Tackling Scope 3 for Science Based Targets

[Updated] Organisation completing science-based targets (SBTs) often experience challenges throughout the target setting process. Carbon Credentials has helped numerous clients satisfy the requirements set by the Science-Based Target initiative (SBTi) as many find the Scope 3 emissions assessment can often be the most troublesome requirement.

So what are Scope 3 emissions?

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) is the most widely used accounting standard for GHG emissions. In another blog, my colleague Kyna wrote about the use of emission scopes for allocating emissions for investor reporting. The same methodology is also drawn upon by the SBTi to provide the basis for long-term target setting.

This GHG Protocol categorises an organisation’s emissions into three “scopes”.

  • Scope 1 emissions (direct emissions) are defined as emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the organisation. This might include, for example, natural gas combusted in a boiler at a company’s head office.
  • Scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions) are emissions from purchased electricity, heat, steam or cooling consumed by the company, but generated elsewhere.
  • Scope 3 emissions (other indirect emissions) are emissions that occur as a consequence of the operations of the organisation but are not directly owned or controlled by that organisation. For example, emissions from waste generated by a company are defined as Scope 3 emissions.

The GHG Protocol Scope 3 guidance outlines the 15 different Scope 3 categories and each should be assessed in terms of their materiality in order to understand what an organisation should report on. A summary of the three scopes of emissions and their definitions can be seen in the infographic below.

Figure 1 A breakdown of how different emissions are categorised into Scope 1, 2, or 3.

Scope 3 emissions are especially important for organisations because they often make up the largest portion of the overall footprint. The challenge organisations face in quantifying Scope 3 lies in the degree of control they have over these activities and the collection of data associated with them. Paradoxically, the most significant emission reductions can be made by targeting Scope 3 activities. By calculating Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, an organisation can understand its full climate change impact and prioritise efforts to reduce emissions.

What does the Science-Based Targets initiative require for Scope 3?

Previously, the SBTi only recommended that companies submitting targets undertake a Scope 3 screening, but this is now a requirement of the process. This means that organisations must look at all relevant Scope 3 categories and determine their significance.

The SBTi requires that if Scope 3 emissions make up over 40% of total Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions then the majority of Scope 3 emissions must be included in the target. The “majority” is defined as the top 3 categories or 2/3 of total scope 3 emissions.

In terms of ambition, it is not a requirement that Scope 3 targets are in line with a 2 degrees scenario, but that the targets are challenging and robust. The organisation must demonstrate that their Scope 3 targets are addressing the main sources of GHG emissions within their value chain in line with current best practice.

So how do I begin with setting a target on my Scope 3 emissions?

So far, most organisations have focussed on Scope 1 and 2 emissions and many are not yet even measuring Scope 3. The graph below demonstrates that over twice as many UK CDP respondents are setting Scope 1 & 2 targets versus those companies that are setting Scope 3 targets.

[image] Figure 2 A comparison of the number of UK companies setting Scope 1 and 2 versus Scope 3 targets as reported in CDP 2016.

Figure 2 A comparison of the number of UK companies setting Scope 1 and 2 versus Scope 3 targets as reported in CDP 2016.

It can be difficult to set a target when there is no baseline data to compare against. Subsequently, there is a lot of uncertainty about how to get started on the journey. The process diagram below gives a high-level understanding of the steps to evaluating an organisation’s value chain impacts:

[image] Figure 3 A high-level process diagram demonstrating the steps for understanding Scope 3 emissions.

Figure 3 A high-level process diagram demonstrating the steps for understanding Scope 3 emissions.

The first step in the process is to perform an initial Scope 3 gap analysis. The gap analysis is where organisations can assess current reporting against the 15 Scope 3 emissions categories to determine whether all relevant emission sources are covered. This analysis will allow you to either move on to set your targets or demonstrate that more work must be done in this area.

What should I do next?

If the results of the gap analysis show you haven’t quite analysed everything you need to, firming up the Scope 3 reporting boundary will be of huge benefit and move you along the SBT process. Remember, a central requirement of the SBTi is to demonstrate that you have considered the relevance of emission categories included and can provide a justification for excluding the others.

By evaluating Scope 3 emissions against the GHG Protocol Value Chain criteria, a company can identify which emission sources are truly relevant to their organisation and should, therefore, be included within the target. My colleague Scarlett Benson will describe this process in more detail in the second part of this Scope 3 SBT blog series.

If you would like help understanding your Scope 3 emissions or developing a science-based target, please get in touch with one of our experts here.

Emma Watson, Consultant

[Updated March 2018. Originally posted July 31st 2017]