Breaking down Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions

Confused about your emissions? We break down the differences in Scope 1, 2 and 3
Csaba Szabo
2 mins

According to the CDP, 92% of the fortune 500 companies use the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. It provides a framework for governments, industry associations, NGOs, businesses, and other organisations to follow and measure their greenhouse emissions. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol works with over 100 countries and cities to help mitigate emissions, report progress toward goal achievement, and estimate the greenhouse gas effects of policies and actions alongside the Paris climate accord in 2016.

Global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by as much as 72 per cent below 2010 levels by 2050 to have a likely chance of limiting the increase in global mean temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This protocol supplies the world's most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standards and breaks them down into scopes 1, 2, and 3. This article will explain exactly what they are.

Scope 1

CO2 emissions
Breakdown of CO2 emissions. Source:

Scope 1 relates to all direct emissions. This means all the emissions that a business or organisation can control (and are easier to reduce). Direct GHG emissions are essentially emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the reporting entity. This includes all greenhouse emissions from company facilities such as vehicles and buildings, usually being the result of fuel combustion. In 2018, direct industrial greenhouse gas emissions were responsible for 22 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the third-largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, the combustion of gas in the workplace to generate heat for a heating system. Another example includes chemical manufacturers that produce methane gas, likewise, the use of fertilisers which contributes to nitrous oxide emissions. We can see that this is not only limited to carbon emissions but also Methane, Nitrous Oxide, HFCs, PFCs, Sulphur hexafluoride, and Nitrogen trifluoride. When electricity is generated CO2 is the main gas being produced, however, smaller amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are also emitted which are produced during the combustion of natural resources, coal, natural gas, and oil.

Scope 2

If scope 1 entails direct emissions, scope 2 is about indirect emissions from gas and electricity purchased and used by the organisation. Even though this isn’t caused directly by the organisation, emissions are created during the production of the energy eventually used by the organisation. The power plants make the electricity, which is then used by an industrial facility to power industrial buildings and machinery.

This includes purchased utilities such as heating, gas, steam, electricity and more for the organisation’s use. These are usually upstream activities which means that the emissions are already created before it gets to the reporting company, this is different from scope 1 where the emissions are created directly by the reporting company. By using or purchasing electricity, organisations and households are indirectly responsible for CO2 emissions. In 2018, the electricity sector was the second-largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 26.9 per cent of the U.S. total, due to this fact greenhouse gasses produced indirectly from electricity use needs to be closely monitored and reported.

Scope 3

Similar to scope 2, this refers to all other indirect emissions coming from the activities of the organisation. These are usually things that the company or organisation cannot control or even own. This includes purchased goods and services, all waste products, leaked assets, business travel and employee commuting. Upstream activities include matters such as franchises, investments, processing and use of sold products, and distribution.

It is evident that all scope 3 activities cover a lot of ground, and this ultimately means that it is the cause of the majority of pollution created. Depending on the size of the company, employee commuting is necessary and unavoidable, however, it produces huge amounts of CO2 emissions per journey. Furthermore, franchises and new buildings will be the cause of increased levels of pollution, even scope 2 issues such as electricity, gas, and water use will be encompassed in this.

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