XCG Consultants Ltd. was founded in Kitchener in 1990 when 2 engineers, (Richard Rush and Stephen Nutt) left a large consulting firm to launch a practice of their own (hence XCG; ‘Ex Canviro Guys’). Since then, their team of environmental scientists and engineers have been practicing environmental leadership in five offices in Canada and the US. In 2009 XCG took this leadership a step further and decided to reduce the impact of their own operations as the 4th organization to join Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Regional Carbon Initiative.

XCG is not a timid organization. When signing with the Regional Carbon Initiative, they went all in. They committed to a 100% GHG reduction target over 10 years across all five of their facilities and included emissions not only from their buildings and fleet but also from employee commuting, air travel, business travel, waste, and water activity. To get things started, Richard played a leading role reigniting the company’s newsletter, holding lunch-and-learn presentations, and getting the firm’s 5 green teams on a cross-continent monthly conference call to monitor progress and share lessons for how to reduce their environmental impact. This plan, in combination with a designated GHG accountant, set up XCG for carbon-reducing success.

The data collection process went smoothly for the first year. They collected 12 months of historical 2008 data and 12 months of ongoing data for 2009. They decided to use a combined average of 2008 & 2009 as their baseline “year”. But despite implementing several GHG reduction projects, in 2010 their emissions went up by 21% over the baseline. Richard set out to investigate the reasons for this increase and what he found are lessons applicable to anyone looking to set a GHG baseline.

The first reason for the GHG emissions increase is the sheer growth of the firm since 2008. As XCG hired more professional staff and conducted more business, commuting increased and employees were driving and flying to more and further client locations. Also, three of the offices moved to larger facilities so more electricity and heating fuel were consumed. Secondly, by 2010 XCG was becoming increasingly comfortable and knowledgeable in tracking emissions. They were tracking emissions in a more detailed way, which led to the inclusion of new information (often from nuanced commuting and business travel tracking methods) that was unrecorded and unknowable from past years. It soon became apparent that according to their standards and ambitions, their original baseline data set was incomplete.

When setting their emissions baseline, XCG initially decided to report on their fiscal year (January 31 to February 1) instead of the calendar year recommended by Sustainable Waterloo Region and set up in the Carbon Accounting Tool. This seemed logical for the company, but became problematic when a key member of the GHG auditing team moved on in her career and left a gap in the green team in 2010. Without this support, and with Sustainable Waterloo Region’s tight annual reporting timelines, there was insufficient time and knowledge for a thorough internal data review at year end.

In summary, by the end of 2010, XCG was reporting more data for a growing organization with less internal resources for review in time to meet the Sustainable Waterloo Region year-end reporting timelines. In combination with challenges in the Carbon Accounting Tool, errors began to show. In Sustainable Waterloo Region’s 2010 Report, XCG’s GHG footprint was understated by 30%, because of inadequate time to review data at year end.

The time was ripe for change. XCG made the decision to change their baseline year and the annual reporting period. They needed an accurate data-set, and from what they learned from the previous year, the 2008 data had simply too many gaps. The baseline was changed to a single and calendar year (2009). This allows for quicker and easier analysis within Sustainable Waterloo Region tools and provides an additional month of data review before submitting to Sustainable Waterloo Region at each year end. With the revised baseline, XCG’s GHG emissions still increased 11.9 % from the previous calendar year, but now the data is more manageable and better understood. The work of reducing emissions can continue with more confidence.

There are lessons for all Pledging Partners in this story, as well as for Sustainable Waterloo Region. Sustainable Waterloo Region is working more closely with Pledging Partners as they make a GHG reduction commitment. They are also formulating a standard protocol for RCI member baseline changes in the future.

For members and those interested in making a GHG reduction commitment, XCG’s experience underlines the importance of baseline data quality and its connection with organizational knowledge in three ways. First, base year data works best when it measures one typical year for an organization. Otherwise, future emissions will not represent actual impacts. Secondly, there is no substitute for experience. Collecting data for a year or so before committing to a reduction target allows the organization to become familiar with the process of data collection as well as learning about the more nuanced details of their GHG inventory.  Finally, the corporate commitment to provide adequate resources for timely data collection, input and review is essential to success.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Regional Carbon Initiative or have questions about your baseline data, please feel free to contact me at matthew.day@sustainablewr.ca