A crisis can be defined as any event or period that will lead, or may lead, to an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, or all of society and a time when a difficult or important decision must be made. We are in such a time. Due to the crisis of Climate Change many difficult decisions must be made now.
Some definitions can provide a guide to point us in the right direction when we are lost. The definition of a crisis is easy to define and understand. Scope 1 2 and 3 Emissions on the other hand have not been easy for the world to define and they have not been easy for people to understand. It is not clear why they’re called ‘scopes’ rather than ‘groups’ or ‘types’ but the name comes from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which is the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standard.
The scopes were created as part of its Corporate Accounting Reporting Standard to provide a global framework for measuring and managing GHG emissions for all types of organisations and industries. The terms Scope 1 2 and 3 first appeared in the Green House Gas Protocol of 2001 and today, Scopes are the basis for mandatory GHG reporting around the world.
The following will explain what scopes are, why they matter, why some Scope 3 emissions should be considered scandalous and why Canada and business and industry must now make important decisions to reduce them.
The three scopes are a way of categorising the different kinds of emissions a company creates in its own operations and in its wider ‘value chain’ (its suppliers and customers). If you’re hearing about Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions for the first time, it’s unlikely to be the last. Think of it in terms of three categories of emissions:
Scope 1 emissions — This one covers the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions that a company makes directly — for example while running its machinery and vehicles.
Scope 2 emissions — These are the emissions it makes indirectly – like when the electricity or energy it buys for heating and cooling buildings, is being produced on its behalf.
Scope 3 emissions — Now here’s where it gets tricky. The scope 3 emissions for one organization are the scope 1 and 2 emissions of another organization. This category includes all the associated emissions that the company is indirectly responsible for, up and down its value chain. For example, from buying products from its suppliers. They are also referred to as value chain emissions and for many businesses they are nearly always the highest. They often represent the majority of their total greenhouse gas (GHG) and account for more than 70 percent of their carbon footprint.
To fully meet GHG Protocol standards, an organization must report emissions from all relevant scope 3 categories. Only by developing a full [greenhouse gas] emissions inventory – incorporating Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions – can companies understand their full value chain emissions and focus their efforts on the greatest reduction opportunities.
To explain why Scope 3 matters – the following are 3 examples from the grocery and wine industries:
Example 1 – Loblaw Companies Ltd. stated in their 2022 Climate Action Commitment Report, they are committed to reducing their environmental impact across their entire supply chain. Today, they have more than 2,400 grocery stores mostly run by franchised independent owners. They are saying they will reduce their enterprise-wide operational carbon footprint by 50% by 2030, against a 2020 baseline, and will achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 for its enterprise Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, and Scope 3 by 2050. They also say: while our enterprise operation footprint Scope 1 and 2 is large (2% and 1% respectively), the emissions generated throughout our supply chain Scope 3 (estimated to be 97%) will have an even greater impact on the environment, and accordingly will be integral to achieving our goal of net-zero by 2050. (https://www.loblaw.ca/en/responsibility/)
Example 2 – Empire Company Limited is the parent company of Sobeys Inc. with over 1500 stores across Canada. They say their Scope 3 target represents the largest emission reduction opportunities for the company over the next five years, and the company has already begun engaging with its suppliers to ensure it reaches its Scope 3 emissions goals. They also say they will achieve net zero for Scope 3 by 2050 according to the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) Net Zero Standard. (https://sciencebasedtargets.org)
Example 3 – The LCBO of Ontario is a Crown Corporation subject to the new law that requires their measurement and disclosure of their efforts to reduce the scope 3 emissions generated by their purchasing policy. Procurement is a huge contributor to their greenhouse gas emissions due to the very long distances their purchases travel. Therefore, the LCBO and wineries need to examine their entire supply chain, including all long distance and overseas suppliers, to assess the sustainability reporting and track record of all suppliers.
The LCBO says that for over 10 years they have been measuring the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with both its direct operations, and where possible, that of its suppliers. “Where possible” is a problematic choice of words. They must do much better than that. The LCBO’s 2012 Sustainability Reports stated that indirect – scope 3 emissions represent the largest share of LCBO’s footprint with 66% (likely much higher in my view) in 2010 and 2011 with 34% in total for Scope 1 and 2, but over 10 years later they still have not said what they are going to do to reduce the massive amounts of SCOPE 3 emissions they are responsible for. Their use of lighter weight glass bottles over the last years does not have a large enough impact. They cannot stop there. They must do much more.
Addressing supply-chain emissions enables many companies, like the LCBO, to impact a volume of emissions several times higher than they could if they were to focus on decarbonising their own direct operations and power consumption alone.
Considering that the transportation of imported wine can be responsible for producing 50 times more greenhouse gas than domestic wine, it is scandalous that the top 5 wine importing countries are producing massive amounts of Scope 3 emissions to provide consumers simply with the luxury of a choice. That luxury is very expensive to the environment.
The bottom line is that the transportation sector, that is almost exclusively dependent on a single energy source, petroleum, must change substantially in little more than a generation. The world must also do everything possible to reduce the number of kilometres travelled by all methods of transport since this would be much easier, and faster, than improving efficiency. All countries should come together and agree to reduce imports of all alcoholic beverages by a negotiated percentage every year over the next 10 years. If such an agreement could be negotiated this would show the developing world that the world’s wealthy countries are sincere about fighting climate change.
The LCBO states it is committed to minimizing its impact on the environment. Considering Canada is the 5th largest importer of wine in the world and per capita produces the largest amount of Scope 3 emissions for wine transportation shipments as a result – they must do much more than they are doing now to reduce emissions.
If companies are not measuring their greenhouse gas emissions correctly, we have a major hurdle to overcome in the race to net-zero. Scope 3 emissions are the elephant-in-the-room of climate change, referring to a problem that everyone knows is there but no one wants to acknowledge. It is long overdue for companies and governments to focus more on reducing this major source of emissions. They must put in whatever the time and effort is needed to succeed.
Scope 3 emissions are complicated and reducing them will not be easy. Are the commitments mentioned above just more blah, blah, blah? Maybe yes – maybe no. It is certain that our future will be full of carefully written and important reports of progress. The details of those reports will need to be examined closely. Transparency and truthfulness will matter greatly – and will be taken seriously.
Wines from southern California may taste good, but the truck used to transport them can burn enough fuel to produce a tonne of greenhouse gas before it arrives in Toronto. That tonne of Scope 3 GHG will stay in our atmosphere for 100’s of years contributing to climate change. What does this tell us? Buy local! This is not just a request to Canada – this is a request to the entire world.
Robert Hicks is author of Our Future: Let’s talk about the Climate Crisis – A story for attendees of COP26 and a few billion others. (with poetry) Amazon ISBN 9798757601199. He is a member of the SCAN! Education Committee.
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