What are carbon emissions scopes?

emissions scopes

In order to decarbonize their activities, companies must first understand their carbon footprint according to emissions scopes 1, 2 and 3. This article dives into the types of emissions included in each scope, and how to calculate them.

The origin of scope 1-2-3 emissions

First, where did the emissions scopes 1, 2 and 3 come from and how were they defined? The scopes of carbon emissions were first introduced by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, the internationally recognized standard for corporate carbon footprint calculations. They came from the need to break down GHG emissions into different categories in order to facilitate the work of assessing carbon footprint.

Scope 1 emissions

Scope 1 emissions are those generated by a company’s own operations. For instance, for oil and gas companies, scope 1 represents a very large share of the carbon footprint: their core activities of drilling, extracting and refining petrol and natural gas release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. On the other hand, service-oriented companies such as banks and financial institutions tend to have small amounts of scope 1 emissions, since they work in offices and don’t use polluting processes to make their products. 

Scope 1 emissions also include fuels burned in vehicles operated by your company. If you operate a fleet, look at whether engines are combustion or electric and assess the distance they run every year to calculate the emissions related to the transportation fuel you use for your operations.

Scope 2 emissions

Scope 2 emissions come from a company’s energy use, be it for electricity or heating. All sectors require electricity to operate, so all companies need to calculate scope 2 emissions. Start with your power supply: 

  • How much of it comes from renewable sources, and how much from fossil fuels? 
  • How much power do you use for your operations on a yearly basis?  

This will help you assess how much of your carbon footprint comes from electricity. The same exercise applies to heating or even cooking: companies often use natural gas for these activities, so it is important to calculate the emissions related to them.

Scope 3 emissions

Scope 3 emissions can be considered “out of your control”: they include the emissions generated by your providers and by your clients in the lifecycle of your product or service. For instance, going back to oil and gas companies, while the extraction and refining of the raw material belongs to scope 1, the combustion of these products in everyday activities such as driving or cooking are part of their scope 3. They cannot control how or how much their clients use their products, but this doesn’t absolve them from having to report and act on those emissions. In fact, scope 3 emissions are estimated to represent about 90% of a typical company’s carbon footprint. This is why the general carbon footprint calculation methodology includes scope 3: companies have to make changes and incentivize decarbonization throughout their supply chains.

Scope 3 also includes the CO2 emissions released by your providers: the companies you buy your materials from and those that ship your products, for instance.

Automated carbon footprint calculators

Little by little, innovators around the world are building automated carbon footprint calculators to support companies’ decarbonization efforts. ClimateTrade has developed sector-specific calculators for construction, airlines and mobility, and offers calculation services for events and general industries. All our calculators follow the methology of the GHG Protocol.

Calculate the carbon footprint of your company

Are you trying to calculate the carbon footprint of your company? Get in touch with our consulting team: our experts will give you all the support you need to take the first step into your decarbonization journey. Contact us.

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