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Breaking down the communication barrier: How to talk about Scope 3 effectively

By Annabell James
1st August 2019

An important question raised at the launch of the UK-GBC’s Guidance on Scope 3 was how we use these kinds of tools to educate and communicate carbon. Do we have to explain Scope 3 to surveyors, business leaders, and technical staff in order to drive carbon improvements forward?  The answer is “No”.

We can use the different “Scopes” of reporting to understand immediacy

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is an accountancy standard that is used to develop consistent and robust reporting across businesses. It means we have aligned definitions so that when I refer to my carbon footprint, we know what that means and have common definitions around it. It contains useful analytical features that help to isolate specific aspects of the footprint. We can use the different “Scopes” of reporting to understand immediacy or to determine how our responsibility is organised around the carbon footprint. These are useful in developing a strategy or organising the data to go into reports.

Businesswoman giving presentation on future plans to colleagues
Presentation on future plans to colleagues at the office.

This is something that carbon accounting needs to learn from.

How we communicate that to the varied stakeholders to help manage that risk requires a different approach. Increasingly we’re shifting our focus from the immediate Scopes 1 and 2 to the greenhouse gas emissions risks and opportunities that reside within the complete footprint. Once we do that, often this discussion of Scopes and these aspects of accountancy becomes a barrier to communication rather than an enabler. If you are talking about finance, we rarely bring in technical definitions dictated by IFRS standards. It might be important, but a good accountant will communicate the impacts without having to recite the standard chapter in verse. This is something that carbon accounting needs to learn from. For example, Scope 3 emissions from embodied carbon can be a huge carbon risk for Commercial Real Estate, regardless of where it sits within the value chain. It is a risk that needs to be measured and monitored, targeted and we need a plan. The details of the accountancy do not change this.

Being Scope 3 doesn’t lessen that risk, it only explains why we are double-counting it alongside other organisations. Conversely, immaterial emission sources such as employee commuting may not pose as much of a risk. We still need to include it in our footprint and accounts, but its presence should be there to show its relative risk and importance. Having it there means we can correctly attribute the significance of the risk and how we intend to manage it, and understand there are other things to focus on.

We are proud to have supported the development of the UKGBC guidance.

We are proud to have supported the development of the UKGBC guidance because we know that having a technically complete understanding of the carbon footprint will help us address the pressing carbon risks within client portfolios. Without a proper screening assessment, we cannot evidence the technical boundary of the footprint. Without a complete footprint, we cannot communicate the extent of climate risk. It’s like basing a business strategy on an incomplete set of financial accounts, without the full picture we cannot address all the risks.