What are scope 1, scope 2 and scope 3 emissions: A short guide
Learn the differences between scope 1, scope 2 and scope 3 emissions – and how you can track and calculate your own scope emissions.
Understanding scope emissions can seem like a challenge but is key in order to calculate and minimize your organization’s climate impact. Scope 1, 2, and 3 are simply categories, in which different types of emissions are divided, bringing structure and clarity to understanding one’s carbon footprint.
Here’s a helpful breakdown of the fundamental information needed to grasp and understand what scope emissions are.
Understanding the basics of scope emissions
Essentially, the phrase “scope emissions” refers to standardized categories of a company’s greenhouse gas emissions. They were devised and defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP), an organization that helps companies to reduce their gas emissions and was formed through a partnership between the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
In 2001, GHGP published its first Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard, which has become a framework for measuring and managing greenhouse gas emissions around the world in both private and public sector operations. A major part of that framework is how GHGP divides and calculates an organization’s greenhouse gas emissions into three scopes: Scope 1, 2, and 3.
Breaking down a company’s greenhouse gas emissions by scope is an essential part of measuring those emissions, which is the crucial first step for any organization that wants to reduce its contribution to climate change. Scope 1 and 2 both refer to emissions that are, more or less, within the company’s control. Scope 3, on the other hand, relates to indirect emissions the company doesn’t control but still causes. Scope 3 emissions easily outweigh the other scopes in terms of amount and account for 90% of a company’s total carbon impact.
What They Are
A company’s direct greenhouse gas emissions that it controls.
A company’s indirect greenhouse gas emissions, generated by the electricity/power it uses.
A company’s indirect greenhouse gas emissions that are not included in Scope 2.
How They’re Emitted
Emitted by company-owned and operated facilities, vehicles, and so on.
Emitted by power plants supplying electricity that is used by the company.
Emitted by company’s suppliers, business travel, use of company products, etc.
By examining their emissions by scope, companies can see the parts of their organization that are the most troublesome for emitting greenhouse gases and find ways to reduce them. Scope emissions can be calculated for any number of potential actions or programs to fully understand the effect of any decision before it’s made. And the framework isn’t limited to specific types of companies or industries. Any company can use it, even ones without factories or fleets of vehicles.
Facebook applied the GHGP standards to take inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, organizing and calculating them by scope. Using that information, the tech giant made and met its goal to reduce its emissions by 25% within 3 years.
Understanding Scope 1 emissions
A company’s scope 1 emissions are all the greenhouse gases that it directly produces. According to GHGP, direct emissions are “emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the reporting entity.” They are most often emissions resulting from fuel combustion, either in factories or vehicles. Some are also released through the use of refrigerants, like in refrigeration and air conditioning, and in various industrial processes. The gases of scope 1 emissions tend to be carbon dioxide (which accounts for most scope 1 emissions), methane, and nitrous oxide.
Calculating to measure scope 1 emissions can be done by measuring the fuel input to the facility or process and then analyzing it to determine the amount emitted. But the most common approach for calculating scope 1 emissions is the use of documented emission factors, which are calculated ratios of greenhouse gas emissions by measure of activity (i.e., operating specific machinery). So many companies can accurately calculate their scope 1 emissions with operation records and fuel data.
Understanding Scope 2 emissions
A company’s scope 2 emissions are the greenhouse gases emitted from the generation of electricity and other types of power that it purchased. These are different from scope 1 emissions due to the fact they are considered indirect because they are the consequence of the company’s energy usage, but released from facilities outside its control. Scope 2 emissions also occur upstream, originating before a company’s operations, and make up nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
How scope 2 emissions are measured is fairly straightforward. They’re calculated using the documented emission factors from the supplier-specific power sources and activity data (the amount of electricity consumption). Electricity emission factors are usually expressed in tons of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt-hour, so that data can just be multiplied by the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity purchased. Utility companies generally provide their emission factors, but if not, the information can be found elsewhere.
Understanding Scope 3 emissions
A company’s scope 3 emissions are any indirect emissions, other than scope 2, that occur in a company’s value chain. This could include purchasing goods and services, business travel, employee commuting (but not company vehicles, which are scope 1), waste disposal, use of sold productions, leased assets and franchises, and more.
Scope 3 emissions are believed to have the most significant impact of the three scope emissions. They’re different from scopes 1 and 2 because they’re indirect and occur upstream and downstream, originating before a company’s operations AND at the finished product level.
How scope 3 emissions are measured is the most difficult because there are multiple calculation methods using documented emission factors with varying results. The easier methods have a lower quality scope, while the more specific methodology has better quality but is more time and labor-intensive.
Companies can use primary or secondary data when calculating scope 3 emissions. Primary data is related to specific activities within a company’s value chain. It can be found through things like meter reading, purchase records, and utility bills. Secondary data, on the other hand, is related to specific activities NOT within a company’s value chain. It’s found through data tables and models, like environmentally extended input-output.
Why scope emissions matter
There are more detailed and technical aspects within scope emissions, but knowing these basic elements are a good overview to start with. Seeing how each scope pertains to the level of control that an organization has over its emissions – from the direct emission of its operations and the indirect ones from its power consumptions to the broad and nebulous emissions that are consequences of operating in the modern world – can be eye-opening and will help to reach your sustainability goals. Understanding scope emission is an essential step in calculating your organization’s carbon footprint and gaining real insight in how to minimize its contributions to climate change.
Use Worldfavor to calculate your scope emissions and track your environmental impact. With the help of our leading expertise and cutting edge platform technology, you can get started in no-time. By tracking your emissions, you foster transparency for your entire value chain, add value to your stakeholders, and gain valuable insight about where your biggest impact is created. Whether you want to track your operations’ emissions, get insight about your supply chain’s impact, or want to know more about the sustainability of your investment portfolio, Worldfavor has the solution for you – book a demo to learn more!
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