Using Calories to Understand The Planet's Health

The Role of Avoided Emissions

Using Calories to Understand The Planet's Health


Blog Topic:

Scope 4 (avoided carbon emissions) provides a way for businesses to quantify efforts that improve efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

Category:
Sustainability

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you may be familiar with the hack to offset eaten calories with burned calories (exercise) to justify that plate of nachos. Speaking from experience, I’ve noticed the most benefit comes from overall increase in burning calories while limiting those that go into my mouth. Also, when I was burning more calories, I was able to eat more and still lose--certainly more than if I was just counting calories alone.

Previously, we’ve covered the fact that the planet is sick from increased emissions. The correlation of emissions to calories presents a simple framework to understand how we can help the planet get healthy. For the sake of this conversation, we are going to correlate burning calories to avoided emissions and eating calories to Scopes 1-3 emissions.

healthier you

As science and athletes show us, when we optimize our calories eaten to support the burn, we achieve higher performance. The same is true for the planet.

healthier planet

In this blog, we will explore how avoided Scope 4 emissions are an important part of the journey to a healthier planet.

Defining Scope 4 Emissions

In a previous blog, we defined Scope 4 emissions as saved emissions resulting from a business’s actions. Examples include carbon offsets or reduced emissions from using teleconferencing instead of in-person meetings, which generate emissions from travel.

How Work-from-Home Increased Awareness of Scope 4

When employees work at a central office/facility location, it is easy to track and measure the energy being used. Over the past months more employees are working from home virtually, and therefore the emissions profile shifts.

Increased residential energy consumption is partly due to many employees doing some, or all, of their work from home. While energy consumption has decreased in many office buildings, it has increased in many households. According to Sense data, the average household uses 22% more energy now than in pre-pandemic times. Additionally, midday energy use has increased 35%.

Energy consumption from employees working from home still needs to be accounted for in companies' GHG emissions reporting. For the company, Scope 1 direct energy consumption shifts to Scope 3 indirect energy consumption. And the company benefits from a positive of increased Scope 4 avoided emission, due to lack of emissions from commuting. This is a positive benefit similar to "more exercise" in our weight loss analogy. 

Scope 4 and New Product Development

The growing work-from-home trend is the most prominent example of a need for Scope 4 reporting, but it isn't the only one. Counting avoided emissions in Scope 4 incentivizes businesses to push their research and development teams to create longer lasting, more energy efficient products. Well-known examples of this are the declarations from automobile manufacturers who are retiring gas-powered cars in favor of electric vehicles (EVs).

In the case of EVs, the car itself has zero emissions. Manufacturers can claim these avoided emissions in their Scope 4 reporting. But, before the cars roll off the line, the product must first be designed and built. And, in the case of EVs, there continues to be a focus on the increased emissions required to build the batteries. The R&D process requires a lot of resources and could raise a company's emissions in the short term. If a company is actively reporting emissions and committed to emissions reductions, increased Scope 1, 2 or 3 emissions might dissuade a company from pursuing the innovation process to upgrade existing products and procure new ones.

To return for a second back to our original calorie analysis, remember that increased calories = weight gain unless offset by exercise. Exercise is to Scope 4 as Calories are to Scope 1-3. Sometimes, you need to eat more to support your body’s exercise routine. And in the end, your body is healthier.

Looking to the future, we need more lower-emission products to help improve the planet’s health.

Scope 4 and Increased Demand

Our personal-device technology companies understand this consideration of Scope 4 very well. With new model releases of phones, tablets, watches and gaming consoles always hitting the market, tech companies entice customers to buy more. If the product uses less energy to operate than the previous one (producing less emissions during use), wouldn’t we want to encourage consumer use of the new model?

As consumer demand increases for the latest products, the company responds by increasing supply. The need to increase production will further increase their emissions. Should this company be penalized for increased sales of a more environmentally-friendly product?

With Scope 4 reporting, that company will receive credit for selling more products. Avoided emissions over the life cycle of that product can be reported against the increased emissions from more product sales, giving companies extra motivation to respond to demand.

What Are the Challenges of Scope 4 Emissions?

Scope 4 reporting opens the door for companies to overclaim their avoided emissions. Comparing products to a high emitting reference, exaggerating the lifespan of a product, and underestimating the maintenance involved to keep a product performing are different ways this system can be abused.

Transparency will be key to implementing a successful Scope 4 emissions plan. Any company found to be greenwashing is likely to experience worse consequences in their public perception than what they would have benefited from overclaiming their Scope 4 emissions.

Another possible drawback to Scope 4 reporting is that companies will scale back the intensity of their efforts to reduce GHG emissions in Scopes 1-3. Instead of going that extra mile to lower emissions, companies may instead be content with slightly higher emissions and try to make up for that in finding avoided emissions to report in Scope 4.

There is concern that Scope 4 emissions may give companies an easy way out from achieving true net-zero emissions. As Scope 4 reporting gains maturity, standards are likely to be more clearly refined to guide the process. Without a doubt, we will not reach a healthy planet without a mix of Scope 4 avoided emissions and intentional reductions in Scopes 1-3.

How Can Emerald Built Environments Help?

Emerald Built Environments has years of knowledge and expertise guiding owners to operate, design and construct high-performance buildings. Tools such as energy audits, energy modeling, performance tracking, and consumption analysis allow us to benchmark and model anticipated savings. We can develop a strategy to get your business on the right track to reducing emissions.

Contact us today to get started on your emissions reporting journey.

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