Carbon footprint: “Non-compliant companies have not integrated climate issues into their strategy”


During a recent discussion with a large company in France (hundreds of sites, thousands of employees, a turnover of one billion euros in 2021), I was very surprised to learn that it had never done a carbon footprint. Surprised for two reasons: firstly, it is a legal obligation, and secondly because the carbon footprint is the starting point of any climate strategy. Was it an exception by a “bad student”?

Let’s take a closer look at what a carbon footprint is and the legal requirements on this topic.

The carbon balance was developed more than fifteen years ago and makes it possible to quantify greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including CO2, or carbon, is one of the main ones, like a financial balance sheet. References exist – for example the Base Carbone ® of the Ecological Transition Agency (Ademe) − and provide a “emission factor”translated to CO2 equivalent (CO2eq) for thousands of products and services, such as 198 grams per kilometer traveled in a gasoline car, or 156 kg for the manufacture of a laptop computer. With this type of reference, we can quantify in CO2eq the set of products and services of a company.

Since the Grenelle 2 law of 2010

The carbon footprint is divided into three perimeters.

In the first, the company’s direct emissions in its industrial or operational processes are accounted for – for industry, these are, for example, greenhouse gases (GHG) at the chimney outlet.

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The second shows direct emissions from heat and electricity suppliers – for heating offices, for example.

In the third scope, we account for everything else – purchases, transport upstream and downstream, home-work journeys of employees, etc.

The obligation of the carbon footprint has existed since the Grenelle 2 law of 2010, and concerned the first two perimeters of all companies with more than 500 employees, with a recommendation, without obligation, to include the third. Since the decree of 1er July 2022, accounting for scope 3 is mandatory.

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Companies with more than 500 employees must carry out their carbon assessment at least every four years, the assessment must now take into account the three perimeters, and must be published on the Ademe page dedicated to it. There are no exceptions. Listed companies or not, companies that have other reporting obligations (such as the declaration of extra-financial performance) or not.

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