Scoping 1-2-3

November 7, 2019

Guelph will be a Net Zero Carbon community by 2050. In a prior post, I explored what that means. Another key question is how to measure it. After all, as management guru Peter Drucker famously pointed out, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Like a child measuring their height on a wall, it seems simple but there’s more than meets the eye. Shoes on, or off? Will you use a book or a set square to get the level right? Imperial units, or metric? (Dinosaur that I am, I can’t for the life of me picture how tall a 160cm person is; five foot three, I get.)

When measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, one big question - maybe the question - is what scope you will choose. There are three options: Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3.

Scope 1 is fairly obvious. It includes any GHGs that are emitted as a direct consequence of the operations of your business. Or household. Or city. If you own or control it, it’s in Scope 1. If you burn natural gas in a furnace, boiler, or stove, that’s included. Diesel or gasoline that you burn in your car is also in; ditto for the same fuels in a backup generator. If you burn coking coal in a steelmaking operation, that’s part of your Scope 1 emissions inventory. Knowing your Scope 1 emissions gives you a solid basis to identify the largest emissions sources in your operations, and to start whittling them down.

Scope 2 is a bit more complex. It includes Scope 1, with the addition of GHGs emitted in the process of generating electricity you use that is generated somewhere else. (Other purchased energy is included, but we don’t really have many of these other than electricity in Guelph.) That’s probably all of the electricity you use, unless you’ve got solar on the roof or a wind turbine on the back forty. Ontario has one of the lowest-carbon electricity grids in North America, as most of the province’s electricity comes from non-GHG-emitting sources like nuclear and hydroelectricity. 

However, when electricity demand is high, natural gas “peaker” plants (like the Halton Hills Generating Station on the north side of the 401 in Milton) kick in. The natural gas they burn is included in what’s called the emissions factor for electricity, and is measured in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (g CO2e/kWh). This is added to your total carbon footprint for Scope 2, and can provide helpful insights. For example, running your 1500W hair dryer for 10 minutes produces the equivalent of around 8 grams of CO2 here in Ontario. If you lived in Alberta, which has much more coal-fired electricity generation, it would be 26 times that figure, or 206 grams. So in Ontario, shedding electricity demand doesn’t make much impact on carbon emissions. In Alberta, it makes a much bigger difference.

As a side note, in Ontario electricity is carbon free during off-peak periods (evenings and weekends, mostly). This has implications for the emissions benefit of some energy efficiency projects. The City of Guelph’s project to change the street lights over from high-pressure sodium to LED will save lots of electricity and money. However, since the lamps use electricity at night when demand is low, the project won’t save much carbon - at least not directly. That said, it will free up capacity for a new and growing source of electricity demand that will reduce GHG emissions dramatically - electric cars. So it’s an important step forward in the fight against climate change.

Scope 3 is still fairly easy to understand, but more difficult to calculate and to improve. It includes all indirect emissions in your supply chain, both upstream (stuff you buy) and downstream (stuff you sell). These emissions can be a big deal. For example, in a document from the World Resources Institute (WRI), Kraft Foods calculated that its Scope 3 emissions were 90% of the company’s total. 

To measure Scope 3 emissions as a community is a pretty arduous business. Fortunately, there’s help. The GHG Protocol for Cities, developed in partnership between the WRI and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, provides guidance. This is the standard used by CDP, the reporting platform for the Global Covenant of Mayors on Climate and Energy (of which Guelph is a member).

It’s not realistic to think you can transform an entire supply chain overnight. However, you have to start somewhere, so why not let your suppliers know that the times are changing, and that they need to get in step if they want to keep doing business with you? If you telegraph in advance that you’ll be requiring them to report on their emissions, so you can figure out yours, it sends a powerful message. If you set an aggressive reduction target, and make it clear that suppliers will be expected to do their part, the  message is even more powerful. It’s easy to imagine a major buyer - say, a retail chain like Walmart - giving its suppliers a certain number of months to start reporting, and then setting targets that those suppliers will need to meet after that. This is more or less what Walmart has done with Project Gigaton, which aims to avoid one billion metric tonnes of GHGs across the corporation’s entire supply chain by 2030.

It’s not solely the purview of cities or big corporations to calculate their carbon footprint. It’s also possible to do it on a household level. Project Neutral lets homeowners do just that. You’ll be amazed when you learn the single biggest contributor to your family’s annual emissions tally. In the coming months, we will be looking for ways to bring Project Neutral, or a similar tool, to Guelph.

Scope 1 is about getting your own house in order. Scope 2 is similar. Scope 3 is about driving other organizations - the ones for whom you are a valued customer - to get in line with your emissions objectives. Purchasing power can go a long way to drive change. Money talks.

Set goals. Measure. Make changes. Measure again. Celebrate success, and then repeat. That’s how we’ll keep track of how we’re doing as we travel the road to a post-carbon future.


Alex Chapman