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A Utility Bill-Based Greenhouse Gas Tracking Primer

With the increase in mandated greenhouse gas (GHG) tracking by some organizations and governmental institutions, it’s important to understand what needs to be tracked, and how to track it.


For many institutions, utility bill-based tracking is all that is needed to meet basic reporting requirements. This blog explains how utility bill-based tracking fits into the larger picture of detailed GHG tracking and reporting processes.

Most GHG tracking mandates specify six gases which must be tracked:

  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • methane (CH4)
  • nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) 

Because the global warming potential of each of these gases is different, it is customary to use metric tons of CO2 as a universal unit of measure whenever these gases are measured. For more information on the nature of each of the six GHGs, see our HELP topic.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines three types or “scopes” of GHG measurement that provide a comprehensive picture of the carbon footprint of an organization. The three scopes are:

Scope 1 Emissions

Includes all “direct” sources of GHG emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the corporation or institution, including (but not limited to): production of electricity, heat, or steam in owned or controlled boilers, furnaces, etc; transportation (using corporate or fleet vehicles) of materials, products, waste, and community members; and fugitive emissions (from unintentional leaks).

Scope 2 Emissions

Accounts for “indirect” sources GHG emissions from the generation of purchased utilities consumed by the corporation or institution. A purchased utility is defined as one that is bought or otherwise brought into the organizational boundary of the company. Scope 2 emissions physically occur at the facility where the utility is generated and thus are separated from direct emissions reported by the utility company in order to avoid double counting.

Scope 3 Emissions

The GHG Protocol Initiative considers this an optional reporting category that allows for the treatment of all other “indirect emissions.” Scope 3 emissions are a consequence of the activities of the company or institution, but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the company. Some examples of these supply chain types of activities are extraction and production of purchased materials; transportation of purchased fuels; and use of sold products and services.

Utility Bill-Based Tracking

As you can see from the scope definitions, many types of organizations, including nearly all non-industrial types, have few direct emissions. The bulk of their carbon footprint is produced indirectly by energy vendors. These vendors track the energy consumed and report it via monthly utility bills. The consumption indicated on these bills represent Scope 2 indirect emissions.

Much research has been done to characterize the quantity of CO2 or CO2-equivalent gases produced by consumption of each energy commodity by each vendor. This is done by testing the fuel or fuel mix associated with each vendor to determine the amount of CO2 equivalent that is produced from consuming a known quantity of the relevant commodity.

The research eventually yields a number, called an “emissions factor” for each commodity and vendor. Consumption is multiplied by the emissions factor to yield the quantity of CO2-equivalent emissions. Tables of these emissions factors are maintained as public information (eGRID is one example) and are updated routinely, since the energy vendor’s production processes and raw materials are constantly changing. Calculating emissions then becomes an exercise in multiplication, matching utility bill consumption data with the vendor and commodity-specific emissions factor for the time period specified on the utility bill.

EnergyCAP energy management software automatically tracks GHGs using historical utility bill information in the database. This information can be shared through a series of available GHG reports. If you use EnergyCAP for utility bill tracking, a simple setup procedure will enable you to track GHGs as well.

Read about how the City of Minneapolis is using EnergyCAP to track progress towards sustainability goals.