Why carbon auditors make bosses nervous

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2011, 12:00am


Auditors measuring the carbon footprint of last year's climate-change summit in Hong Kong ran into three big obstacles: two of the three official hotels and the venue where it was held refused to reveal their utility bills, essential to the calculations.

The report by Reset Carbon says the Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Cosmopolitan Hotel and The Renaissance Harbour View told it the costs of gas, electricity and water were a business secret. Only the Empire Hotel Wan Chai came clean.

'The misconception is that if you are giving out key data that will disclose a chunk of your costs,' Monika Fung, senior consultant at Reset Carbon, said. 'For a lot of these hotels, it's the first time they were asked to provide this data and they were freaked out by this.'

Energy use at the C40 dialogue conference venue and the delegates' hotels were the biggest sources of carbon emissions after flights.

Stab-in-the-dark estimates based on other data put carbon dioxide emissions from the exhibition centre at 46.57 tonnes, while the 1,399 room-nights the delegates racked up in hotels added up to 19.17 tonnes.

A spokesman for the centre said: 'The HKCEC ... is a private company and has no obligation and practice to release expenditure figures.' Both the Cosmopolitan and Renaissance Harbour View hotels said they provided no data at all, let alone the specific energy usage per room as requested, describing the information as confidential and sensitive.

Reset Carbon audited the Convention Centre by adjusting an hourly figure based on the maximum usage of lights, air conditioning and ventilation. For accommodation, Reset Carbon took data from the few hotels for which it already had utilities information from previous events and assumed their output would be the same as the C40 hotels.

But the catch is that to make informed estimates without asking venues for every last bill, there has to be a body of accurate data to base those estimates on - which is currently scant. Without hotels feeding data into that database in the first place, carbon consultants will continue making stabs in the dark.

Other organisers have experienced the same problems. Last year Carbon Care Asia put on Hong Kong's first carbon neutral concert for Taiwanese indie sensation Crowd Lu, and in 2008 threw its first carbon neutral wedding. Executive director Trini Leung Wing-yue said hotels were frequently reluctant to reveal any bills that might hint at their occupancy or turnover. 'They are very, very protective against their peers.'

According to Kalmond Ma Kai-chi, who heads regional operations for NGO The Climate Group, energy monitoring systems at many venues do not allow them to calculate usage in a specific a floor or room.

'If they really want to monitor each floor's electricity consumption they need to set up individual meters, and that involves costs and determination,' he said. Ma said that less than 10 per cent of events in Hong Kong declare they are carbon neutral.

No standard exists for measuring event emissions. Many organisers, such as Reset Carbon, customise the popular GHG protocol - intended to measure business operations - to audit events. Next year should see the launch of the ISO20121, an international standard for event carbon auditing based on the UK's BS8901. The standard is expected to be used to measure the 2012 Olympics.

Those holding carbon-monitored events now do so because it burnishes their image as environmentally conscious image. Andrew Lawson, project manager at Civic Exchange, which organised the C40 summit, said: 'We wanted to do something and we wanted to be seen to be doing something.'