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Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions

What you need to know.

Scope 1, 2 and 3 is a way of categorising the different kinds of carbon emissions a company creates in its own operations, and in its wider value chain.

The term first appeared in the Green House Gas Protocol of 2001 and today, Scopes are the basis for mandatory GHG reporting in the UK.

If you’re hearing about Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions for the first time, it’s unlikely to be the last. Think of it in terms of three categories of emissions;

  • Scope 1 emissions— This one covers the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions that a company makes directly — for example while running its boilers and vehicles.
  • Scope 2 emissions — These are the emissions it makes indirectly – like when the electricity or energy it buys for heating and cooling buildings, is being produced on its behalf.
  • Scope 3 emissions — Now here’s where it gets tricky. In this category go all the emissions associated, not with the company itself, but that the organisation is indirectly responsible for, up and down its value chain. For example, from buying products from its suppliers, and from its products when customers use them. Emissions-wise, Scope 3 is nearly always the big one.

Five things you need to know about Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions:

Scope 1 and 2 are most within an organisation’s control.

Companies will normally have the source data needed to convert direct purchases of gas and electricity into a value in tonnes of GHGs. This information may sit with procurement, finance, estates management, or in a sustainability function.

In some cases, the solutions exist to deliver net zero for Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

For example, an organisation can source renewable electricity, renewable gas, or electrify its heat demand, or transition to electric vehicles.

Scope 3 is often where the impact is.

For many businesses, Scope 3 emissions account for more than 70 percent of their carbon footprint. For example, for an organisation that manufactures products, there will often be significant carbon emissions from the extraction, manufacture and processing of the raw materials.

Businesses also have less control on how Scope 3 emissions are addressed.

You can offer to collaborate on solutions to reduce emissions with current suppliers, or consider changes to your supply chain. However, in most areas, suppliers will have considerable influence on how emissions are reduced through their own purchasing decisions, and product design.

Committing to reach net zero will involve tackling your Scope 3 emissions.

Definitions for what constitutes net zero ambition can be slippery - but businesses looking to adopt best practice will commit to tackling Scope 3 emissions as part of their plans. Mapping your emissions footprint by scale, and how much control you have over the source will be a good way to start addressing them. As well as making the emissions hotspots within easy reach your first ports of call.

Keep learning

For more insight and inspiration on how to approach your Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, explore our collection of articles below.

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