What are Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 Carbon Emissions?

Understanding Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions

When talking about carbon emissions, it doesn’t take long to run into the terms ‘Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3’ – it is essential to understand what these are as everything else builds upon them.

The three scopes of greenhouse gas emissions first came into use in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol of 2001 as a way of categorising the different types of emissions produced by a company in its production chain. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol remains one of the central standards for greenhouse gas reporting in the UK and worldwide.

Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from assets owned or controlled by a company. E.g. your office or your company cars (imagine the emissions being created directly from the company asset). The most common sources are:
•    gas used in heating your facility (e.g. emissions created by the boiler)
•    fuel used in your fleet or plant (e.g. emissions created by the engine)
•    escapes of gases from your air conditioning

Scope 2 emissions are emissions from the generation of purchased energy (e.g. electricity). You are still using the energy to run your company assets, but the assets do not directly create emissions. Instead the emissions are released at the point of power generation, e.g. upstream at the power station and not by your bulb. Electricity is the primarily what we are talking about here.

Scope 3 emissions are all the other emissions which occur in the chain of production of your company, including both upstream and downstream processes. Upstream emissions refer to the emissions that occur upstream of your own processes. Downstream emissions are those such as distribution that happen after your own processes.

Upstream Scope 3 emission examples:
•    Purchased goods and services (e.g. IT equipment, production materials, data centres, consultancy, contractors)
•    Transportation and distribution (getting goods and materials to you)
•    Waste generation
•    Business travel (excluding travel in your own vehicles which would be counted in scope 1)
•    Employee commuting (excluding travel in your own vehicles which would be counted in scope 1)
•    Home working

Downstream Scope 3 emission examples:
•    Transportation and distribution (sending goods from you)
•    Use of sold products (e.g. emissions relating to the use of what you make)
•    End of life treatment of your sold products

Do I really need to consider Scope 3 emissions?

The short answer is yes – these often account for a significant proportion of a company’s emissions and you can influence them in many cases. For example, a website company may design websites that produce less CO2 per page opened (‘use of sold product’); a consultancy may decide that they can reduce business travel emissions by requiring the use of public transport over cars and planes (‘business travel’). There are many more examples.

Although Scope 1 and 2 remain the starting point for monitoring, any thorough approach to calculating and then reducing emissions must consider Scope 3 emissions.

Emission scopes visualised

Here is an example of the emission scopes visualised for the manufacturing industry:


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