Scope 1, 2 and 3 Emissions: A Guide

Measuring organisational emissions is an important part of positive climate action. Keep reading to find out more about how you can use the emissions scope to record and improve your environmental rating as an organisation.


Scope 1, 2 and 3 Emissions: A Guide

When it comes to mitigating the climate crisis, we all have to do our part in committing to sustainable action. But this is even more important for larger organisations, who can have a big impact on the overall goal set out by the historic Paris Agreement in 2015.


But before you can commit to definitive action, you need a way to measure your carbon emissions – which is where the scope 1, 2, 3 emissions framework comes into play. In this article, we’ll explore what these scope emissions categories are, and why they’re useful.


What are Scope 1, 2 and 3 Emissions? 

So what actually are scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions? At their core, the scope 1, 2, 3 emissions model is a way to group different sources of emissions into a quantifiable category. This makes it easier to measure and evaluate where you can make changes, as well as report on your overall emissions.


In this section, we’ll explore each of these categories in more depth – from what they are, to how they’re calculated, and even some of the common ways to reduce emissions in that grouping.


Notescope 1,2,3 emissions refer to an organisation’s carbon output. This is distinct from a building's operational and embodied carbon emissions, however, the latter may be a contribution to the wider emissions of an organisation.


Scope 1 Emissions:

Scope 1 emissions refer to all emissions under your direct control. This could be from company owned assets like vehicles, factories, and other facilities – where the emissions come from your own activities.


These are further divided into four subcategories to help you identify where the emissions are coming from. These are:

  1. Stationary combustion: this includes any and all fuels used during combustion that produce greenhouse gases. It also covers stationary sources like boilers and furnaces.
  2. Mobile combustion: this category covers emissions from fuel-powered vehicles owned by the organisation. This includes everything from company cars to transport vans.


Note – electric vehicle emissions are classified as scope 2. See more below.


  1. Fugitive emissions: fugitive emissions cover unintentional greenhouse gas release. This could be from an industrial gas leak, to refrigeration units.
  2. Process emissions: as the name suggests, this category refers to greenhouse gases released by any industrial processes such as manufacturing factory fumes.


To measure scope 1 emissions, organisations need to monitor and track how much fuel they’re burning onsite. This is done through data collection, and involves all facilities and purchasing departments under direct control.


Scope 1 emissions are (comparatively) the easiest for an organisation to manage, as they’re under your direct control and influence. There are several ways you can reduce your scope 1 emissions, including but not limited to:

  • Reducing your organisation’s energy consumption.
  • Improving your organisation’s energy efficiency.
  • Switching to renewable energy sources.
  • Working with a carbon offset project


Scope 2 Emissions:

Moving through the categories, scope 2 emissions refer to indirect emissions produced by purchased energy. This is usually split across four areas, which are:

  • Electricity
  • Steam
  • Heating
  • Cooling


All of these areas are classified separately from scope 1 because while they’re not under your direct control as an organisation, they’re still used by the business – and still need to be measured and reported.


For example, as we mentioned above, electric car emissions fall under scope 2 emissions. This is because even though your organisation may own the vehicle, they’re typically powered by electricity produced offsite and bought by the business. 


To calculate scope 2 emissions, organisations can monitor the average emissions intensity of their local energy grid. They can also use a market-based method which relies on information from purchasing contracts.


Whilst not as easy to control as scope 1 emissions, an organisation does have some actions they can take to reduce pollution under this category. One example is for businesses to explore external energy suppliers who use renewable energy, or those who engage in carbon offsetting practices themselves. 


Alternatively, some organisations might want to consider producing their own renewable energy to meet some or all of their requirements – via solar panels or other private sources of greener energy. This could not only help with reducing emissions, but may save you money in the long term.


Note – any directly controlled energy generation would then be classified as scope 1 emissions and need to be reported accordingly.


Scope 3 Emissions:

Lastly, scope 3 emissions refer to all other indirect emissions within upstream and downstream activities. According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3 emissions), there are 15 categories for scope 3 emissions that can be split between upstream and downstream business activities.


