Types and levels of emissions companies should consider when deciphering their carbon footprints

Scope 1

Scope 1 are direct emissions. Scope 1 refers to emissions that come directly from sources owned or controlled by your organisation. For example:

  • Emissions from combustion in owned or controlled boilers, furnaces, vehicles or from chemical production in owned or controlled process equipment
  • An employee driving a petrol/diesel car as part of their work;
  • Refrigerant gases from air-conditioning or chillers on site;
  • Methane from livestock.

Scope 2

Scope 2 are emissions associated with a company’s consumption of purchased electricity, heat, steam and cooling. These are indirect emissions that are a consequence of your organisation’s activities but which occur at sources you do not own or control.

Scope 3

Scope 3 is everything else. Building materials, food, travel, waste, emissions associated with all the goods and services that organisations buy, including:

  • Suppliers providing raw materials to the business;
  • Transport services used for a company’s logistics;
  • Waste disposal and recycling services;
  • Employees commuting to work.

For most organisations, including government agencies and universities, the Scope 3 footprint is much larger than the operational footprint.

How are Scope 3 indirect carbon emissions measured?

As these emissions are wide and varied, it’s a big measurement challenge. There are two main ways:

  1. Model it using estimates and calculations from economic input-output lifecycle assessments and average emissions by sector.
  2. Calculate it with real data from suppliers or providers — or combine both approaches.


How can Scope 3 emissions be reduced?

  • Prioritise. Companies have a lot of small purchases for a range of different goods and services spread over a lot of categories. This can be overwhelming. Try to figure out which emissions are having the biggest impact and focus on those. Supplier engagement takes time, you want to be thoughtful about which categories you want to go after, where you have influence, the timing of when contracts are being renewed, whether the supplier has shown any interest in making a change, and then what actions will change the emissions being generated.
  • Categorise. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol divides Scope 3 emissions into 2 overarching categories: upstream and downstream emissions. Dividing emissions into categories can help you formulate a targeted plan to reach your goal.

    Upstream Scope 3 emissions

    • Purchased goods and services
    • Capital goods
    • Fuel and energy use
    • Upstream transport and distribution
    • Waste generated in company operations (if you don’t own or control the waste management facilities)
    • Business travel
    • Employee commuting
    • Upstream leased assets

    Downstream Scope 3 emissions

    • Downstream transport and distribution
    • Processing of sold products
    • End-use of sold goods and services
    • Waste disposal and treatment of products
    • Downstream leased assets
    • Operation of franchises
    • Operation of investment
  • Buy goods from Sustainable Sources. Collaborate with other large buyers and look for credible standards and labels for programs where sectors have come together to promote sustainability by requiring common climate criteria. This will cascade down the chain by sending a market signal. If a supplier is hearing the same message from hundreds of customers, they are going to take it more seriously. It’s also important to back up the request with purchasing decisions and clearly stated preferences so it goes beyond an information request. To do that you need to engage your whole purchasing team in the effort
  • Create a Sustainable Procurement Strategy. A Sustainable Procurement Strategy should be part of your Net Zero Plan. It sets standards for the goods and services you will procure to ensure that suppliers will adhere to your companies standards and keep your Scope 3 emissions down.
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