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What are Scope 1, 2 and 3 of carbon emissions?

Updated: Feb 15

When a company carries out a carbon footprint, its greenhouse gas emissions can be categorized into three scopes called scopes 1, 2 and 3. Based on an international methodology defined by the GHG Protocol, this categorization makes it possible to separate direct GHG emissions, indirect energy-related emissions and other indirect emissions. Here is a closer look at each of these scopes and a presentation of their benefits, both for companies and for environmental protection.

How are greenhouse gas emissions accounted for?

To identify their impact on climate change, companies and organizations must quantify their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when building their carbon footprint. The company must provide internal data on its activity, such as its gas, electricity and petrol consumption. Third-party data are also collected, from the entire upstream and downstream value chain of the company (purchases, freight, use and end of life of products sold, etc.).

The service provider responsible for accounting for the company's carbon emissions then associates a volume of emissions with the organization's activity data.

Scopes 1, 2 and 3 designate three distinct perimeters called "scope" in which GHG emissions are classified. Each scope is divided into sub-categories corresponding to the carbon sources emissions. Let's dive into the different carbon emissions scopes.


Scope 1: direct emissions

The first scope concerns the company's direct GHG emissions. The company is directly responsible for these emissions during the manufacture of its product or the implementation of its service. Heating in the company's premises, the refrigeration unit needed to preserve food or the fuel used for the company's vehicles fall into this category. Scope 1 includes five sub-categories:

  • Stationary combustion: fuel that burns in non-moving energy production facilities such as industrial boilers and thermal power plants;

  • Mobile combustion: fuel that burns in moving machinery such as a company's fleet of vehicles;

  • Direct process emissions: emissions from agricultural and industrial processes such as those resulting from fermentation in the food industry or bioethanol production;

  • Fugitive emissions: emissions that escape accidentally or intentionally, such as the leakage of refrigerant gases used in air conditioning, refrigeration, or freezing systems;

  • Emissions from biomass (soil and forests).

Greenhouse gas emissions that occur upstream of combustion are not included in Scope 1.

Scope 2: indirect energy-related emissions

Scope 2 concerns greenhouse gas emissions related to the consumption of electricity, heat or cold necessary for the proper functioning of the company. These are indirect emissions because their production has led to emissions upstream of their use, as these processes are only energy carriers. To calculate scope 2 emissions, companies must take into account the GHG emissions produced by the power plants or heating and cooling facilities that supplied the energy consumed by the company. Scope 2 includes two subcategories:

  • Indirect emissions from electricity consumption;

  • Indirect emissions related to the consumption of steam, heat or cold.

Scope 3: other indirect emissions (not owned)

Scope 3 includes all indirect greenhouse gas emissions other than those in Scope 1 and Scope 2. This includes a wide range of emissions related to the company's value chain, both upstream (purchasing, freight) and downstream (deliveries, product use, product end-of-life). Scope 3 is divided into 15 sub-categories, including product and service purchases, waste, investments, business travel and upstream and downstream freight. When added together, these emission items represent a significant portion of a company's greenhouse gas emissions.


Why should companies measure their emissions?

Measuring greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the context of a carbon footprint, serves multiple purposes. First of all, once the organization has a clear idea of the carbon footprint of its activity on the environment, it can put in place an action plan to reduce it. It can identify areas for improvement and then determine an emissions reduction trajectory aligned with the Paris agreements. But that's not all, a carbon footprint also allows the company to:

  • identify the potential vulnerability of its activity to the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels,

  • anticipate future regulations (quotas or carbon taxes) more easily,

  • have a more ecological brand image that can be promoted,

  • reinvest the money saved by reducing its energy expenses elsewhere.

Measuring and reporting on emissions can help to build trust with stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, and the general public. By demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and transparency, a company can improve its reputation and potentially attract more business.

Reducing emissions: a crucial global challenge

Driven by human activities since the industrial revolution, the greenhouse effect is currently being reinforced. Although greenhouse gas levels have varied considerably in the past, their volume and the speed at which they are increasing in the atmosphere are now causing historic global warming. The rise in temperature has many consequences, including rising sea levels, increased natural disasters, loss of biodiversity, food shortages, increased health risks, etc.

Faced with the seriousness of the situation, associations, experts and scientists are warning of the urgent need to act. Measures are being put in place and agreements are being made to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the UN, these emissions should be reduced by 7.6% per year between 2020 and 2030 so that global warming remains below 1.5 degrees, the target set by the Paris Agreements.

This is a major effort to which everyone must contribute, and which involves reducing the greenhouse gases emitted by companies in each of the above-mentioned scopes.


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