Upstream activities are those that come from the production and manufacture of your business’s services or products. For example, the production of packaging which a retailer uses would be considered an upstream activity and need to be accounted for. The eight main categories for upstream activities includes:


  • Purchased goods and services for production not accounted for in scope 1 or 2 emissions.
  • Physical assets of your business deemed ‘capital goods’.
  • Fuel and energy activities not already covered by scope 1 or 2 emissions.
  • Transportation and distribution of upstream services or products.
  • Operational waste disposal and treatment.
  • Emissions from employees commuting (in vehicles not owned by the organisation).
  • Small-scale business travel (in vehicles not owned by the organisation).
  • Use and operation of leased assets not already included in scope 1 or 2 emissions.


On the other hand, downstream activities cover the use of your product or service once it has been sold, put into action, and during disposal. For example, the emissions from a car once sold would count as scope 3 emissions for the vehicle manufacturer. The other areas that are included in downstream emissions are: 


  • Transportation and distribution of downstream products or services from organisation to end customer.
  • Processing of products sold by downstream companies.
  • Use of products or services once sold.
  • Waste disposal and treatment of a product once it’s reached the end-of-life stage.
  • Assets owned by an organisation but leased to another.
  • Operations and emissions from franchises that aren’t already included in scope 1 or 2.
  • Any emissions produced by the operation of investments.


As these emissions happen outside of an organisation's direct control, these tend to be a lot harder to quantify, measure, and mitigate. However, they also account for a large proportion of your overall emissions report. Some methods to gain meaningful insight into an organisations scope 3 emissions include:


  • Evaluating data from a ‘paper trail’ (although this can obviously be digital too). For example, compiling invoices, travel expenses and other information to understand miles travelled or energy used.
  • In certain cases, survey data can help to calculate emissions – like employee travel.
  • A large proportion of scope 3 emissions measurements are estimations. These are primarily used where additional or accurate data is unavailable, or cannot feasibly be accounted for.


In order to reduce scope 3 emissions effectively and efficiently, there are some steps an organisation can take. For example, they can make more informed decisions about how they choose suppliers, and which transportation networks can fulfil their needs in a more environmentally sustainable manner. 


Businesses can also work together to reduce their emissions. This is important because cooperating can support an overall reduction of scope emissions across different organisations.


Why is it important to measure your emissions? 

Taking a step back from ‘what’ scope emissions are, we also need to consider why it’s important to measure and record your greenhouse gas emissions.


One of the leading issues around climate change is the increase in greenhouse gases that are being captured and contained in the atmosphere. These gases, like carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), absorb infrared radiation and stop it from escaping – causing a greenhouse effect that keeps heat reflecting back on the planet and increasing the global temperature.


Thus, in a global bid to mitigate this effect and protect our natural environment, organisations need to commit to reducing their emissions of these types of gases – which is where accurate measuring and reporting systems are essential, like the scope 1, 2, 3 categories.


The primary reason for measuring your emissions using the scope 1, 2, 3 model is that you can’t change what you don’t know. Tracking and quantifying your carbon and gas emissions allows you to identify problem areas for more targeted action. 


Let’s look at an example. Using the scope 1, 2, 3 scale, you can see that your business has expended a large amount of emissions from vehicle fuel consumption. This falls under your scope 1 emissions (mobile consumption). 


You can then look at greener alternatives including more renewable transport alternatives, or find a better way to even out vehicle distribution – like carpooling, or more efficient loading of trucks and vans.


Using the scope emissions model also highlights areas you may not have known about, as this is a set guideline that covers areas you may not have thought about (like fugitive emissions).


Lastly, for some large scale organisations, measuring, reporting, and disclosing their scope 1 and scope 2 emissions is compulsory alongside an annual report made in line with the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting framework. Whilst scope 3 is predominantly voluntary, it’s good practice to measure these areas from an organisational standpoint.


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