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Scope 3 emissions: how to avoid ‘SCOPE’ when reducing your school’s carbon footprint

Working towards creating a cleaner environment for future generations and being aware of our carbon footprint should be a priority for all of us. But it’s too easy to assume we’re making the right choices, that the numbers add up, and we are making a difference.

Nicole
14/05/2021

Making informed choices and small changes, for example, purchasing refurbished IT devices, will help to reduce your carbon footprint

Working towards creating a cleaner environment for future generations and being aware of our carbon footprint should be a priority for all of us. But it’s too easy to assume we’re making the right choices, that the numbers add up, and we are making a difference.

To shed some light on the situation, this article looks at measuring Scope 3 emissions, what they mean and how you can make a positive impact by changing only a few current practices.

Why ‘scoping’ is needed for accurate measuring

Between 1990 and 2019, the United Kingdom claimed to have reduced greenhouse emissions by 42%. But according to climate activist Greta Thunberg, it was “…very creative carbon accounting”. She explained that by counting only the emissions occurring within UK territory, they were ignoring the emissions caused by the activities that involved international commerce and transport.

Greta suggested, therefore, that the figures compiled by the UK’s own Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the true reduction was a much less impressive 10%.

She had a point. Following initial work by the World Resources Institute, both the Corporate Standard and Greenhouse Gas Protocol recognise that there are three ‘scopes’ to an organisation’s greenhouse gas emissions:

           
Scope 1: emissions generated on site
           

Scope 2: emissions produced from the energy bought by an organisation
           

Scope 3: emissions produced by the organisation’s suppliers, distributors and end customers

Just as the UK effectively ignored its Scope 3 emissions – the carbon produced overseas by suppliers making things on our behalf, the same can be said of schools. If you don’t count the emissions of the external organisations who provide your products or services, you’re ignoring a large part (perhaps as much as 80%) of your total emissions.

For more on why it’s essential to understand and map your zero e-waste goals, read our article Taking steps to achieve zero e-waste goals in your business.

Measuring your carbon footprint accurately requires a wider view

It is understandable that Scope 3 emissions are sometimes overlooked. To get an accurate idea of your Scope 3 emissions, you need to know how much carbon was produced in creating the goods and services your school purchases – which means you are relying on your suppliers to have reliable measures in place. However, if you don’t consider your Scope 3 emissions, you may have a very distorted picture of how successful you are in reducing your school’s carbon footprint.

As an example, let’s consider a school that has its own minibus. By running that bus, the school will be responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. If the school decides to sell the minibus and hire minibuses to use as required, it might be tempted to think it has reduced its carbon footprint. But in reality, it has outsourced its emissions in just the same way as it has outsourced minibus provision. This change has had no effect on the amount of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere. In fact, if the minibuses used by the hire company are less efficient than the school’s minibus, it might even make things worse!

So, what can you do about your school’s Scope 3 emissions?

Even if it’s difficult to quantify them, there are steps you can take to make sure you keep them as low as possible. When it comes to the products you buy, this Science Based Targets report proposes one simple measure that can be adopted to reduce Scope 3 emissions: increasing product lifespans.

Put simply, making a product last longer reduces the need to make a replacement. If no replacement is made, then the normal carbon emission that accompanies the production process won’t happen.

For example, when a school buys a refurbished laptop, they can assume a business/ large corporation originally purchased it. So we can’t ignore the fact that when the laptop was built, the production process will have caused carbon emissions. BUT that is a one-off carbon cost and part of the Scope 3 emissions of the company that bought it. The only Scope 3 emissions the school is responsible for will be those resulting from refurbishing the laptop. These will be a fraction of the emissions that would result from buying a new, purpose-made machine.

You can push your Scope 3 emissions down lower still by ensuring that you use an efficient refurbishment organisation that works hard to keep its own emissions low. Reconome, for instance, is a certified member of B Corp, meaning they have met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Our Sustainability Reports, which can be provided with every repaired and redeployed device, demonstrate that we keep valuable resources in circulation, saving the planet’s energy, raw materials and emissions. So by using a supplier like Reconome, you not only get good quality IT at a low price, you also benefit the environment by significantly reducing your school’s Scope 3 emissions.

Contact us now to see how we can help you avoid ‘creative accounting’ when reducing your school’s carbon footprint.