Carbon emissions are a major driver of climate change. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) has developed a framework for companies to measure and manage their emissions. This framework includes three categories, or “scopes, ”of emissions: scope 1, 2, and scope 3.
What is an emission scope?
At its most basic, emission scoping is a method of carbon accounting by grouping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with an organisation into three distinct categories or “scopes”.
The concept was first introduced in 2001 in the opening edition of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol corporate accounting standard and has been iterated on in the years since. The purpose of the standard is to help companies track and present a fair and realistic account of their emissions using a standardised approach.
What are scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions?
There are three “official” types of emission scope; however, a fourth is currently being discussed. Each scope covers a different area of a business’s operation (or ‘value chain’), from acquiring raw materials, to the design & production, all the way to product or process end of life.
Below is an official diagram of scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions from the GHG Protocol who created the classifications:
Scope 1 emissions
Scope 1 emissions are also referred to as ‘direct emissions’. These cover emissions from sources that an organisation owns or controls directly – for example, from burning fuel in our fleet of vehicles (if they’re not electrically powered).
Scope 2 emissions
Scope 2 emissions are known as ‘indirect emissions’. These are emissions that a company causes indirectly and come from where the energy it purchases and uses is produced. For example, the emissions created when generating the electricity that we use in our buildings would fall into this category.
Scope 3 emissions
Scope 3 emissions are also known as ‘indirect emissions’ but are much broader. They are emissions that are not produced by the company itself but are caused by its activities. These emissions can occur throughout the company’s value chain, from the extraction of raw materials to the disposal of products by customers.
Some common examples of scope 3 emissions include:
- Transportation of goods
- Use of sold products
- Disposal of waste
Scope 3 emissions can account for a significant portion of a company’s total emissions. In fact, a 2021 value chain assessment by Kraft Foods found that the company’s scope 3 emissions accounted for 95% of its total emissions.
What are scope 4 emissions?
Scope 4 emissions are a new category of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are not currently included in the GHG Protocol standard reporting protocols. They’re defined as emissions that are avoided as a result of the use of a product or service.
Some examples of Scope 4 emissions include:
- The emissions saved by using cold water washing tablets instead of hot water
- The emissions saved by using fuel-efficient tires instead of less efficient tires
- The emissions saved by telecommuting instead of commuting to work by car
Scope 4 emissions are still being considered by the GHG Protocol, and they may be included in future versions of the standard reporting protocols. However, for now, they are not widely reported on.
Why are scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions important to know?
Categorising emissions into three scopes makes it easier for businesses to understand and reduce their climate impact.
Armed with the knowledge of where their emissions sit by scope, businesses can measure, set specific goals, and create roadmaps for how they can reduce their emissions. This will help them to reach net zero emissions and contribute to the fight against climate change.
How can companies reduce their scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions?
Depending on the business and where its emissions sit, the methods of reducing emissions varies. For example, a company with a significant logistic fleet can benefit from switching to an EV fleet of delivery vehicles, or optimising transport routes to reduce distance travelled.
Companies with many offices can change how they heat the buildings or use renewable energy to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
But, for many organisations, scope 3 emissions account for the highest proportion of total emissions. Unfortunately, these are also usually the hardest to reduce due to their indirect nature. Some of the actions a company can take to reduce these is to work with existing suppliers and their customers on solutions to reduce their emissions.
The good news is that there are plenty of carbon accounting companies out there providing services to help track down and report on these emissions, such as Climate Partner, Normative, Minimum, Carbon Lens, and many more (see our list of the top 5 carbon accounting providers).
Once an organisation has a clear picture of the problem, they can work to create solutions to mitigate emissions.
More on emissions
To learn more about emissions and how to achieve net zero, explore our collection of articles below.
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