Sustainfy Expert - What is a carbon emission?

What is a Carbon Emission? 

To understand carbon emissions, it is important to remember that carbon is literally everywhere. Every organism has carbon; from the food we eat to the composition of our own bodies.

A carbon emission is the amount of carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent related to a certain activity, commodity, or product.

Thus, when we burn coal (for electricity) or gasoline (to drive our cars), we release carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide becomes an issue because of excess carbon dioxide in the air leads to a greenhouse effect. This man-made greenhouse effect is the leading cause of climate change and global warming.   

How Can You Reduce or Your Organization Reduce Carbon Emissions?

To reduce carbon emissions, it’s important to understand the different scopes of emissions. There are three scopes of emissions and guidance documents on calculating these scopes are provided by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol). GHG Protocol is a non-for-profit organization with offices in Geneva, Switzerland and Washington D.C, U.S.

Scope 1 emissions are direct greenhouse (GHG) emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization or person. Typical sources of Scope 1 GHG emissions are from fuel combustion such consumption of diesel, gasoline, natural gas, etc., and fugitive emissions. Fugitive emissions are leaks and other irregular releases of gases or vapors from a pressurized containment. This is a major concern because the gases used in air conditioning equipment often leak, and have high global warming potential and/or high ozone depleting potential. 

Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG Reduction Tip: Do not overcool your home or offices during the summer months. Keep temperatures at 74°F to 78°F. And when possible, open a window!

Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling. Scope 2 emissions are accounted in an organization’s or person’s GHG inventory because these emissions are a result of energy use. Thus, decarbonization starts with reducing energy consumption and actively investing in energy efficiency. 

Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by an organization or person, but indirectly impacts value chain. For many, scope 3 emissions account for the majority of their GHG emissions reduction opportunities. By inventorying Scope 3 emissions, organizations and persons can identify emission hotspots, recognize sustainability performance leaders, and evaluate energy resilience and efficiency opportunities within supply chains. For organizations, GHG emissions reduction often results in cost reduction as well. Scope 3 emissions fall within the following 15 categories:

  1. Purchased Goods and Services
  2. Capital Goods
  3. Fuel and Energy-related Activities not included in Scope 1 and Scope 2
  4. Upstream Transportation and Distribution
  5. Waste Generated in Operations
  6. Business Travel
  7. Employee Commuting
  8. Upstream Leased Assets
  9. Downstream Transportation and Distribution
  10. Processing of Sold Products
  11. Use of Sold Products
  12. End-of-Life Treatment of Sold Products
  13. Downstream Leased Assets
  14. Franchises
  15. Investments

Scope 3 GHG Reduction Tip: Use public transit, bike or walk (if possible); reduce, reuse and recycle; purchase carbon offsets (when possible); and invest in sustainability-focused stocks, ETFs, or companies.