Emissions are broken out into three types called scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3. Each type focuses on certain categories and actions that add to a company’s carbon footprint. Understanding the difference between scope 1 vs scope 2 emissions, or scope 2 vs scope 3, can help you determine where to cut your company’s overall emissions. 

Scope 1 emissions are also known as direct emissions. These are the carbon emissions that are released from company-owned and controlled resources. Scope one emissions are divided into four categories: stationary combustion, mobile combustion, fugitive emissions, and process emissions.

Stationary combustion accounts for fuel consumption at a company-owned facility to produce electricity, steam, heat, or power. The combustion of fossil fuels via boilers, furnaces, and other fuel burning equipment all fall under stationary combustion.

Mobile combustion is classified as direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are released into the atmosphere from mobile sources that are within an organization’s inventory boundary (including leased mobile sources). It’s important to note that all other mobile combustion, such as employee commuting, employee travel, and upstream/downstream third-party transportation emissions are considered scope 3 indirect emissions.

Fugitive emissions are classified as direct GHG emissions that leak or escape into the atmosphere from various types of equipment and processes. Common sources of fugitive emissions are refrigeration and air conditioning systems, fire suppression systems, and the purchase and release of industrial gasses (typically seen in manufacturing and laboratory applications).

Process emissions are those that are released from industrial processes involving chemical or physical transformations other than fuel combustion. 

Scope 2 emissions are also identified as owned-indirect emissions. These are the emissions that are generated through purchased energy via a utility provider.

Scope 3 emissions are inclusive of emissions that are not owned or controlled by an organization, also called indirect emissions. According to GHG protocol, scope 3 emissions should be viewed in 15 separate categories (not every category will be relevant to all organizations). GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard states that scope 3 emissions quantification is not required for reporting purposes; however, scope 3 emissions often represent the bulk of a company’s footprint, and Green Places feels that an inclusive approach is the optimal way to achieve corporate sustainability. Scope 3 categories include:

  1. Purchased good and services

  2. Capital goods

  3. Fuel and energy related activities (not included in scope 1 or 2)

  4. Upstream transportation and distribution

  5. Waste generated in operations

  6. Business travel (in vehicles not owned or operated by reporting company)

  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

Understanding scope 1 vs scope 2 emissions and scope 2 vs scope 3 is important to properly assess a business’s carbon footprint. A comprehensive carbon footprint assessment includes all three types of emissions, even though scope 3 emissions are not factored into carbon neutrality. In order for companies to make the most impact on the climate, they need to address and reduce emissions from every category.