Emission Scopes

26 Sep 2023

A brief introduction to emission scopes.

What is a scope?

Scopes are a reporting mechanism. They help define where emissions come from. They apply to an organisation. In the definitions below “you” refers to “you as an organisation”.

  • Scope 1. Direct. The emissions (gasses) you directly put into the atmosphere.
  • Scope 2. Indirect. The emissions that come from energy you have bought (e.g. electricity)
  • Scope 3. Indirect. Any other emissions that are a consequence of your activities, but not covered in 1 and 2.

Explain it to me with coffee please

Kettle, electric kettle, coffee cup The Green Web Foundation

  • Scope 1. Direct. The gas you burn to heat a kettle directly emits CO2. Note: Not all GHG are from burning fossil fuels. If you keep a cow for your milk, then cow trumps will count as scope 1.
  • Scope 2. Electric kettle. The power station that provides your electricity emits CO2
  • Scope 3. Coffee shop bought coffee. Your supply chain. They have their own scope 1 and scope 2 emissions.

Example with a company car

Sounds easy? In reality, it gets really complex because the world doesn’t fit nicely into scopes and there are a tonne of “yes, but what about” type questions.

Here is a slightly more complex example.

Company car scope:

  • Scope 1. Organisation owns the car and it burns petrol.
  • Scope 2. Organisation owns the car and it is electric.
  • Scope 3. Organisation leases the car.

Who defines the scopes?

The scopes are defined in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol).

The GHG Protocol:

“GHG Protocol establishes comprehensive global standardized frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains and mitigation actions.” Definition from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

“The global standard for companies and organizations to measure and manage their GHG emissions and become more efficient, resilient and prosperous.” Definion from the World Resources Institute.

The GHG Protocol was created by the World Resources Institute WRI and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development WBCSD and exists as its own organisation - The greenhouse gas protocol.

Problems with measuring in scopes

As with all measurements and accounting, nothing is black and white and at worse can be gamed. It is possible to remove all your scope one and two emissions but increase scope 3 massively. And vice versa, but typically organisations are recording one and two, as it gets very messy with scope 3.

The intent should be to lower emissions overall in a closed system. The only closed system there is, is the whole world. Therefore you need to be careful only optimising for one and two. It could be the right thing to do, but not at the expense (either unintentionally or deliberately) of scope 3. And then there is even talk of a scope 4… (for another time)

Photo by Łukasz Rawa on Unsplash