What the “E” – embodied, equivalent, carbon jargon decoded

June 15, 2022

Embodied carbon is a large yet often hidden source of emissions. But what’s the meaning of C02e, equivalency, and emissions—and why do they matter? We’re here to demystify embodied carbon jargon to help you get started with reducing embodied carbon emissions at your organization.

Carbon jargon ‘E’-ssentials

Sustainability jargon is complicated. 

Rheaply defines embodied carbon avoided as the approximated amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are avoided by reusing an item.

  • Scope 3: all emissions indirectly generated to create a material. These include purchased goods and services, business travel, waste disposal, and transportation. Scope 3 emissions can account for the majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for many organizations (Source: EPA).
  • Estimated: like many sustainability metrics, embodied carbon emissions are approximated to account for variability. Measuring emissions requires robust data collection, but many suppliers do not disclose the carbon footprints of their products and services that are needed for accurate calculations. Yet even rough estimates are enough to help organizations steer their carbon reduction strategy in the right direction. 
  • Embodied carbon: Also referred to as embedded emissions, embodied carbon represents all the GHG emissions—not just CO2—emitted from every step to produce, transport, install, and store a material or item.  Rheaply’s estimated embodied carbon report has some limits on the types of C02e that are measured.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs): gasses that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. It’s important to track the type of emissions because different sources, such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons, generate different global warming potential values (Source: EPA). 
  • Global Warming Potential (GWP): provides a shared unit of measurement to compare the climate impacts of different GHGs. Quantifies the amount of energy that the emissions of 1 ton of a GHG will absorb over a period of time, relative to CO2. The time period for GWPs is typically 100 years (Source: EPA).
  • Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e): the number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential as one metric ton of other GHGs (Source: EPA).
  • Avoided: the GHG emissions prevented by diverting a used item from being landfilled or recycled.
  • Reduced: slightly, yet crucially, different from avoided GHG emissions. Reduced emissions specify that a net new item is not purchased to replace a reused item. 

By understanding the fundamentals of estimated embodied carbon, companies can take informed action. Focus your organization’s efforts to reduce impact through reuse with Rheaply’s new estimated embodied carbon avoided report. This feature enables better decision making for future procurement and encourages reuse by tracking the environmental impact of sharing resources.

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