Autodesk to Give Away Carbon Management Tool

ADSK_logo_L_blk_webA bevy of companies now offer flashy software packages for tracking an organization’s carbon footprint. But engineering software developer Autodesk (s ADSK) believes existing solutions don’t do enough to tie international climate targets (i.e., the IPCC’s 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2050) to a company’s own emissions reduction goals. In fact, there hasn’t been a way to calculate how much a company should strive to shrink its carbon footprint based on the global climate goals until today, says Autodesk’s Emma Stewart, with the unveiling of Autodesk’s Corporate Finance Approach to Climate Stabilizing Targets, or C-FACT. The “methodology,” as Autodesk calls it, is free and described in a white paper, also published today.

“We talked to companies, even sharp, leading companies, and most said they set their emissions goals to be just slightly ahead of their competitors or at what just looked good,” said Stewart, the senior program lead for Autodesk’s sustainability initiative. “There wasn’t a rhyme or reason to it.” With C-Fact, which Autodesk used to set its own emission reduction targets, the San Rafael, Calif.-based firm is advocating for companies to calculate their climate goals based on revenue.

C-FACT’s authors say this system is fair for companies of all carbon intensities (measured by CO2 per dollar of GDP contribution), and helps businesses figure out how much and how fast they need to reduce their carbon intensities to keep in line with international targets. The methodology then guides users in how to break long-term GHG goals into near-term annual targets and offers advanced accounting principles, like a “5-year sliding window,” to smooth the reduction trajectory and make it more conducive to business planning. Autodesk says its approach uses criteria that are “universally acceptable by any accounting system,” replicable, verifiable, flexible and fair.

There’s growing interest among corporations and governments to track their carbon footprints. Wal-Mart (s WMT), for example, has put in place strict policies for measuring the environmental impact of the products it sells, and many big U.S. companies are looking seriously at carbon accounting with the expectation that it will eventually become mandatory through national legislation or through shareholder demand. Across the pond, the Carbon Reduction Commitment will force about 5,000 large enterprises in the UK to track their emissions.

This demand for carbon accounting has driven startups like Hara and big companies like SAP (s SAP) to develop software for the nascent market. Since Autodesk’s methodology is free, it could be adopted or serve as the foundation for these companies to add automated features for tying a user’s in-house emissions goals to what the IPCC says is globally needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.

Autodesk, it should be said, didn’t have a team spend the better part of a year developing C-FACT just as a philanthropic project. Stewart said the company hopes the effort will make it a more credible designer of sustainability design solutions. And Autodesk should also be able to feed some of the lessons learned from the project into products like Ecotect Analysis, the company’s building energy, water and carbon analysis tool, Stewart said.