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Deep dive: Scope 1 emissions

May 26, 2023

Learn what scope 1 emissions are, why you should track them, and how to reduce them.

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If you’ve heard about carbon accounting or are starting to think about tracking your company’s greenhouse gas emissions, then you’re ready to get familiar with emissions scopes—sometimes called scope emissions—which are comprised of scope 1, 2, and 3.

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But what are emissions scopes, and what’s the point? Emissions get classified into three scopes—each represents who in the corporate value chain “owns” or is responsible for the emissions. Breaking carbon emissions into scopes helps prevent double counting and helps classify the GHG emissions you create into manageable and measurable categories. You can also think of emissions scopes as the reporting standard or framework for carbon accounting. For an overview of emissions scopes, check out this post.  

Before you dive into your sustainability strategy and start measuring your carbon footprint—and how your business and supply chain contribute to climate change—you need to understand the emissions categories. They describe their source or where they come from, and if you directly or indirectly control that source. And those are terms—direct GHG emissions and indirect GHG emissions—you’ll frequently hear in carbon accounting. But for the sake of this post, just know that scope 1 emissions are direct emissions. Let’s dive in.  

The definition of scope 1 emissions 

A straightforward definition of scope 1 emissions: Direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by a reporting company. And a shorthand for scope 1 is “burn” because it includes things your business burns—fuel to heat or power buildings, vehicles, and other equipment. Scope 1 also includes accidental or fugitive emissions like chemical and refrigerant leaks and spills. 

What’s considered a scope 1 emission?  

Scope 1 emissions—again, also referred to as direct emissions—result from the combustion of fuels on-site. This includes oil and natural gas, gasoline and diesel fuel in vehicles and stationary equipment, as well as propane, lubricants, vegetable oil, biomass like wood, and any other fuels. Scope 1 emissions also include gases released from refrigerants in commercial cooling equipment like air conditioners and refrigerators, fire suppression systems, and certain industrial chemicals and processes.  

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How do you know if you create scope 1 emissions? 

If your company pays the fuel bill directly or owns the asset, it likely creates scope 1 emissions. If you’re burning it directly, it’s scope 1 and you should account for it in your GHG inventory. 

Scope 1 emissions apply to businesses with a physical footprint—so think brick-and-mortar stores, factories, office buildings, and company-owned vehicles and equipment. For companies with a large physical footprint—for example, real estate enterprises or manufacturers with several factories—scope 1 emissions will be a sizable portion of your carbon footprint.  

Take a brewery as an example. The fuel to power forklifts, brewery equipment, and heat and cool the building would all contribute to its scope 1 emissions. In the case of, say, a t-shirt manufacturer, it might include the fuel used at the factory it owns where it makes the t-shirts. 

What’s not included in scope 1 emissions? 

Equipment or assets that support your organization’s activities but that you don’t own or control are part of your scope 3 carbon emissions, not scope 1. For example, company car services, air conditioning units held and serviced by your building’s owner, or fuel-powered tools owned and used by contractors are all examples of scope 3 emissions sources. Purchased energy consumed on-site but produced somewhere else is considered a scope 2 emission. This includes purchased heating and cooling, like chilled water and steam, as well as electricity. Remember, only fuels your business burns directly are considered scope 1. 

Calculating your carbon footprint: Scope 1 direct emissions 

So, what do you need to calculate scope 1 emissions? First, identify all sources of on-site fuel combustion, like heating fuels in buildings, vehicles (company-owned or leased cars, fleet vehicles, ships, planes, and industrial trucks), stationary equipment (e.g., generators) and mobile equipment (e.g., portable fuel-powered tools), which all create carbon dioxide. Also, be sure to account for fugitive GHG emissions by counting the number of refrigeration, fire suppression systems, and air conditioning units your company uses.  

Once you have those, use Sustain.Life to input data for each of the following:  

Stationary combustion – Fuel—like oil and gas—burned in buildings or equipment owned or operated by your organization. Think boilers and other fuel-powered machinery used for industrial processes.  

Mobile combustion sources – Fuel your organization purchases for owned or leased vehicles and mobile equipment (e.g., cars, trucks, company vehicles, gas-powered tools).  

Fugitive emissions – Refrigeration – Chemical releases from AC and refrigeration equipment your organization owns or controls.  

Fugitive emissions – Fire suppression – Chemical releases from or use of building fire suppression systems or equipment like fire extinguishers that your company owns or controls. 

Take action: reduce your scope 1 emissions footprint 

At this point, you should have a handle on scope 1 emissions and how to track them, but you might be asking, “Why should I bother? What’s the environmental impact?”  

The hard facts: Natural gas accounts for 43% of fossil fuel use in the U.S. and petroleum products account for about 90% of total transportation energy use. Unlike scope 2 emissions from electricity use, there are relatively few renewable options for fuel.  

So after you begin your GHG reporting, the name of the game is reduction and, where possible, electrification of scope 1 energy sources. Both are critical parts of effective climate action strategies. To reduce those emissions, work with your stakeholders and take a look at how you could reduce transportation miles for your company’s fleets, switch to equipment and tools powered by electricity where possible, and look into alternative heating sources for your buildings.

Learn about the other emissions scopes

Deep dive: Scope 2 emissions

Deep dive: Scope 3 emissions

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Alyssa Rade
Alyssa Rade is the chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life. She has over ten years of corporate sustainability experience and guides Sustain.Life’s platform features.
Constanze Duke
Constanze Duke is a director of sustainability at Sustain.Life and leads the company’s technical practice. She began working in sustainability in 2007 and has worked through sustainability’s dramatic evolution into a multi-faceted discipline.
The takeaway

• Scope 1 emissions are considered direct GHG emissions.

• Scope 1 emissions come from stationary and mobile combustion sources, as well as fugitive emissions from refrigerants and fire suppressants.