When it comes to quantifying targets to combat climate change, the coin of the realm is greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). It is the presence of these gases in our atmosphere that create a “greenhouse” effect that results in a warming of the globe that is actively causing havoc – from melting glaciers to severe drought, to extreme weather events causing death, displacement of people, and huge economic losses.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which “establishes comprehensive global standardized frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” defines three widely accepted categories of emissions known as Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3. We describe them more in-depth in our recent blog What is Scope 1, 2 & 3 Emissions?

I’ve always considered Scope 3 emissions as “outsourced emissions.” If you want to lower your personal (including corporate) emissions, just get someone else to do things for you. If you outsource manufacturing, for example, all those emissions associated with your manufacturing are eliminated from your Scope 1 and Scope 2 emission tallies. However, we are one globe, one atmosphere, and climate change is a global concern. As the saying goes, there is no planet B.

Another way to think about Scope 3 is the “taking ultimate responsibility” emissions. If every entity on the planet reported all its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, we would be able to have an accurate tally of all the emissions created. But that is simply not the case. Accounting for emissions is not something being done by everyone, everywhere. Instead, the world (through an informal consensus) is choosing to hold accountable those most easily identifiable entities. Beyond governments, the most obvious target has become large corporations.

After all, large corporations are “doing the most” and, by extension, creating the most emissions. Yet, if we only tracked their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, we would only be tracking a portion of the emissions attributable to their actions. We wouldn’t be accounting for their business travel, the manufacturing that they outsource, the emissions from all the goods and services they consume, or the waste they create. Thus, to get a true picture, governments, stakeholders, and industry peers are demanding an accounting of Scope 3 emissions. And, according to the U.S. EPA, Scope 3 emissions often represent the majority of an organization’s total GHG emissions.”

Scope 3 emissions are a lot more complicated than both Scope 1 and 2 emissions, over which organizations have direct control. Accounting for and reducing Scope 3 emissions requires collaboration, transparency, and change. Often characterized as an organization’s “value chain” emissions, this accounting looks at product and services choice, use and disposal, and thereby puts pressure on both upstream and downstream suppliers.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol identifies 15 categories of Scope 3 emissions – not all of which will be relevant or at least material to every organization. Peter Spiller, Partner and Head of EMEA Sustainability in Operations Practice McKinsey, suggests that organizations “start rough” and “be humble”. The quest for Scope 3 emissions accountability is a journey of refinement that will never be “one and done.”

Here at CNE, we’re committed to working with our customers and partners to quantify scope 3 emissions. We’re working on some exciting new tools to help measure scope 3 emissions and look forward to ongoing collaboration to provide transparency in this important area.

Be sure to read my other blogs, which include:

Sustainable Electronics
Energy and Electronics
What Goes in Doesn't Always Come Out
Conflict Minerals and Electronics
What is Scope 1, 2 & 3 Emissions?
The Big Squeeze – Leveraging Buying Power to Effect Sustainability Goals

carol-baroudi-smCarol Baroudi has been focused on sustainable electronics for more than 15 years and is recognized for her prominent work as lead author for Green IT for Dummies. Carol is a contributing guest blogger for CNE Direct and consulting to support new sustainability initiatives.