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Scope 3 emissions – the hidden extras that can wreck your green credentials and how to avoid them

You must look beyond your company’s direct emissions and consider its indirect emissions also – including those linked to the disposal of your redundant IT equipment.

With an increasing sense of urgency surrounding the climate crisis,

Nick Rawkins
28/05/2021

You must look beyond your company’s direct emissions and consider its indirect emissions also – including those linked to the disposal of your redundant IT equipment.

With an increasing sense of urgency surrounding the climate crisis, many businesses are now making carbon neutrality a key strategic objective. If you’re reading this article, that’s probably the aim of your business, too. After all, it’s very likely that if your customers don’t expect you to be carbon neutral already, they will. In fact, we suspect many customers will soon demand it.

However, many businesses are not making as much progress in reducing emissions as they would like to. That’s mainly because they’re not taking into account all the indirect emissions their businesses are generating, like their scope 3 emissions

This article explains what Scope 3 emissions are and how to identify the hidden extras that will stop your business from reaching its carbon neutral goals:

What are Scope 3 emissions?

The internationally-recognised Greenhouse Gas Protocol categorises an organisation’s greenhouse gas emissions into three ‘scopes’:

  • Scope 1:  direct emissions from company-owned and controlled resources
  • Scope 2:  emissions produced from the energy bought by an organisation
  • Scope 3:  emissions produced by the organisation’s suppliers, distributors and end customers

For many businesses, it’s easier to measure their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions and take steps to reduce them., but harder to quantify and reduce their Scope 3 emissions. To get an accurate idea of your Scope 3 emissions, you need to know how much carbon was produced in the creation and use of your products or services – which is dependent on external organisations having reliable measures in place.

However, suppose you don’t consider your Scope 3 emissions. In that case, you may have a very distorted picture of how successful you are in reducing your business’s carbon footprint, particularly if you don’t account for both your ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ Scope 3 emissions.

What are upstream and downstream emissions?

Just as your business sits in a supply chain or a value chain, it also sits in a chain of carbon-producing activities.

‘Upstream’ activities are those that happen BEFORE your on-site activities. Examples of these are:

  • Activities involved in making the goods and services you purchase
  • Shipping of goods to your site
  • Employee travel

‘Downstream’ activities happen AFTER your on-site activities. These include:

  • Shipping of products to your customers
  • Use of products/services by your customers
  • Disposal of waste

Why is accounting for Scope 3 emissions important?

The best way to illustrate this is to consider an example. Let’s say a business manufactures a product, with the production process involving several activities that create carbon emissions. To help reach its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the business identifies the component that produces the highest carbon emissions and outsources its manufacture to another company.

On the face of it, this has reduced the emissions of the first business. But, of course, really, the business has outsourced its emissions in just the same way as it has outsourced this part of its production process. This change has had no effect on the amount of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere. In fact, if the supplier used is less energy-efficient than the original business, it might even make things worse – and that’s before we consider the emissions created by shipping the components back on-site for manufacturing!

In our example, the business might have thought it had reduced emissions when looking only at its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. But to get the true picture, it needed to account for Scope 3. In fact, as much as 80% of the carbon emissions a business is responsible for can be Scope 3 emissions.

Reducing your Scope 3 emissions

Even if it’s difficult to quantify them, there are steps you can take to make sure you keep your Scope 3 emissions as low as possible. For upstream activities, choose suppliers that can demonstrate they take all reasonable measures to ensure minimal emissions result from their activities

But what about downstream activities? How can you affect what happens to the things that leave your business? Well, one way to have an immediate impact on your business’s green credentials is to look at how you dispose of IT.

A 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 minimises the need to make a replacement. If no replacement is made, then the normal carbon emission that accompanies the production process won’t happen.

Your obsolete or broken IT might seem useless to you, but when fixed, it can still be a valuable asset to a charity, community group, or school. A specialist recycling business such as Reconome can take your IT equipment, securely remove all data, and refurbish it to increase its lifespan.

Choosing the right partner is key

Reconome is not only accredited to the highest level for securely deleting sensitive business data, but we are also a certified B Corp, meaning we meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. When we dispose of unusable components, we do so sustainably – nothing goes into landfill. We make sure to prioritise refurbishing and re-use over recycling in alignment with the waste hierarchy.

We also believe everyone should have equal access to opportunities, which nowadays can only be achieved by having equal access to technology. It’s an ethos that continues to set us apart from many other ITADs.

Our Sustainability Reports, provided with every repaired and redeployed device when requested, 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 dispose of your old IT safely and securely; you also reduce your downstream Scope 3 emissions.

If you are a business that recognises donating your ’end of life’ IT can help schools and charities and help you reach your carbon-neutral goals, contact our team now!