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Tracking Avoided Carbon in Energy Sensei

When was the last time you looked at your organization’s carbon footprint? For a plant engineer, maintenance leader, or facility manager, corporate carbon reporting may feel too abstract to utilize in operational decisions. In this post, we’ll highlight strategies to help plant leaders measure the emission reduction impact of their work, include carbon in operational decisions, and thereby highlight the potential impact on corporate decarbonization goals. 


Compliance-Driven vs Action-Driven Reporting 

Carbon footprint reporting has largely sprung up in response to pressure from supply chains, regulators, and financiers. The goal of this reporting is to show compliance and is typically submitted annually.  

In contrast, consider the countless metrics that plant leaders use to continually optimize safety, production volume, and quality. These metrics are examples of action-driven reporting: leaders make operational decisions based on these metrics and likely review key metrics daily or weekly. 

Annual compliance-driven corporate reporting and weekly action-driven plant reporting have different purposes, audiences, and metrics. So how can plant leaders convert compliance-focused emissions reporting into action-focused metrics? The answer is avoided carbon tracking. 


Avoided Carbon Tracking

Compliance-driven emissions reporting measures absolute carbon footprint and/or emissions intensity (i.e., carbon per amount of value produced). Over decades, this reporting will measure your organization’s progress towards net-zero emissions. But in the short term, plant schedules, product mixes, and production volumes are constantly dynamic. If a plant implements a major emissions reduction project while increasing their production volume and operational hours, the absolute emissions might actually rise and the value of the decarbonization project could be lost – even though emissions would be even higher if that project was not implemented.   

Avoided carbon tracking is the process of calculating energy savings for a given project or set of projects using typical measurement and verification (M&V) methodologies, then converting those savings to avoided carbon using appropriate emissions factors. It is a measurement of the emissions you avoid by completing a decarbonization project, compared to the counterfactual scenario of not completing that project. Just like measuring energy efficiency, measuring avoided carbon is the art and science of measuring an absence of something. 

Avoided carbon is a real and tangible benefit to an organization. Compared to absolute or intensity tracking, an avoided carbon metric is a more practical and actionable KPI for an energy/decarbonization program because it allows plants to isolate and measure the decarbonization impact of their actions.  



  • Plant leaders can measure results from decarbonization initiatives even as plant conditions change. By measuring these initiatives, leaders can assign actionable and achievable avoided carbon targets.  
  • Plant staff can be recognized and rewarded for implementing projects that reduce emissions. 
  • Plant staff can track persistence of decarbonization projects and act if a project is performing worse than expected.  
  • Avoided carbon can be measured in isolation using common M&V practices, so it can be audited frequently. In contrast, collecting all the data to measure an entire plant’s carbon footprint is a larger endeavor that tends to only happen on an annual basis. 



  • Avoided carbon does not directly tie to your organization’s long-term net-zero decarbonization goal. Net zero is by definition an absolute goal, so simply measuring the avoided impact of efficiency projects will not lead to net zero. Therefore, avoided carbon is best paired with longer-term, compliance-based, absolute carbon footprint reporting. 
  • The energy projects that generate this avoided carbon must be continually monitored for persistence to validate the ongoing reduction. 


How to measure avoided carbon

Avoided carbon is calculated by first measuring energy savings using standard M&V practices, then converting those savings into carbon using relevant emission factors. Typical methodologies include: 

  • If a plant is implementing decarbonization projects across many systems, try measuring energy savings using a top-down linear regression model. This method compares your actual energy use against a counterfactual expected energy use that represents consumption if you had taken no actions to save energy. One important benefit of this method is that you can continue to use this model to track the persistence of the energy performance and identify if savings (and therefore avoided carbon) slip. 
  • For larger individual projects, try directly measuring pre- and post-conditions. Sometimes this can provide a more accurate, isolated result. When using this method, be sure to document a persistence strategy and regularly audit for savings persistence. Otherwise, you’ll have no validation that the avoided carbon is still being avoided.  

Energy management software such as Energy Sensei can help plant leaders and corporate energy managers track avoided carbon and avoided cost across business units and organizations.  

Energy Sensei provides visibility and rollup reporting on the decarbonization impact of plant staff across your organization. Teams can track their decarbonization progress and be rewarded for achieving a target. For example, a behavioral change to run a compressed air system 5% more efficiently has the same decarbonization impact as hundreds of square feet of solar panels. Visible reporting of these in-plant efficiency projects lets plant staff understand the full positive impact of their actions and feel like part of the decarbonization solution.  

Reach out to our energy experts to learn how you can implement Energy Sensei today! 

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