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Sustainability and emission scopes simplified!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What is sustainability? #Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs which not only include natural resources, but also social and economic resources. It has become an integral part of operation of every organisation as this is the only way to sustain the life on our so called blue planet of this solar system. Over many decades we have seen industrial revolution which enhanced technology and our comfort of living but at the same time we damaged our planets environment endangering many life forms and we are reaching towards a critical tipping point after which reversal or restoration of the ecosystem on earth would be impossible. And we will be answerable to our future generation for not leaving a clean planet which can sustain life form.

When we talk about sustainability, we often think of GHG (Green House Gas) emission and its control, which consist of water vapours, CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) as major content with few more gases in less percentage. Though GHG emission is one of the major contributors to endangering the environment but it’s not only GHG emissions which we talk about while we discuss sustainability. It includes many other actions like, waste of fresh water, over fishing, deforestation, dumping of plastic and other waste damaging soil, using chemical fertilisers and pesticides in farming, releasing untreated factory waste in rivers and so on. There is a huge list of human activities which are responsible for risking the sustainability of life on earth.

Are GHG really harmful for environment and life on earth? Surprisingly no! If GHG effect would not have been there in earth’s atmosphere, the average temperature of earth would have been -18 degree Celsius, which would not be suitable for life to sustain the way it is now. Due to green house gas effects, the average temperature of earth is +15 degree Celsius which causes the life form we see around us to sustain on earth. But yes, beyond a certain limit of GHG effect, it is harmful and thus endangers the ecosystem of this planet. We do think that we have so many plants which can absorb CO2 which is the major contributors of manmade pollution created by industrialization and discovering vehicles running on fossil fuel which made our life easy. But again with increase in population, there is increase in demand of land for which we are cutting trees of forest and making bare land to build concrete structures, more factories which emit harmful gases during their operation, more vehicles running on fossil fuel again releasing harmful gases in air. This increase in quantum of harmful gases cannot not be fully absorbed by plants which are are decreasing day by day and accumulation of GHG in atmosphere causes slight increase in temperature every day causing major changes over years. It is also to be noted that over the year when plants shred their leaves during autumn the absorption rate again decreases, means the rate of absorption is not always same throughout the year on planet, but the rate of emission of GHG is same or increasing. This causes change in climate gradually towards danger zone and whether changes & shifting like rain in few areas for less time but with higher concentration for which that region may not be equipped to handle causing flood like situation.

Looking at the statistics and with ability to future prediction of dangers anticipated with this rate of rise in temperature of earth’s environment, many countries came together to come across a table to discuss and agree on ways to restore the earth’s atmosphere so that we do not reach a tipping point from where return may not be possible and earth may not be able to sustain life for our future generation. There comes the so called Paris Agreement which is a legal binding international treaty on climate change. This was adopted by 196 parties at UN Climate Change Conference in Paris on 12-Dec-2015 and entered into force on 4-Nov-2016. The aim is to reduce the average temperature of earth’s environment by 2 degree Celsius by this century and further limit increase by 1.5 degree Celsius. But how we can achieve this target? At every organisation level it is driven from top leadership with aim to reduce GHG emission to 50% by 2030 and by 100% by 2050, where in some organisations have taken stringent timeline of 2040 for net zero carbon emission in place on 2050. Now the question would be 50% or 100% of what amount. So, it has been agreed that every organisation will take a base line of its own GHG emissions which was there in any year not prior to 2015. Some organisation took 2020 emission as their base line and will focus to reduce it 50% and to 100% as agreed above based on Paris agreement. And to achieve these target every organisation has established a separate department who are rigorously working on sustainability and doing big investment as well.

We often talk about Net Zero Emission and Carbon Neutrality which differs slightly but the end result is same i.e. to emit that much carbon into atmosphere which is can be absorbed by nature i.e. forests and ocean water. So, now it’s every organisations responsibility to invest in social responsibility i.e. more and more plantation so that whatever they emit in atmosphere is also absorbed. But remember planting trees today will give results years later when they grow up and capable of absorbing such huge quantity of CO2. So, every organisation has to look for alternate options to balance the carbon emission till they get results like moving on to renewable energy source i.e. solar power, tidal power and wind power based on availability in that region. Electric vehicles are one of the effort in reducing carbon foot print provided we do not burn any fossil fuel to generate electricity for charging those EVs, rather we shall use renewable energy sources.

Almost every organisation is now part of Carbon Disclosure Program (CDP) where in we have to declare carbon emission in atmosphere and at the back-end the aim is to keep this emission reducing to bring down earth’s atmosphere temperature by 1.5 degree Celsius by these target dates. Sustainability program is also referred under ESG which stands for Environmental Social and Governance. We saw EnMS (ISO 50001) in previous post which was a subset of this program. There also our focus was to optimise energy by here in sustainability we go more beyond it.

Now to disclose carbon emission, broadly we have three categories defined under which any organisation is responsible for carbon emission directly or indirectly. These categories are called Scope-1, Scope-2 and Scope-3 emission. Scope 1 & 2 is control of the organisation who is publishing the carbon emission report but Scope-3 is not in control of that organisation but same organisation is responsible for that emission. All emissions are measured in MTCO2e which is Metric Ton of CO2 equivalent. Means you emissions are equivalent of how much Metric Ton of CO2 emitted in atmosphere.

Scope 1 2 3 Emission

Scope-1 Emissions: It is the total MTCO2e released in atmosphere by burning fossil fuel to run its operation. It is totally in the organisations control how to minimise the emission by optimising operation and fine tuning them. Examples burning diesel to run generators, burning coal to produce steam or heat etc.

Scope-2 Emission: Emissions in MTCO2e released by their suppliers for providing service to the organisation that is reporting carbon emission. The reporting organisation is responsible but they are not directly burning any fossil fuel to release carbon in atmosphere. Examples while reporting organisation is purchasing electricity from grid supply, the supplier is burning some type of fossil fuel to provide electricity demanded by reporting organisation. Similarly if reporting organisation is using third party transport for their employee to commute, the third party is burning some kind of fossil fuel to provide this service to reporting organisation hence reporting organisation is responsible for this emission which they can reduce by different means.

Scope-3 Emission: In this scope reporting organisation does not have control but still it is responsible for this emission. It is the total MTCO2e released in atmosphere for the manufacturing a product which reporting organisation is going to use for its routine operation. Example if the reporting organisation buys 1000 nos. of Apple notebooks for its employ to do day to day operation. The moment those notebooks arrives at reporting company’s premises, the amount of carbon emitted in manufacturing those notebooks, all their parts, extraction of metals etc and in transportation of unfinished and finished goods, are added to the kitty of reporting organisation. That organisation becomes responsible for whole carbon emission as it was his demand to use the product.

So, while reporting carbon emission under CDP, every organisation has to report Scope-1, 2 & 3 category of emission to account for complete ownership of carbon emission, their achievements in reducing carbon footprint till date as well as their future plans to achieve the targets taken at organisation level.

Further we will see, how every organisation can push each other and participate in achieving the carbon emission reduction targets especially in IT industry and our Data Centers.

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