Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions – it’s a phrase often used in relation to businesses measuring their carbon footprints. But what do these categories of emissions actually refer to?
Back in 2001 the Greenhouse Gas Protocol released a standardised framework for businesses to measure their emissions, in which they split emissions into 3 ‘scopes’, as the below diagram depicts:
Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions as a result of business activities i.e. from sources owned or controlled by the business itself.
Scope 2 are indirect emissions released from the energy purchased by a business – electricity, steam, heat or cooling.
For most businesses, scope 2 emissions will be exclusively the electricity they purchase from a utilities company – used to heat the company's buildings, be it offices, manufacturing sites, warehouses, retail spaces or other.
Scope 3 encompasses all other indirect emissions that occur in the value chain of a company, but aren’t included in scope 2. Scope 3 emissions are almost always by far the largest portion of a company’s emissions, but are much more complicated to measure and tackle as they aren’t owned or controlled by the company directly.
Scope 3 emissions includes both:
These are any activities during production – from your suppliers. That includes:
These are activities after production – the distribution channels for your product or service. That includes:
So, to summarise the difference between scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions:
A big question is whether companies should be including scope 3 emissions when they measure their carbon footprint.
Scope 3 emissions represent the vast majority of a company’s carbon footprint across the value chain, so it’s important that they’re included in business emissions calculations, to get a real representation of environmental impact.
Lots of businesses ignore their scope 3 emissions, often because they’re a lot more complex than scope 1 and 2.
But there’s opportunity in the complexity.
To address scope 3 emissions means looking beyond your own immediate activities as a business and collaborating on solutions with your suppliers and peers – which means increased potential for positive impact.
Scope 3 emissions are also vital to the true definition of net zero – so if your business has goals to reach net zero emissions, you need to be including how to address and minimise scope 3 emissions in your company's net zero journey.
For advice on how to approach scope 3 emissions, take a look at the guidance from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.