Mar 06 2024

Tackling the Scope 3 Puzzle: A Practical Guide to Measuring Your Full Emissions Footprint



Tackling the Scope 3 Puzzle: A Practical Guide to Measuring Your Full Emissions Footprint

For many companies, the journey to net zero starts with a seemingly simple question: how much carbon do we emit? But as any sustainability professional knows, answering that question is far from straightforward. While measuring direct emissions from owned or controlled sources (known as Scope 1) and indirect emissions from purchased energy (Scope 2) has become relatively standardized, there's a third category of emissions that often remains elusive: Scope 3.

Defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol as "all other indirect emissions that occur in a company's value chain," Scope 3 encompasses a wide range of activities, from purchased goods and services to employee commuting to the use and end-of-life treatment of sold products. For many companies, Scope 3 represents the lion's share of their carbon footprint - up to 90% or more of total emissions.

But measuring and managing Scope 3 is no easy feat. Unlike Scope 1 and 2 emissions, which are largely under a company's direct control, Scope 3 emissions are dispersed across a complex web of suppliers, customers, and other value chain partners. Data is often incomplete or inconsistent, methodologies are still evolving, and the boundary between a company's responsibility and that of its stakeholders can be blurry.

So why bother with Scope 3 at all? Here are a few key reasons:

Stakeholder expectations are rising: As investors, customers, and regulators increasingly demand a more comprehensive view of corporate climate impact, Scope 3 disclosure is becoming the new norm. The CDP, for example, now requires companies to report on Scope 3 emissions in order to achieve its highest scoring band, and the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) requires Scope 3 targets for most sectors.

Scope 3 is where the action is: For many companies, the bulk of their emissions - and their emissions reduction potential - lies in Scope 3. By engaging with suppliers to improve energy efficiency, redesigning products for circularity, or shifting to lower-carbon transportation modes, companies can drive significant reductions in their overall carbon footprint.

Scope 3 management is a competitive advantage: As the transition to a low-carbon economy accelerates, companies that can demonstrate a comprehensive and proactive approach to emissions management will be better positioned to win customers, attract talent, and access capital. By measuring and managing Scope 3, companies can get ahead of the curve and build resilience for the long haul.

But measuring Scope 3 is easier said than done. The GHG Protocol breaks Scope 3 down into 15 distinct categories, each with its own methodological complexities and data challenges. From calculating the embedded emissions in purchased products to estimating the lifetime emissions of sold products, Scope 3 accounting can quickly become a daunting task.

Fear not, though - with the right strategy and tools, unlocking the full potential of Scope 3 is within reach. Here are a few key steps to get started:

Map your value chain: The first step in any Scope 3 measurement effort is to map out your company's full value chain, from raw materials to end-of-life. Identify the key activities, partners, and hotspots that are likely to contribute most to your Scope 3 footprint, and prioritize your data collection and engagement efforts accordingly.

Leverage existing frameworks and tools: There are a growing number of frameworks, calculators, and databases available to help companies measure and report their Scope 3 emissions. The GHG Protocol's Scope 3 Calculation Guidance, for example, provides detailed methodologies and emission factors for each of the 15 Scope 3 categories, while tools like the Quantis Scope 3 Evaluator can help automate the calculation process.

Engage your value chain partners: Measuring Scope 3 is not a solo endeavor. To get the data you need, you'll need to engage your suppliers, customers, and other value chain partners in the process. Consider developing a supplier questionnaire or data portal to streamline data collection, and offer training and support to help your partners improve their own emissions accounting and reduction efforts.

Set clear boundaries and assumptions: Given the complexity of Scope 3, it's important to be transparent about the boundaries, assumptions, and methodologies used in your calculations. Follow recognized standards like the GHG Protocol and ISO 14064, document your data sources and any estimation techniques used, and consider obtaining third-party verification to enhance the credibility of your disclosures.

Use Scope 3 insights to drive action: Measuring Scope 3 is not an end in itself, but a means to drive emissions reduction and business transformation. Use the insights gained from your Scope 3 analysis to identify hot spots and prioritize reduction efforts, set science-based targets, and engage your value chain partners in collaborative solutions.

As someone who has helped dozens of companies measure and manage their Scope 3 emissions , I've seen firsthand the challenges and opportunities of tackling this critical piece of the decarbonization puzzle. It's not a quick fix, but a journey of continuous improvement and collaboration.

But the rewards of getting Scope 3 right are immense. By taking a comprehensive and proactive approach to emissions management, companies can not only meet rising stakeholder expectations, but also uncover new sources of innovation, efficiency, and competitive advantage. They can build more resilient and future-proof supply chains, and contribute to the global effort to limit warming to 1.5°C.

The road to Scope 3 mastery is long and winding, but every journey begins with a single step. So start mapping your value chain, engaging your partners, and unlocking the full potential of your emissions footprint. The planet - and your bottom line - will thank you.

Happy measuring!

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We help organizations automate their ESG metric measurements, tracking and reporting across company as well as their supply chain. Our platform solves for all corporate sustainability reporting and carbon accounting needs.

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