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Carbon Classified? Unpacking Heterogeneous Relations Inscribed Into Corporate Carbon Emissions

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How does a corporation know it emits carbon? Acquiring such knowledge starts with the classification of environmentally relevant consumption information. This paper visits the corporate location at which this underlying element for their knowledge is assembled to give rise to carbon emissions. Using an Actor-network theory (ANT) framework, the aim is to investigate the actors who bring together the elements needed to classify their carbon emission sources and unpack the heterogeneous relations drawn on. Based on an ethnographic study of corporate agents of ecological modernisation over a period of 13 months, this paper provides an exploration of three cases of enacting classification. Drawing on Actor-Network theory, we problematise the silencing of a range of possible modalities of consumption facts and point to the ontological ethics involved in such performances. In a context of global warming and corporations construing themselves as able and suitable to manage their emissions, and, additionally, given that the construction of carbon emissions has performative con-sequences, the underlying practices need to be declassified, i.e. opened for public scrutiny. Hence the paper concludes by arguing for a collective engagement with the ontological politics of carbon.
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... At each step of translation data is thus reprocessed, flowing from one form into another -with corresponding overflows. Let alone the point that agents who are to represent an entity always have to interpret how exactly this representation should be performed; even if they act totally in agreement with the discursive reduction of the entity, they are normally concerned not only with the process of representation but also with practical issues, like getting the work done, as Lippert (2012) shows for the case of corporate carbon accounting . This may easily require getting the presumably internalising documents into an order that also si lences (i.e. ...
... (In saying this, I do not, however, claim that the scientific and management practices could do without such a displacement.) For the environmental managers in the hall, exactly as in a state environmental office (Asdal 2011) or a corporate headquarters (Lippert 2012), an environmental entity is not taking the form it has in the imagined 'out there'. The environmental entity is instead heavily reformatted in the process of getting it from the field onto the manager's table (see also Latour 1999). ...
... Parallel thinking also comes up for the energy sector itself, with some similarity to SSP, which contrasts a linear problem-solving approach to evolutionary innovation, to strategic systems transformation (Grubb et al., 2014). But again, even the most simple carbon targets conceal a jungle of organizational conflicts (Lippert, 2012), and the gap grows between the nuances of planning theory (Alexander, 2010;Watson, 2008), and the urgency of the climate crisis (cf. Phdungsilp, 2011). ...
... Parallel thinking also comes up for the energy sector itself, with some similarity to SSP, which contrasts a linear problem-solving approach to evolutionary innovation, to strategic systems transformation (Grubb et al., 2014). But again, even the most simple carbon targets conceal a jungle of organizational conflicts (Lippert, 2012), and the gap grows between the nuances of planning theory (Alexander, 2010;Watson, 2008), and the urgency of the climate crisis (cf. Phdungsilp, 2011). ...
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... (Ascui and Lovell, 2011, p. [991]; see also ibidem, 2012). This phenomenon is exacerbated by the peculiarities of emissions data and measurement infrastructure; data are relatively vague, and the proliferation of calculation approaches and control they afford management means that, in some sense, the data and meaning they impart are significantly malleable (Haigh and Shapiro, 2011;Lippert, 2012;ibidem, 2014;ibidem, 2015). These issues remain at the forefront of carbon accounting in an academic sense and demand further research, particularly since ambition exists to develop a field of 'climate accounting' that would draw upon the wider umbrella of environmental accounting and of which carbon accounting as it exists would be only a part (see Stechemesser and Gunter, 2012). ...
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... Likening sustainability measurement, as an instance of ecological modernisation discourses and policy, carbon accounting is hoped to provide a factual ground for carbon-related decision-making. However, social scientific studies of accounting challenge this hope (Lohman, 2009) pointing to the socially constructed character of carbon conversion factors (McKenzie, 2009) or of the accountants' work practice (Lippert, 2012) which cannot implement abstract accounting schemes into reality.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/carbon_accounti ng) ...
... Following the old management adage "you cannot manage what you cannot measure", many corporations, under the guise of Corporate Social Responsibility, are measuring their carbon emissions, in order to plan and enact actions to reduce them. The resulting carbon accounting, which can be seen as a tool to generate knowledge, frame policy debates and/or governing people (Lovell and MacKenzie, 2011), is able to generate sustainability reports for corporations only at the expense of leaving out what cannot be translated as physical information (Lippert, 2012). Likewise, "carbon footprints" value individual human actions using abstract carbon as the commensurator, resulting in a measure of individual responsibility that ignores social, political and historical constraints (Dalsgaard, 2013). ...
Thesis
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... 2. Often, the data provided did not fit the form of data Nick required. Elsewhere I analyse Nick's classification work to make the data he received fit the data forms he needed to use (Lippert, 2012a), and focus on the types of certainties achieved in mundane calculations, which Nick performed to create the requested data (Lippert, 2013a). 3. ...
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