As organizations seek to meet the tall order of decarbonizing their operations, the question of how to reduce scope 1 emissions is inevitable to arise at some point in the journey. To answer this, it's important to first have a grasp on another question: what are Scope 1 emissions?
The definition of Scope 1 emissions
The GHG Protocol organizes emission types into three categories based on scope. Scope 1 emissions are the emissions created through operational activities in the direct control of an organization. Common sources of Scope 1 emissions include manufacturing equipment and processes, fleet vehicles, and plant equipment like boilers and generators.
The size of an organization’s Scope 1 footprint can vary, depending on how much energy is consumed onsite and during operations. Organizations with large fleets, where the vehicles are owned by them, typically have higher Scope 1 emissions. And heavy industrials, especially those industries manufacturing goods that require high heat or significant processes, like glass, cement, and steel, have the largest Scope 1 footprints of all.
How to reduce Scope 1 emissions
There are generally four ways to reduce an organization’s Scope 1 emissions. These steps can most effectively help companies approach zero emissions.
- Environmental credits
- Energy efficiency
- Fuel switching
Environmental credits can be used to neutralize residual Scope 1 emissions or in the absence of other more widely available or affordable solutions.
These credits counterbalance unabated emissions generated by the operation with emissions avoided or permanently removed from the atmosphere from other sources.
Common environmental credits for Scope 1:
- Carbon offsets
- Renewable natural gas credits
It’s been said that the cleanest watt is the watt that’s never produced. By improving how efficiently an operation uses energy, organizations can greatly reduce their Scope 1 emissions and will typically also find cost savings from reduced resource demands.
There are many widely available efficiency solutions available today for organizations, and the number of efficiency solutions is growing all the time. Some that are commonly used include:
- Industrial and process automation, which reduces waste using connected and predictive technologies
- Retrofitting programs that upgrade existing technologies (such as HVAC) to more efficient models
Electricity is one of the most effective vectors for Scope 1 decarbonization at scale. A study of energy use in 11 industrial sectors in the EU showed that 78% of energy-related demand is electrifiable with existing technologies. Moving operational equipment from dirtier sources of energy, such as gasoline and natural gas, to electricity enables organizations to take advantage of the electricity grid’s low-carbon transition. This reduction is possible for several reasons.
- The overall electric grid is greening faster than our fuel systems. By switching to electricity for industrial processes and equipment, companies take advantage of this organic transition.
- Organizations can use onsite renewable generation to advance this transition even faster. When paired with battery storage or other distributed energy resources in the form of a microgrid, the electricity becomes even more resilient and reliable.
Common electrification solutions that are in use by organizations today include:
- Electric fleet vehicles
- Process electrification
- Heat pumps (for more efficient, electrified heating and cooling)
- Solar thermal
When efficiency or electrification are not practical or available, switching fuels can be an effective method of reducing Scope 1 emissions.
Fuel switching is just what it sounds like – changing the type of fuel being used from one that is carbon-intensive to one that emits lower carbon emissions.
This can include a variety of fuels, such as:
- Renewable, or green, gas
What about hydrogen for Scope 1 emissions?
Hydrogen, particularly when produced with renewable electricity (commonly referred to as “green” hydrogen) is expected to play a significant role in the clean energy transition, especially when used as a fuel for heat-intensive manufacturing processes. However, green hydrogen is not yet available at scale, and questions remain about the ability to produce, transport, and store it in large quantities without resulting in further environmental degradation.
There also isn’t time to wait for the green hydrogen promise; urgent decarbonization is needed now to slow climate change. And many solutions for Scope 1 emissions, as detailed above, already exist. Many others are being explored and promoted by organizations like the Renewable Thermal Collaborative.
Understanding what scope 1 emissions are and how to reduce them is a crucial step in every company’s decarbonization journey. For companies wondering how a Scope 1 emissions strategy fits into a broader decarbonization action plan, we invite you to get a free preview of our Basic-Better-Best framework for climate action goals or download the comprehensive guide.