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Fact or Fiction? The Truth About Scope 3 Screenings and Science-Based Targets

June 15th, 2020

As businesses around the world continually grow more accountable for their environmental impacts -- both out of their own pragmatic motivations, and increasing pressure from customers, investors, and governments -- science-based targets are becoming a key focus.

We’ve written here before about establishing the business case for setting science-based targets, or SBTs. To summarize, committing to SBTs represents a demonstrable and meaningful step toward decarbonizing, and meeting the new-world definition of a sustainable business. Commitment comes with clear benefits in terms of reputation, profitability, innovation, liability, and more.

As such, it isn’t hard to see why some 873 companies are taking science-based climate action, with 363 of them having approved SBTs. For almost any business thinking about joining this movement, we recommend it.

Make no mistake: it is a significant undertaking. There are misconceptions about some of the practical elements, and one in particular seems to generate confusion: scope 3 targets. We would like to shed some light on this lesser-known aspect of the SBT journey, and explain why it’s less intimidating than many perceive.

What Are Scope 3 Targets?

Whereas the scope 1 and scope 2 tiers refer to greenhouse gas emissions created directly by a company and its operations, according to the GHG Protocol, scope 3 emissions are “all indirect emissions (not included in scope 2) that occur in the value chain of the reporting company, including both upstream and downstream emissions.” This would include, for example, employee travel and commuting, or emissions created by people actually using your products after purchase.

Based on this definition, it’s easy to see why the scope 3 frontier might feel daunting. It covers a very broad and expansive set of categories, especially within certain industries.

However, scope 3 SBTs -- while ambitious and fairly aggressive -- are designed to be achievable through the SBTi framework, and engagement with the company’s value-chain. Setting realistic scope 3 targets may be easier than it seems on the surface, and doing so will create a trackable, quantifiable process to begin on a path to reduce your business’s emissions

The first step toward getting there is to conduct a scope 3 screening and fully assess your current indirect, value-chain emissions.

What Does a Scope 3 Screening Entail?

A comprehensive review of your organization’s scope 3 emissions inventory accomplishes the following objectives:

  • Provides an estimate of emissions created by your company’s entire value chain. It’s important to note that these evaluations are not precise or exhaustive -- gaining a full inventory would border on impossible for many corporations. However, these screening processes are widely recognized across industries, and with investors and customers, they validate the company’s claim of taking action on climate change.
  • Creates a repeatable framework for comparing estimated scope 3 emissions year over year.
  • Through this screening, you’ll identify hot spots, helping you prioritize your efforts going forward. This builds in efficiency and ensures you can address the most impactful categories right away.
  • Scope 3 screenings and targets can help your organization score better with CDP and other disclosures.
  • This is an essential step toward fully satisfying the requirements for science-based targets and positioning companies for the future.

So what’s preventing more companies from tackling this initiative? It seems to tie largely to three widely held reservations that might not be totally in line with reality.

Addressing 3 Misconceptions About Scope 3 Screenings

Here’s the truth behind three myths pertaining to scope 3 screenings for science-based targets:

1. Conducting a scope 3 screening is an immensely complicated and painstaking process.

It’s easy to see why this might seem to be the case, given the extent of the review. However, it’s actually much less intensive than most people assume. Scope 3 screenings are conducted based on procurement data, with conclusions drawn from the amount your company is spending on certain things. You don’t actually have to dig through direct data around carbon factors and such.

2. Scope 3 screenings take an extremely long time.

This depends on your definition of “extremely long,” but scope 3 screenings can generally be conducted in about two months, especially if the company doing it is able to get its procurement data organized and categorized ahead of time. Many organizations choose to run scope 3 screenings alongside scope 1 and 2, which can add efficiencies and consolidate the entire SBT process.

3. Scope 3 screenings are expensive.

Many are surprised to learn that most scope 3 screenings can be conducted for about $15,000 to $25,000 total.

Taking the Next Step Toward SBTs and Sustainability

As companies around the world take a step back and explore ways to position themselves for the future, this is an opportune time to focus on science-based targets and turn your organization into a sustainability champion. Getting a scope 3 screening done is a critical milestone toward setting SBTs and bringing your company to the next level in combating climate change. At Antea Group, we specialize in conducting these screenings and would be happy to help you wrap your arms around the initiative. 

Reach out to us and let’s get started on your SBT journey. 

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