What are Scope 3 emissions?

April 5, 2022

4 minutes, 27 seconds read

What are Scope 3 emissions?

Scope 3 emissions categories represent the largest opportunity for organizations to reduce their carbon footprint. By making smart operational choices to reduce the indirect greenhouse gas emissions generated by their partners in the value chain, companies can leverage their purchasing power to improve sustainability among their partners. Some experts indicate that scope 3 emissions amount to 80% to 90% of an organization’s overall emissions, making this an excellent opportunity for action.

Food waste is a sizable example of scope 3 emissions. By reducing food purchasing and mitigating off-site food waste disposal, companies can make a sizable dent in this scope 3 emissions category and their operational carbon footprint. 

What are scope 3 emissions?

Organizations committed to sustainability generally begin reducing carbon emissions by focusing on steps they control directly. This may include installing energy-efficient boilers or furnaces, or switching to electric powered company cars. These direct sources of greenhouse gasses fall under the category of scope 1 emissions. The next step many companies take to lower their carbon footprint is to control emissions generated indirectly from the generation of purchased energy. 

Scope three emission categories include all of the indirect emissions generated as a result of an organization’s operational decisions. According to Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which sets global standardized frameworks for measuring and managing greenhouse gasses (GHG), scope three emissions include the upstream and downstream emissions generated throughout your organization’s value chain. 

Scope 3 emission categories encompasses such things as business travel and employee commuting, which drive up greenhouse gas emissions created by vehicles due to specific decisions the company makes. Purchased goods are another example. Emissions are generated in the process of creating and transporting those goods used by your organization. Scope 3 emissions are also emitted by downstream processes, such as the transportation of goods to end users and even the end-of-life disposal of goods that an organization may create. 

Food waste’s role in scope 3 emissions 

Food waste disposal provides a strong opportunity for reigning in scope 3 emissions. Food production contributes approximately 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to recent research. While food production as a whole is a necessity, the USDA estimates that an unfortunate 30% to 40% of food supply in the United States goes to waste each year. 

As the food waste hierarchy pyramid indicates, reducing purchases of food where possible to minimize waste is a powerful first step for minimizing upstream source 3 emissions. This is an opportunity to impact the emissions generated during agricultural operations, food manufacturing, and transportation of goods to stores and end users. 

For many commercial food operations, this can be a difficult step to manage. Without insight into the types and amounts of food waste being generated, it is nearly impossible to take confident steps toward reducing purchasing. However, solutions are now available to provide data-based insight into food waste. For example, some onsite biodigesters collect data on the amount of food waste consumed on an hourly basis and the type of waste being digested during the process of breaking down this food. This data-driven insight can guide food preparation operations toward adjustments on what they serve and the amount of inventory they stock. 

Onsite biodigesters are also a potential solution for minimizing downstream scope 3 emissions. By breaking down organic waste through an all-natural aerobic decomposition process, biodigesters reduce the amount of waste transported to the landfill. Eliminating this step also reduces the amount of damaging methane gas emissions generated by organic waste through an oxygen-free decomposition process at the landfill.

Methane gas is 87 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 14% of these emissions as of 2017. 

Setting scope 3 emission targets

Because scope 3 emissions are so broad, it can also be difficult to determine where to begin making a difference. Making this manageable starts with setting science-based targets, or greenhouse gas reduction goals. These targets can create a pathway toward more sustainable operation. 

Much of this work begins with data. This includes collecting information about steps taken by suppliers in your value chain and areas where operational changes can make a sizable impact on upstream or downstream emissions. It also means getting a firm handle on the flow of goods into and out of your operations. For organizations with sizable food preparation departments, tracking the movement of food into the kitchen and out as waste can present clear opportunities for improvement. 

The next step for many companies is to engage with their supply chain to find additional opportunities for more sustainable operations. For smaller companies, this may mean working with food manufacturers that are transparent with data on their emissions. It may mean working with local food producers to reduce transportation of goods. It could also mean connecting with landfills that use methane capture or other strategies to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. 

Take action to reduce your scope 3 emissions 

No matter what stage of the supply chain your food preparation sites, an onsite biodigester can provide the insight you need to manage your scope 3 emissions. Better still, many onsite biodigester owners find that the true cost of owning a biodigester is highly economical. 

To learn how you can reduce food waste with an onsite biodigester, contact Power Knot today.