Deep dive: Scope 2 emissions

February 23, 2022
Article

Understand your scope 2 emissions to reduce your carbon footprint.

If you’re curious about emissions measurement, carbon accounting, or net-zero, you might be here because you want to learn more about your company’s greenhouse gas emissions. You’ve probably heard the term emissions scopes, sometimes called scope emissions, or scopes 1, 2, and 3.

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Think of emissions scopes as a framework for carbon accounting that helps organize the business activities that produce GHG emissions across your corporate value chain. Breaking carbon emissions into these more manageable and measurable categories helps businesses pinpoint the activities and parts of their supply chain responsible for emissions—for example, buildings, vehicles, commuting, business travel—and the most significant opportunities for reductions.  

Once you understand an emissions source (i.e., where they come from)—and if you directly or indirectly control that source—you can better measure, then mitigate those emissions to reduce your impact on climate change. When it comes to emissions scopes, you’ll hear the terms direct emissions (what you directly control) and indirect emissions (emissions outside your direct control) frequently, and, in this post, we’re going to dive deeper into scope 2 emissions, which are indirect.  

The definition of scope 2 emissions 

Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions generated from purchased energy—including electricity, steam, heating, and cooling. A simple shorthand you can use to remember scope 2 is “buy” because your organization typically buys energy to run its operations.  

Before we go further: Scope 2 guidance

Categorizing scope 2 emissions from purchased energy can be ambiguous in leased spaces—it all depends on the type of lease you operate under and your control approach to accounting. For the purposes here, we’ll assume a capital lease, which makes any purchased electricity, steam, heat, and cooling scope 2, even if it’s by the building owner or manager. Read the Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s guidance about dealing with leased assets here. 

Read the Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s guidance about dealing with leased assets here

What’s considered a scope 2 emission? 

Scope 2 emissions come from purchased electricity, steam, heating, or cooling. You can usually calculate scope 2 emissions based on the consumption outlined in energy bills. What we mean when we say steam, heat, and cooling: it must be generated off-site. Essentially it’s what you purchase from a utility or other supplier—for instance, district heating and cooling, or steam used in industrial processes. It shouldn’t be confused with heat you generate on-site by using a boiler or furnace or cooling your facility with an electricity-powered AC unit.  

Did you know?

The production and distribution of electricity you purchase from the utility or another supplier impact your scope 2 emissions. If your electricity mix is high in fossil fuels—if your supplier burns a lot of coal to produce your electricity—your scope 2 emissions will be higher than electricity produced by biomass, renewable electricity, or even natural gas. 

How do you know if you create scope 2 emissions? 

Does your organization purchase electricity, steam for industrial processes, district heating or cooling (steam, or heated or chilled water delivered through a network of insulated pipes)? If you answered yes to any of those, you guessed it: you create scope 2 emissions, and you should account for each in your GHG inventory. 

Calculating your carbon footprint: Scope 2 indirect emissions 

Good news: Scope 2 emissions are generally the easiest to measure, thanks to your energy bills.  

For electricity:  

Gather your monthly electricity bills or access your online account and locate your usage in kWh. If you can’t get your kWh, Sustain.Life can estimate your emissions based on national averages and facility type, square footage, and ZIP Code.  

For steam, heat, and cooling:  

Work with your providers to understand how each is produced—for example, if your steam is created with natural gas, coal, or other means—and the amount you purchase.  

Once you have the info outlined above, sign in to Sustain.Life and head to the Emissions Tracker (sign up for a free Emissions Management account if you haven’t already) input the data and Sustain.Life does the rest to calculate your emissions in CO2e. 

Take action: reduce your scope 2 emissions footprint 

Calculating your emissions is the first step to taking climate action. Once you start calculating your carbon emissions, then you can set reduction targets for your energy use. 

Here are a few areas to consider if you want to reach your reduction targets: You could prioritize energy efficiency projects (for example, switching to LEDs and better insulation), engage with your stakeholders (like your building owner about making the switch to renewable energy), and even explore purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) to account for the portion of your electricity load that has no other renewable option.

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The takeaway

• Scope 2 emissions are considered indirect GHG emissions.

• Scope 2 emissions come from purchased electricity, steam, heating, or cooling.