VIDEO: The energy impact of the solar eclipse

April 11, 2024

The Week in Sustainability – April 8–12, 2024

Solar eclipse

We've got three big stories for you on this week's episode of The Week in Sustainability: financed emissions, the importance of third-party assurance for decarbonization efforts, and the emissions implications of the recent solar eclipse, plus an extra update on new SBTi developments.

Financed emissions: The hidden piece of the sustainability puzzle

Topo Finance recently published its second edition of The Carbon Bankroll, highlighting the often hidden emissions impact of company investments. The report highlights that investments—aka financed emissions, which fall under category 15 of scope 3 in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol—could be a large source of company emissions, even larger than purchased goods and services. The report also includes excellent examples of how companies like Patagonia and Seventh Generation strategize their banking structures and financial footprints.

While the news might seem most relevant to financial institutions, all businesses should be aware of their financed emissions, especially as investors and companies increasingly recognize the need to understand their entire value chain's environmental footprint.

Assurance: Why third-party verification matters

New research from MIT Sloan highlights the importance of third-party assurance for companies undertaking decarbonization efforts. The study reveals that companies that don't pursue external verification of their emissions data are less likely to achieve the emissions reductions they claim.

Why does assurance matter? The report highlights that companies that verify their emissions demonstrate a significant and economically meaningful decline in their absolute emissions and carbon intensity over time. That matters more with each passing day because regulatory requirements like the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and growing pressure from investors and stakeholders for accurate and verifiable emissions mean more companies need third-party verification.

The solar eclipse: A challenge for the grid

The recent solar eclipse in North America brought with it waves of excitement—millions traveled to the path of totality. While the associated emissions from traveling to view the eclipse are worth considering, the eclipse presented another, perhaps less obvious, challenge: reduced grid capacity.

The 2017 eclipse significantly disrupted the grid as solar generation dropped by 25%, and for the 2024 eclipse, NREL estimated a 71% peak power reduction in the East, 45% in the West, and 93% in the Texas grid, which pushed grid operators to increase reliance on natural gas and coal. While that leads to a spike in energy-related emissions, there's some good news. The substantial growth of solar energy capacity, coupled with a more diversified grid system, means we are better equipped to handle fluctuations in solar power generation. However, it highlights the need for renewable, on-demand generation technologies like pumped hydro and battery storage, which will ensure a more reliable grid without having to rely on fossil fuels.

Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and Environmental Attribute Certificates: A new development

According to ESG Today, "The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) […] announced plans to extend the use of environmental attribute certificates, such as emissions reduction credits, to tackle scope 3 value chain emissions, in its standard for corporate net zero target setting."

While the official rules and details haven't yet been released—those are expected in July 2024—the expanded use of Environmental Attribute Certificates (EACs) represents a significant shift for SBTi from its previous position on EACs. This is exciting news for businesses on the path to net-zero emissions, offering more flexibility in tackling those harder-to-reduce indirect emissions.

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1. Topo Finance, "The Carbon Bankroll 2.0"

2. GreenBiz, "How Patagonia and Seventh Generation include banks in their climate action plans"

3. MIT Sloan Office of Communications, "Without the use of third-party auditors in carbon reporting, companies report lower, but unreliable, emissions"

4. Great American Eclipse, "1 to 4 million people are predicted travel to the Total Solar Eclipse, creating the biggest travel event of the year on April 8, 2024"

5. NREL, "NREL Shows Live Grid Impacts From Total Solar Eclipse"

6. ESG Today, "SBTi to Allow Increased Role for Carbon Credits in Net Zero Targets"

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Hannah Asofsky
Hannah Asofsky is a sustainability data analyst at Sustain.Life.
Alyssa Rade
Alyssa Rade is the chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life. She has over ten years of corporate sustainability experience and guides Sustain.Life’s platform features.
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