Getting to a zero carbon footprint, globally, is a hard concept to wrap your mind around. The scale of what’s required is intimidating!
Today’s post is about a carbon accounting concept called emissions scope. Emissions scope helps businesses to account for where emissions occur in supply chains. Then they can focus on where improvements are possible. Businesses that want to perform carbon accounting use these concepts, but we as individuals can also use this them as a framework to think about decarbonizing our own lives.
- Scope 1 emissions are from the direct operation of the business, and the assets that the business owns or controls. Scope 1 emissions include the operation of facilities, manufacturing plants and more. They can also include emissions from fuel combustion used to run operations.
- Scope 2 emissions are from energy purchased to run the business. Buying power or heat from a utility creates scope 2 emissions.
- Scope 3 emissions come in two categories: upstream and downstream. Upstream emissions are from the inputs needed to run the business — the raw materials used to build products, the capital expenditures to buy equipment, and even the transport of those supplies to the business. Downstream emissions are created after the outputs of the business leave the business — the emissions from the transport of the products to market, the usage of the sold products, and even the disposal of those products.
When world leaders talk about getting to zero, they are talking about decarbonizing these supply chains. Commitments like the NDCs, and individual country level regulatory actions are fairly blunt tools. They create a framework for businesses to operate within, but ultimately businesses face the hard work of gathering scope level emission data, building governance and reporting into processes, and delivering sustainable products. It’s a daunting transformation. The good news is that these kinds of transformations appear to be achievable with very little impact on the final price for products that we consumers pay. According to World Economic Forum Net Zero Supply Chain analysis, many businesses can get to a net zero supply chain with an impact of between 1% and 4% on final consumer price.
As individuals, and families, we can also apply the same kind of thinking. Scope 2 emissions would be emissions from the energy we purchase to use in our day to day lives. Scope 3 emissions would be from the things we buy, and the things that we throw away. And if you heat or cook with wood, oil or natural gas, or run a creative business like woodworking from your home, these are the actions which are creating scope 1 emissions.
So what can we as individuals do? Here are two suggestions:
- We can assess our own carbon footprints. Our scope 1 emissions are likely to be small, because most of us don’t build products ourselves. But we all have scope 2 emissions. All of us consume energy at home. So what are the emissions associated with our own lives? How can we reduce them? Can we buy clean energy instead?
- We can make choices about scope 3 emissions in our lives. When we purchase products — cars, houses, computers, food — we can choose to look at the emissions content of the products we are buying. For example, buying locally grown food creates fewer emissions than buying fruits and vegetables out of season from distant countries, which then have to be transported to us. Choosing to bring reusable shopping bags to carry our purchases home reduces plastic waste, and hence emissions. Those are easy and obvious. But the next time you go to make a major purchase, look at the sustainability of the products you are buying, and the commitment of the company to sustainability. More companies are starting to publish reports like this one from Microsoft. More and more, business is responding to customers who “vote” at the cash register for a cleaner future.
Getting to Carbon Zero is a huge task for human society. We all have a role. Let’s not leave it to government, or to business alone. Let’s also reduce at home, and shift our purchasing dollars to companies that value sustainability.