planning sustainable carbon neutrality pathways at the organizational level.

Conclusion

Organizations are currently facing difficulties in robustly accounting for emissions in the context of carbon neutrality goals, and these difficulties appear to be partially caused by discrepancies between standards, tools, and databases. The industrial ecology community has a key role to play in harmonizing these resources and making them more useful for planning sustainable carbon neutrality pathways.

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Footnotes
1
In this study, the terms carbon neutrality and net zero are used interchangeably for a state where an organization’s greenhouse gas emissions are either zero or balanced out by removals of CO2 from the atmosphere.
 
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Metadata
Title
Planning sustainable carbon neutrality pathways: accounting challenges experienced by organizations and solutions from industrial ecology
Authors
A. de Bortoli
Anders Bjørn
François Saunier
Manuele Margni
Publication date
17-03-2023
Publisher
Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Published in
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment / Issue 7/2023
Print ISSN: 0948-3349
Electronic ISSN: 1614-7502
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-023-02147-z

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