Overcoming challenges in understanding and quantifying Scope 3 emissions for large enterprises
As climate change leaders and policy makers accelerate the push towards net zero, companies can expect growing scrutiny and regulation of their carbon footprint.
Scope 3 emissions account for almost 85% of an enterprise’s emissions*. It is therefore critical for businesses seeking to decarbonise to accurately measure their Scope 3 emissions.
Scope 3 emissions are outside a company’s direct control and are typically spread out across its value chain. Most of a company’s Scope 3 emissions stem from their primary suppliers. Enterprises with large value chains may encounter a long tail of emissions beyond their primary suppliers, making it complex to track these emissions.
The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol allows companies to use industry averages, proxies, and other sources to calculate emissions. However, the carbon measurement and management process can be complex, time-consuming, and unreliable, if companies don’t have the right resources and tools.
Why should companies in the UK measure their Scope 3 emissions?
Companies in the UK must pay attention to their Scope 3 emissions for several reasons.
Identify the largest source of emissions
According to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Scope 3 emissions can make up more than 75% or more of a company's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and can reach close to 100% for certain industries such as financial services.
Tracking Scope 3 emissions will enable companies to identify vulnerabilities in their value chain to changing regulations, such as mandatory disclosures and carbon pricing and taxation.
Gain consumer trust
Reducing Scope 3 emissions can help companies significantly cut their carbon footprint and gain the trust of consumers.
Meet investor expectations
Investors are setting their own reduction targets and increasingly looking at an enterprise’s sustainability practices before making an investment.
Comply with regulations
Disclosure of Scope 3 emissions is mandatory under regulations such as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). The UK government primarily focuses on Scope 1 and 2 emissions in its current reporting. Only government employee business travel emissions are mandatory. Some private sector firms, particularly those bidding for government contracts over £5 million, must report on five out of 15 scope 3 emission categories under the SECR framework. It's important to note that The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recommends, but doesn't mandate, larger firms to report their Scope 3 emissions. However, with the government's anticipated full adoption of the TCFD recommendations by 2025, a heightened emphasis on Scope 3 emissions is expected.
The data problem in Scope 3 emissions
Measurement inaccuracy is one of the biggest challenges in carbon management and accounting today. A BCG study highlighted that businesses that took comprehensive emissions measurements were more successful in reducing them. Their second annual survey revealed that 10% of organisations currently measure Scope 1, Scope 2, and 3 emissions, a marginal increase from 9% in 2021. Respondents also noted an average error rate of 25% to 30% in their emissions measurements. This is particularly significant considering that Scope 3 emissions account for a substantial 92% of total emissions, as stated by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Despite this, only 12% of surveyed organizations prioritised Scope 3 emissions.
One of the main reasons for the above to happen is poor data quality. Companies must rely on data shared by their supply chain partners or third-party data (such as industry averages, statistics released by governments, or regulatory disclosures) to make estimations.
Collecting accurate data from multiple suppliers across the supply chain poses several challenges.
- Data complexity and quality: Companies make estimates about their Scope 3 emissions based on data shared by partners in their supply chain. Inaccurate data or estimations by supply chain partners can completely throw off a large enterprise’s Scope 3 emission calculations. Consider, for instance, a food processing enterprise. It sources farm produce from a group of farmers. The farmers then use fertilisers to grow their crops. The fertiliser company uses raw material to manufacture its products. Emissions occur across this value chain – for example, to deliver raw material to the fertiliser company; then the fertilisers to the farmers; and then for the farmers to send the produce to the food processor. Multiple modes of transport have been used across multiple locations. Each partner in the chain bases their calculations on estimations (emission factors, industry averages, fuel-based or spend-based calculations). Such estimations of estimations can make data extremely complex in large value chains.
- Lack of measurement: Many suppliers do not measure their emissions. Those who do measure, may not be open to sharing data due to confidentiality or contractual issues. Additionally, suppliers may share data in non-standardised ways, preventing purchasing companies from drawing meaningful conclusions.
- Lack of standard disclosure formats: The GHG Protocol provides guidelines on calculating Scope 3 emissions and the CDP provides templates for disclosure. However, there is significant variance in the methodologies and metrics that companies use to measure Scope 3 emissions.
- Scope 3 measurement is complex and resource-intensive: The calculation of Scope 3 emissions requires personnel, resources, expertise, and efficient data management processes, which can be difficult to align across a company’s supply chain.
How can carbon measurement technology help companies in the UK?
Carbon measurement technology can play a critical role in helping companies decarbonise. By using technology platforms such as Terrascope, companies can:
- Get a single view of data from multiple sources across their value chain, both primary and third-party, to measure emissions with confidence.
- Set accurate baselines and reduction targets, identify hotspots and make informed decisions on managing emissions.
- Slice and dice data by a variety of parameters (partner, location, category, etc.) and view it in a dashboard of visualisations and analytics.
- Collaborate seamlessly with partners and suppliers, support them in their reduction initiatives, and track their progress.
- Generate auditable reports required by regulators that are compliant with existing disclosure norms.
- Track reduction efforts against industry benchmarks and regulatory mandates.
How can Terrascope help?
Terrascope enables organisations to track and measure emissions across their value chain and all GHG categories. The SaaS-based platform helps large enterprises make data-driven decisions, set realistic reduction goals, and start the journey to net zero with confidence. Get in touch with our emissions measurement expert now.