Does Scope 3 need a rethink?

Last updated: 8th May 2024

Today, we are spending an enormous amount of time and money on getting the most complete Scope 3 inventory (especially when it comes to the physical value chain). But does completeness lead to actionable insights?

Once a GHG inventory is established, usually with average emission factors (or worse, spend-based methodology), the task is inevitably to gather primary data by requesting product carbon footprints (PCFs) from Tier 1 suppliers. 

This is a mammoth task, with seemingly no end in sight, as one can always increase accuracy by getting more primary data from Tier 2, Tier 3 suppliers etc. until you get to the farm or the mine. 

Unless a lot of focus is directed at specific products or raw material categories, comparability of PCFs at scale is hard due to the different choices of system boundaries and/or emission factors that suppliers might make. 

Businesses then find it hard to make decisions for fear of getting it wrong, typically ending up in various cycles of analysis paralysis. 

Its undeniable that supplier engagement is a good thing to encourage climate action. But considering the immense resources and leverage that many big corporates possess, does it go far and fast enough?

Some suggestions, inspired by an article from Robert Ballantine

Could we incentivise corporate investments in regenerative agriculture interventions with clearer guidance on Scope 3 reductions in corporate inventories even when traceability to the farm is not possible (eg with a sampling approach in a “supplier shed”)?

Could we provide long-lasting incentives for any supplier intervention that reduces emissions, even if the specific investment cannot be traced precisely or there is a shift of suppliers in the future? This would remove one of the barriers of investment which lies today.

Could we reduce the breadth of value chain emissions data corporates are asked to collect in favor of narrower but more accurate data (e.g. just the top 10% of value chain emissions)? More time & money to finance specific interventions!

Could we encourage consequential LCA thinking to be applied when considering switching to a lower carbon supplier (sometimes an intervention to reduce may prove to be more impactful than simply switching over)?

Could we be encouraging product design analysis before or in tandem with Scope 3 assessment (eg embedding carbon, water and other impact indicators with LCAs at design stage) and asking whether some products are compatible with a 1.5-degree future? 

If the right question is “How can looking into value chain emissions lead a company to identify and act on opportunities to reduce, avoid, or remove greenhouse gas emissions?” then “there is no compelling reason that the most complete Scope 3 inventory should be considered a prerequisite to identifying and investing in emissions reductions.”

Let us remind ourselves that Scope 3 is a tool, and we need to pick the best tools to inform and incentivise climate action.

Urgent action, over-analysis paralysis!

by Emilien Hoet, Managing Director, ClimatePartner UK

N.B. The information contained in this entry is provided by the above supplier, and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher

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