What is a Scope and why should I care?

What is a Scope and why should I care? 411 275 Impact Sustainability

Often when starting to figure out your company’s carbon footprint, you start reading about Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions, which on the surface can make very little sense. Then you google it and find a UN document that starts talking about Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries and it makes for even more confusion.

So what is a scope and what does that have to do with how your business operates?

It’s effectively a way of determining your emissions based on how much control you have over them. Scope 1 emissions are ones you directly create through driving your car, or a manufacturing process in a factory your company owns and operates.

Scope 2 emissions are from the electricity grid, so you are able to control your consumption to a degree through energy efficient appliances or processes, but you can’t control what is feeding the power station (e.g. wind, coal, gas, solar).

Scope 3 emissions are from processes or supply chains you don’t have any control or direct influence over. For example, the poles and wires of the electricity grid, or how products are shipped to your company.

If you’re an Impact Sustainability client, or you monitor your company’s carbon footprint, you’ll see that most emissions sources have a combination of scopes in their carbon impact. For example, in electricity, the carbon will mostly come from Scope 2 emissions, where the power comes from, but also Scope 3 emissions, the poles and wires. Or for driving your car you’ll see Scope 1 emissions as you are burning the fuel in the engine as well as Scope 3 emissions; the carbon it took to get the petrol to the station.

When calculated, Scope 3 emissions are smaller than Scope 1 emissions because the direct impact of burning fuel in your car is under you control, while the way the petrol was processed, manufactured, and delivered to the petrol station is not in your direct control. That being said, there’s a lot of scope for companies to reduce their Scope 3 emissions through things like sustainable purchasing agreements, where you can engage suppliers through your supply chain to make their businesses more sustainable.

The level of control over your emission sources will also determine what you do to reduce them. Direct sources of carbon should be switched away from fossil fuels where possible (changing your cars to electric vehicles, switching your heat from gas to electricity) and offset where not possible to fuel switch (flights).

Once you’ve switched your direct carbon sources, you’ll want to reduce the energy you use through energy efficiency projects and solar installations, before switching your electricity to 100% renewable green power.

Then you’ll be able to relax knowing your company’s systems and processes have sustainability as their default and you’re doing your bit to solve our climate crisis.