GHG protocol standards: An overview

By trapping heat from the sun, greenhouse gases (GHGs) have kept our planet Earth’s climate habitable for all living beings, including humans, for years. But now, those gases are out of balance and threaten to change drastically which living things can survive and where.

The roots of the GHG effect concept date back to the 19th century, when Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician, calculated in 1824 that the Earth would be much colder without an atmosphere. Two years later, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, first linked an increase in carbon dioxide gas from burning fossil fuels with a warming effect.

Calculating your carbon footprint using identified Scopes in GHGs

Today, it is well-known that the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now. As per the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard, a company’s greenhouse gases can be divided into three groups, known as ‘scopes.’

  • Scope 1 includes direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by the business in question.
  • Scope 2 includes indirect emissions from the company’s purchased energy in the form of steam, electricity, cooling, and heating.
  • Scope 3 includes all the other indirect emissions occurring during the course of the organisation’s value chain, including business-related travel, employee commutes, goods and services purchased, transportation and leased assets.

These three scopes together provide insights into product life cycle emissions, which refer to all of the emissions associated with a product’s journey — from manufacture to consumption.

The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard is similar to the GHG Protocol Product Standard in that they both take a value chain view of greenhouse gas accounting.

However, while the former focuses on identifying and reducing emissions at the corporate level, the latter focuses on the same elements at the individual product level. Both standards enable a comprehensive approach to greenhouse gas management throughout the value chain.

Travelling back in time: GHG standards

The GHG standards had their inception in 2008 when the World Resources Institute (WRI) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) put a three-year programme into motion. The standards were developed through an inclusive multi-stakeholder approach.

That included inputs from companies, NGOs, academic institutions and government agencies worldwide. The initial versions were prepared by Technical Working Groups of over 200 members and presented in 2009.

Following this, over 60 major global companies road-tested the standards in 2010 and provided critical feedback on their usability and practical application. In addition, there was a Stakeholder Advisory Group to give feedback on each subsequent draft of the standards.

Why measure Scope 3 emissions?

By now, most companies recognise and report on their Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, for most of them, the most significant chunk of their greenhouse gas and other emissions comes from activities outside of their direct operations.

Measuring Scope 3 emissions gives the company complete visibility on how sustainable their activities are, thus taking more comprehensive action. The benefits include:

  • Enhancing the energy efficiency of their products
  • Engaging with suppliers on sustainability initiatives
  • Identifying energy risks and emission hotspots across the supply chain
  • Identifying energy/cost reduction opportunities along the supply chain
  • Setting efficiency targets and tracking products in a systematic fashion
  • Engaging with employees and positively encourage a reduction in travel and/or commute
  • Identifying which suppliers are doing well in terms of sustainability and which ones are falling behind
  • Enhancing corporate reputation and public image by reporting on their GHG emission reduction efforts

Measuring scope 3 emissions, therefore, is good for businesses along with being good for the planet. Everyone wins!

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What is the best way to use these measurement standards?

The GHG Protocol standards are ideal for businesses to track their environmental impact, as the data is easily available and there are clear correlations with energy use. They can identify emission ‘hot spots’ and reallocate resources accordingly.

The methodology of the standards can also be applied to assess the impact of other kinds of resource usage, such as water. The Corporate Standard allows a company to track its greenhouse emissions over time.

The Product Standard allows businesses to develop more specific guidelines for the emissions in a product category by providing standards against which they can benchmark their results.

It is to be noted that the GHG Protocol standards are not meant to compare emissions across companies. This is because different companies may use different reporting techniques and have different standards for variations in the structure, size and industry. 

To enable meaningful comparisons across businesses, one can opt for special GHG reporting programmes that use consistent methodologies, datasets and performance metrics.

How will the standards help to solve global climate change?

Climate change is a global problem with many complex nuances to it. Greenhouse gas emissions affect the entire world, regardless of where the company is located.

Given that so many value chains now span countries and even continents, the impact of one company has a bigger trickle-down effect than ever. For businesses to put in efforts that count, their decisions should be based on hard facts about where and how emissions are happening.

Having a single consistent global standard of emissions reporting is a crucial step forward in that regard, which is where the GHG Protocol standards come in. As of now, adhering to the standards is voluntary.

Over to you

It is anticipated that the Protocols will become standard business practice over time. Companies everywhere will put in systematic efforts based on standardised data to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Going forward, governments may choose to make some aspects of the standards mandatory or incorporate elements of the standards into mandatory GHG reduction programmes.

We at Waste2ES believe that it is possible to reduce the negative environmental impact and carbon emissions by utilising a holistic suite of dynamic technologies — regardless of the sector you operate in. If you want to know more, contact us today. Join our journey to protect and sustain planet earth for all!

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