What are the Three Scopes of Carbon Emissions?

A huge component of learning how to reduce carbon emissions is knowing exactly what is involved in the three scopes of carbon emissions. The average person does not understand the range of emissions released into the atmosphere from a company. Educating businesses on the importance of eliminating carbon emissions starts with grasping each scope and what it pertains to. 

What are the three scopes of carbon emissions? 

1. Direct Emissions

2. Indirect Emissions – Utilities

3. Outside Sources – All other indirect sources

Eduardo GomezOpens in a new tab. of EmitWiseOpens in a new tab. Opens in a new tab.explains the three scopes as direct emissions that are produced, utilities such as natural gas and electricity, and all other emissions from uncontrollable sources like employee commuting. 

Breaking down each scope will allow individuals and businesses to calculate their emissions more efficiently. By knowing where their greenhouse gasses are coming from, they can do better to reduce them. Some organizations may be surprised to learn which scope carries the most weight in terms of emissions. 


Scope One: Direct Emissions

For a company that is looking into accounting for its scope one emissions, they must look into their own processes. When it comes to direct emissions, the organization has full control over what is released into the environment. This is typically the company vehicles and the greenhouse gasses that they produce, air conditioning leaks, and general company facilities. 

If you were to imagine a visual of the company and the atmosphere, direct emissions are those that draw a line straight up with no interference. Direct emissions have no third parties and every control over the gasses released in this scope. This can mean on-site electricity generation or even agriculturally released chemicals. What does this look like within an organization?

Vehicles and Equipment

How much greenhouse gas emissions could one company’s fleet account for? In truth, this depends on the size of the company, the kinds of vehicles they operate, and how the vehicles are used. If you were to look at the numbers for the entire country, transportation gives off more greenhouse gas emissions than any other category.

According to the EPAOpens in a new tab., 2018’s transportation was estimated to account for 28.2% of the gasses released within the United States. A standard passenger vehicle gives off 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. If you were to consider the number of vehicles a company operates, in addition to the likelihood that the company has much larger vehicles than a sedan or small SUV, you can start to grasp the weight of an organization’s vehicles in the atmosphere. 

Other equipment, such as gas-powered machinery, also contributes to the total emissions released. This might be a lawnmower for a landscaping company, a pressure washer for a painting or exterior cleaning company, or a chainsaw for an agricultural company. Burning a gallon of gasoline puts nearly 9000 grams of carbon dioxide into the air. 

Manufacturing Plants and Agriculture Emissions

It has been estimated that the manufacturing industry in the US accounts for 5% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Although 5% seems like very little in comparison to the whopping 28.2% that stems from transportation, you must think about how many people travel vs how many companies manufacture. 

The NYTimesOpens in a new tab. indicated that in 2008, on average, each American household owned 2.28 vehicles. A shocking 35% of US families owned at least 3 vehicles. In 2019, there were 128.58 million households in America. That equates to 293,162,400 personal vehicles in the country. That doesn’t even include the businesses with fleets of their own. When you compare that number to the 569,902Opens in a new tab. businesses that manufacture in the nation, 28.2% and 5% values are easier to compare. 

5% for less than 600,000 businesses is a large chunk of the pie chart. Manufacturing organizations must do better to reduce their emissions for the betterment of the world, just as all companies should. Agriculture emissions are also a component of the first scope that should be identified so that it might improve. 

What are agricultural emissions? Performing agricultural procedures releases naturally produced emissions into the atmosphere. Although there is some argument as to how much agriculture accounts for emissionsOpens in a new tab. – some say 9% others say it’s closer to 15% – it does cause a lot of greenhouse gasses to be released. 

What’s included in the estimation? One of the biggest is soil carbon. Good soil contains carbon, which is turned to carbon dioxide when the land is dug up, turned, or exposed to air in any other way. There is also methane produced by cows, which adds to the emissions total, in addition to other agricultural emissions. These components are necessary for life, but there are various ways that agricultural companies should reduce emissions. 

Scope Two: Indirect Emissions – Utilities

The second scope of carbon emissions is utilities purchased from an outside source. Although internally produced electricity is included in scope one, scope two utilities must be imported. This includes electricity, chilled water, and natural gas. The emissions that come from generating the utilities an organization purchases are what’s categorized as scope two. 

Scope Three: All Other Outside Sources

Scope three can be incredibly broad and ultimately difficult to measure. These emissions are those that a company cannot control. These include everything that it takes to get employees to work – from their regular commute to flying internationally – and the purchase of outside goods and services as well as waste management. The third scope can include a long list that is difficult to track and account for and even harder to reduce. 

Employee’s Emissions

How employees travel to and from work is a large component of the final scope of carbon emissions. Although one employee might ride his bicycle to work, another might take a train, and a third might drive his diesel truck. Within those three examples, you may understand how hard it might be to track the greenhouse gas emissions released by employees on their commute. Not many employers ask their employees how they arrived to work, just that they do.

Employees also release greenhouse gasses when working from home. All of the duties that are performed at home for their employer can be attributed to the third scope of carbon emissions. This is very similar to when companies use third-party organizations for certain tasks. 

Other Companies

The emissions that a third party organization release as a result of completing work for another company is part of that company’s third scope. For example, if a business were to outsource manufacturing, the emissions produced in the creation of their product should be included in their carbon accounting. An organization that outsources its shipping and receiving of goods to a third party transportation company should include the greenhouse gasses from those processes in their accounting as well. 

This is especially difficult because third party companies may not keep records of these emissions or make them readily available to others. It is challenging to get the necessary data to calculate the emissions released as a result of partnerships with other companies. 

The Importance of Calculating Your Carbon Footprint

Calculating your carbon footprint is hugely important to creating a better and longer-lasting world. Future generations may live a much harder life because of the way we live today. Or, they might live a life much the same if our efforts are concentrated in reducing emissions. Organizations have a responsibility to decrease emissions now so that they can thrive in the future. The added bonus of saving money now is also encouraging. 

Define your scopes so that they can be accounted for and reduced in the years to come. Write them down, calculate them, hire a team of carbon accountants so that you can make an improvement in your processes. Working to better the world is an honorable endeavor that businesses should strive for. 

Related Questions

Can climate change be reversed?
Many scientists believe that climate change can be stopped or even reversed if immediate action is taken to reduce greenhouse gasses. The existence of greenhouse gasses is necessary to warm the planet to a livable temperature, but not to the extent it is at right now. 

What can be done to naturally reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
A company that aids in planting trees that consume CO2 can help to offset their own emissions. While many trees would be necessary to eat up the carbon dioxide that is released on a daily basis, an organization that works to reduce their emissions and volunteers planting trees can make an impact. 

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