Businesses are constantly reminded of the risks and challenges of climate change, most recently with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report (AR5). Extreme weather events like flooding, wildfires, and droughts are challenging our infrastructure and disrupting our supply chains.

But with risk comes opportunity. One such opportunity is providing goods and services that avoid greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and decarbonize the supply chain. Today, the GHG Protocol is releasing a survey to scope out the need for a new standard to help companies quantify and report the “avoided emissions” of goods and services that contribute to a low-carbon economy—such as low-temperature detergents, fuel-saving tires, or teleconferencing equipment and services.

What are Avoided Emissions?

Avoided emissions are emission reductions that occur outside of a product’s life cycle or value chain, but as a result of the use of that product . Examples of products (goods and services) that avoid emissions include low-temperature detergents, fuel-saving tires, energy-efficient ball-bearings, and teleconferencing services. Other terms used to describe avoided emissions include climate positive, net-positive accounting, and scope 4.

Measuring and Managing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

For more than a decade, businesses have realized the environmental and economic benefits of measuring their greenhouse gas emissions using GHG Protocol standards and tools, setting emission reduction goals, and achieving those reductions. But reducing carbon footprints is only one part of the solution. Companies can play a key role in developing and promoting products and services that avoid emissions – either by enabling emission reductions or by providing a low-emission version of existing products.

Some companies already quantify, report, and set goals around the climate benefits of their products and services. For example, of the more than 1,100 companies that report to the CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project), two-thirds say the use of their products directly enable GHG emissions to be avoided by a third party. However, there is no international standard or consistent terminology to describe avoided emissions. Individual companies and industry initiatives are left to develop their own approach—which leads to inconsistency. For example, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have published guidelines for accounting and reporting GHG emissions avoided along the chemical value chain; the Information & Communications Technologies sector has published similar guidance.

What Benefits Would an International Standard Provide?

To reduce GHG emissions through innovative goods and services, there has to be a demand for those products. To create the necessary market pull, downstream customers need to understand the benefit of products that enable emission reductions, and have confidence that avoided emissions claims are credible. This requires consistent and credible measurement, as well as transparent reporting – all things an international standard can provide. But is the time right? Is there a need and demand for a standard on quantifying and reporting avoided emissions?

Establishing the Need

We need you to help us answer these questions. We have developed a survey to assess the need for a standard to measure avoided emissions. The survey is open to all interested parties and will be available from Nov. 5 – Dec. 11, 2013. Once the survey is closed, we will publish the results on the GHG Protocol web site. If the results of the survey and additional insight gained through workshops and speaking engagements support the need for a standard, we will send out a call for technical working group participants to start the development process. To stay aware of any developments, please join our stakeholder group.