Greenhouse Gas Accountants to the Rescue!

Lost in all the talk about whether or when nations and industries will have emissions targets, is the question of who, exactly, is going to measure those targets.

Without a pool of trained and certified professional GHG managers, climate change initiatives — from the United Nations Framework down to the sustainability plan for the shop around the corner — could stall.

Worse, a lack of accountability could turn the “greenhouse gas expert” into the snake oil salesman of the 21st century, peddling a dubious product whose ingredients change from one bottle to the next.

Enter the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. The Institute provides professional training in greenhouse gas accounting and verification, primarily online, and its ultimate goal is to create a professional society for greenhouse gas accountants and verifiers, similar to the way other fields — architecture, law, medicine, accounting — have national or international certification bodies.

The Institute was launched in 2007 as a non-profit by Michael Gillenwater and Tom Baumann, two recognized experts in emissions measurement, who realized that there was an emerging need for standardization in their field.

“The Largest Global Collective Action We’ll Ever See”

Tim Stumhofer, a Program Associate for the GHG Institute, called greenhouse gas management “an  incredibly overwhelming task — the largest global collective action we’ll every see.” And as with any large undertaking, greenhouse gas management is vulnerable to corruption and incompetence.

“There’s also a massive opportunity for fraud, for things to slip between the cracks,” said Stumhofer. “When incentives to cheat appear, people are offered a moral quandary; they may take the wrong road out of greed, or just negligence. The result is people could lose faith in these programs – and if people lose their faith in the programs they may disappear. Professionalization adds a layer of accountability, but also provides some step-based program to build human capital.”

GHG Accounting in a Nutshell

Generally, measuring greenhouse gas emissions is not about standing atop of smokestack with a gas meter. Most GHG accounting is about measuring consumption, then — and this can be the tricky part — figuring out who is actually responsible for the emissions produced by that consumption. Said Stumhofer, “There are certainly elements of science, engineering, accounting, but really it’s a matter of coordinating sources of information.”

Started in 2007, the Institute has already had about 550 students so far, hailing from government, NGOs, private sustainability consulting and corporations. But as important as the classes is the Institute’s vision as a hub for a community of people scattered across the planet, uniting them and organizing them to strengthen their profession.

Said Stumhofer: “let me put it this way: it’s about ushering in a professional class.”

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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