What Are Scope 1, 2 and 3 Carbon Emissions? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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All organizations have an environmental impact. Scopes 1, 2 and 3 for carbon emissions help companies identify and decrease their emissions. 

Learn more about these categories and how to increase sustainability.

What Are the Differences Between Scope 1, 2 and 3 Carbon Emissions?

Environmental professionals use different levels to categorize carbon emissions generated by companies. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP) created the three scope definitions to help companies decrease carbon emissions.

By understanding your emissions output, you can take more effective steps to decrease them. The three scopes define emission types and the organization’s responsibility for their existence. 

These are the three scopes and their meanings:

Scope 1 Emissions

Scope 1 emissions are greenhouse gasses that generate from company-owned or company-controlled sources. Organizations emit gasses directly as they conduct daily operations or manufacture products. For example, scope 1 emissions could generate from:

  • Operating vehicles: Companies might drive vehicles to transport products to different supply chain stages. Employees might also use company cars to drive to appointments or make sales cars. These vehicles can range from large semi-trucks to compact cars, with all types emitting greenhouse gasses.
  • Running machines: Many organizations use high-powered equipment and machinery to manufacture products. Fossil fuel use and certain chemical reactions produce a lot of greenhouse gasses, increasing your emissions.

Scope 2 Emissions

Scope 2 emissions are indirectly caused by organizations. They originate from purchased heat, steam, electricity, cooling and other sources not directly owned by the company. 

For instance, companies pay for monthly electricity allotments to power lights, electronics and other equipment forms. The electricity emissions might not occur at the company’s facility, but they are a result of the company’s energy use.

Scope 3 Emissions

Scope 3 emissions include indirect emissions others generate in a company’s value chain. These actions generate greenhouse gas emissions indirectly. For instance, this definition applies for: 

  • Consumers that buy and dispose of a company’s product.
  • Suppliers that use a company’s product to make other products.
  • All other emissions that happen from activities that aren’t company-owned or controlled.

Examples of scope 3 emission categories include:

  • Used or disposed goods.
  • Operational waste.
  • End-of-life processes for products.
  • Leased assets.
  • Franchises.
  • Employee travel or actions.

Scope 3 emissions are often the largest creator of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 75% of a company’s emissions on average. They’re also the most challenging to manage — organizations don’t have direct control over suppliers or buyers, making it difficult to take direct action.

Why Are These Levels Important?

The carbon emissions scopes are vital tools in the fight against climate change. They have purposes like:

  • Increasing awareness: Many organizations want to decrease carbon emissions and increase sustainability efforts. By tracking and categorizing your carbon emissions, you understand your typical output. The three levels break down emission types in an understandable way, providing direct insight into an organization’s environmental impact. Studying this data and information about carbon emissions’ negative effects helps organizations work toward more sustainable practices.
  • Reducing environmental impact: Companies can use their emissions scopes to build targeted action plans. The comprehensive information displays greenhouse gas emissions across all stages of production, distribution and use. Organizations can view their most impactful areas and take steps to minimize their outputs. For instance, organizations can track scope 1 emissions, like vehicle usage. They could switch to electric cars or minimize vehicle use to lower their carbon footprint.
  • Improving brand sustainability: As concern about climate change increases, many consumers and suppliers seek sustainably-sourced materials. Organizations can use carbon emissions scopes to define their impact on different levels. Then, they build response plans to reduce emissions output. You can create detailed reports about carbon emission levels and your progress toward minimizing outputs. These reports assist with meeting compliance standards. You can also publish the information for the public, displaying your steps toward increased sustainability. The more actions you take, the more your brand reputation could improve with consumers and shareholders.

How Can You Reduce Carbon Emissions?

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The emissions scopes explain an organization’s role in emission generation. Companies have more control over scopes 1 and 2, while scope 3 is more difficult to approach. You can use several approaches to lower your emissions in all three levels, such as these strategies:

Reducing Scope 1 Emissions

Many companies target scope 1 emissions first because they have the most control over these emissions. You generate scope 1 emissions from direct actions, like using a company vehicle fleet or operating machinery that emits greenhouse gasses. You can use upfront strategies to lower emissions from company-generated sources, such as:

  • Minimizing fossil fuel use: If your organization generates heat or electricity from burning fossil fuels, you directly emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Switching to renewable energy resources, like solar power or electricity, decreases your output. For example, investing in a fleet of electric vehicles can significantly minimize fossil fuel usage. Many electric car types are available, allowing you to achieve the same functionality.
  • Switching to energy-efficient devices: Increasing energy efficiency also helps to lower scope 1 emissions. For example, you could add more insulation to your facilities to lower dependence on a heating and cooling system. Facility energy audits also help you identify ways to improve efficiency. Inspectors analyze your facility and suggest ways to minimize energy consumption.

Reducing Scope 2 Emissions

Scope 2 emissions occur from purchased energy resources like electricity and steam. The best way to lower these emissions is by partnering with sustainable suppliers. Many providers use renewable resources to generate energy, which minimizes carbon emissions. You can switch to these options instead of relying on providers with less sustainable methods.

Your organization can also implement green strategies to produce your own electricity. For instance, solar roof panels or natural gas generators produce energy to run facilities without a significant carbon footprint.

Reducing Scope 3 Emissions

Scope 3 emissions are the most complicated to tackle because they happen due to others’ actions. To reduce these emissions, you need to estimate them first. Scope 3 emissions look different for all organizations, depending on your offered products or services and the other parties that use them. You can determine the expected amount of scope 3 emissions, then use the measurement to build response plans.

You can use these steps to identify scope 3 emissions:

  • Name relevant categories: First, your organization can narrow down the types of scope 3 emissions relevant to your operations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a complete list and description of all scope 3 categories. You can study the list and identify which options apply to your organization.
  • Estimate greenhouse gas emissions: After you determine the categories, estimate the gas emissions for each one. These calculations vary depending on the category type and your specific usage. The EPA offers more guidance on making these calculations so companies can make accurate estimates.
  • Monitor calculation data: Organizations continue to monitor emissions estimates and adjust their approaches over time. After you improve accuracy, you can develop response plans to decrease scope 3 emissions.

Understanding your organization’s carbon emissions levels helps you decrease your carbon footprint. You can help the modern market move toward more sustainable practices and assist with the fight against climate change.

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