What Are Scope 1, 2, and 3 Emissions?

On the journey of climate education, running into nuanced topics with unfamiliar jargon is extremely common. However, none may be as intricate and as important to successful corporate social responsibility than the concept of Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.

What Exactly Are The Scopes?

Scopes 1, 2, and 3 are classifications of corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions outlined in an international climate agreement called the GHG Protocol.

The different scopes represent different categories of emissions in relation to how directly they relate to the company measuring them.

Scope 1

Scope 1 emissions are the most direct form of emission that a company can produce. They occur when something the company owns or uses requires emitting greenhouse gases to operate.

Use of gas-powered company vehicles is a common Scope 1 emission for most companies.

Other common types include fugitive emissions from leaks in refrigeration or air conditioning and process emissions from factories and manufacturing.

Essentially, any greenhouse gas emission that is a direct result of an action the company takes is classified as Scope 1.

Scope 2

Scope 2 emissions are one layer removed from the direct way that Scope 1 emissions are calculated. Essentially, any action that your company does that requires the use of power is calculated as a Scope 2 emission.

Common Scope 2 emissions are actions like the use of office electricity and company electric vehicles.

Not included in Scope 2 emissions are the purchase of energy from companies that work with the measuring company, such as the purchase of electricity to power an electric vehicle that is delivering goods to the measuring company.

Scope 3

Scope 3 emissions are where things get tricky. They fall into two categories: upstream and downstream.


Upstream emissions are any emissions that occur as a result of a company action or purchase used to sell their product.

Common operations that are included in upstream Scope 3 emissions are business travel, employee commuting, waste generated from operations, and the use of capital goods, which include things like the emissions required to build the office a company uses.

Also included in upstream emissions are transportation and distribution emissions, but they can also be downstream emissions depending on where in the product life cycle they occur.


Downstream Scope 3 emissions are anything that occurs after the product has been sold.

Commonly, these include emissions that stem from the end use of the product, like the electricity  required to power a lightbulb that a company sold, the processing of sold products, and the emissions required to get rid of the products once they reach their end life.

Additionally, downstream Scope 3 emissions include emissions stemming from what the company uses the money they received selling their product for, such as leased assets, investments, and the operations of franchises.

Due to the wide range of activities in Scope 3 emissions, most corporate emissions are classified as Scope 3.

Why Is The Scope System Important?

Carbon offsetting is one of the best ways to fight the climate crisis, but the theory behind it relies on the assumption that companies actually know how many emissions they create.

The scope system, especially Scope 3, allows companies to actually know that number, by taking into account every possible way that a company’s operations affect the environment.

Thus, the scope system allows carbon offsetting to work as a climate solution, which is integral to the larger fight against the climate crisis.

I’d like to congratulate you, dear reader, for being another layer deep down the climate rabbit hole. Knowing what a carbon offset is is one thing, but knowing the ins and outs of corporate emission classification means you’re well on your way to being fully educated.

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