The Technological Challenges of Carbon Accounting

Aug. 1, 2023, noon • By Adam Forster

In the words of Richard Feynman, "Some new ideas are here needed"

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As we steer the world towards a future where net-zero emissions are the norm, carbon accounting stands at the forefront of this monumental shift. But it's not without its hurdles. From complex calculations to data standardisation issues, carbon accounting faces a host of technological challenges that need tackling for it to become a more precise and efficient tool in our fight against climate change.

Tackling the Complexity of Carbon Accounting Calculations

Think of carbon accounting as a multifaceted jigsaw puzzle. It involves piecing together an array of factors like the type of emissions, their geographical origin, and the timeframe of emissions. The interplay of these complex components can turn the development of accurate and reliable carbon accounting software into quite the head-scratcher. Sophistaicated algorithms her are needed to better interpret data and connect it with the appropriate activity models and thus with its associated carbon footprint.

Bridging the Gap in Data Formats

One of the stumbling blocks in carbon accounting is the lack of a unified data format. This inconsistency means that we are often comparing apples to oranges when sharing and comparing data across organisations. Imagine trying to put together a global climate change puzzle with pieces from different puzzles – that's what this challenge feels like! There are now a number of standards for carbon accounting methodologies but none that standardise data formats. Such framework would make cooperation, standardisation, and validation much easier. 

Tracing the Footprints of Indirect Emissions

Indirect emissions are elusive. They result from an organisation's activities, but they're not directly controlled by them. Picture the emissions from transporting goods or electricity used by customers. Keeping track of these phantoms can be tricky, adding another layer of complexity to an organisation's carbon footprint calculations. Again, a standardised framework for transmitting data up and down supply chains regarding emissions would be a great step in carbon accounting. Furthermore, a consistent approach to associating those emissions with the respective participants in the supply chain would ease calculations and, crucially, help with comparability between different products. 

Marrying Carbon Accounting with Other Business Systems

For carbon accounting data to be truly effective, it needs to integrate with other business systems. These include enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and supply chain management (SCM) systems. However, this is easier said than done. Often, these systems are unwieldy and difficult to navigate, making the communication and integration between them a challenging task.

Automating the Match: Activities and Emissions Factors

Think about the multitude of activities that can generate emissions, each with its own unique emissions factor. Now, try pairing them in an automated fashion. This is the primary problem of carbon accounting. The world is a sea of data but without consistent methods of interpretation, that sea is merely white noise. Here machine learning could play a promising role in this automated pairing process. 


Navigating the technological labyrinth of carbon accounting is no easy feat. However, these challenges are not insurmountable obstacles, but puzzles waiting to be solved. By joining forces, organisations can craft the tools and systems required to sharpen the accuracy and efficiency of carbon accounting. This will propel us forward in our stride towards a net-zero future, where the story of every carbon atom is accounted for.

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