As outlined in Steps to Conduct a Carbon Footprint, once an organisation’s boundary has been defined, the next task in compiling a carbon footprint is determining which sources of emissions to include. Two levels of assessment can be clearly defined:
- A limited assessment comprising scope 1 and 2 emissions only
- A comprehensive assessment incorporating scopes 1 and 2, plus all material scope 3 emissions
(For more information on scopes, refer to our page on ‘What is a Carbon Footprint?’)
In between these two clearly defined levels there is a big void, into which most organisations attempting to measure their emissions tend to fall – refer to our November post ‘How many sources make a footprint complete?’ which talked about some general principles for a comprehensive assessment.
The most frequently reported scope 3 emission sources are flights, waste, paper and staff or contractor vehicle use. With the exception of flights, the frequency of reporting these sources doesn’t actually reflect their relative importance in the emissions profile of most organisations.
Paper is often easy to record and many organisations talk up the environmental credentials of having “gone paperless” however when it comes to greenhouse emissions, paper is usually a very minor source. The exception to this is organisations which:
- Are intensive in their use of document hard copies, (e.g. law firms, financial institutions),
- Frequently issue paper bills to large numbers of customers (e.g telecommunications providers, banks, utilities)
- Heavily rely on printed material in their marketing activities.
Organisations which issue large volumes of paper bills are also likely to find postage is a significant source of emissions, so that should be included as well.
Waste is also reported far more frequently than is warranted by its typical significance to total emissions of an organisation, especially for service firms. Figures below 1% of emissions are typical for office environments and estimation techniques need to be questioned if an estimate produces a value above this level.
This is not to say that waste and paper shouldn’t be included. What we are pointing out is that including flights, vehicles, waste and paper does not make for a comprehensive carbon footprint assessment.
Our next article will continue this topic and include some recommendations of what to include.