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What are "Scope 4" emissions?

A new concept is slowly permeating emissions discourse as the need for emissions reporting reveals holes in the way these reports have been developed. Many GHG reporting methods lack systemic overview, as I pointed out previously and as organisations and consultants start to realise that the easiest way to save on CO2e is to prevent it's release, the term "Scope 4" emissions is starting to catch on.

As the world becomes more aware of the impact of climate change, companies are under increasing pressure to reduce their carbon footprint. One of the ways they can do this is by tracking their greenhouse gas emissions and implementing measures to reduce them. The most commonly known method for tracking emissions is through the use of the three Scopes of emissions, as defined under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. But the newer concept of Scope 4 emissions is emerging.

Scope 4 emissions are those that occur outside of a company's own operations, but are a result of its existence within a wider sector or economy. This is a tough one to grasp, and are easier to understand when you think of their removal, as "avoided emissions". In circular economies, these can be attributed to the avoided extraction and transportation of raw materials and the disposal of waste, since the emissions that would normally result, are now unnecessary.

This is how Automedi also makes most of its savings. Since all of the recycling, remanufacturing and creation of products and back again, happens in one service. Not across multiple economic actors.

While Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions are well-established, Scope 4 emissions are still a relatively new concept, and there is some debate as to whether they should be included in a company's overall carbon footprint. However, if you already use conversion factors, the effect of Scope 4 emissions are baked into those numbers. Also, if you do the work systemically, there is no need to account for Scope 4 separately, which is the approach we take operationally.

However, as companies begin to take a more holistic approach to sustainability, it is becoming increasingly clear that Scope 4 emission savings must be taken into account.

One reason that Scope 4 emissions are important is that they often represent a significant portion of a sector's overall carbon footprint. As scope 3 emissions start to make headway, the resulting savings across all 3 conventional scopes, should result in saving that aggregate across all companies in a market, into these "scope 4" savings overall.

Another reason that Scope 4 emissions are important is that they can provide companies with an opportunity to work on innovation together with their suppliers and other partners to reduce emissions along the market sector as a whole. This can lead to more sustainable practices beyond the company, more efficient supply chains, and ultimately, a lower carbon footprint for the entire industry.

Currently, there is no standardized method for tracking Scope 4 emissions, and it can be difficult to get accurate data from suppliers and other partners. However, as more companies begin to prioritize sustainability and work towards reducing their carbon footprint, it is likely that more attention will be paid to Scope 4 emissions.

In conclusion, while Scope 4 emissions may still be a relatively new concept, they are an important part of a company's overall carbon footprint. By taking responsibility for indirect emissions along the value chain, companies can work towards a more sustainable future and reduce their impact on the environment.


We're soon to launch our new advanced sustainability consultancy service. This will help carbon literate organisations learn and understand much more about the connection between emissions, climate and socio-economy. If you want to learn more, get in touch!

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