The Latest CDP Results Reveal the Rise of Scope 3 Reporting

Last month’s release of the Global 500 Report, Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) annual summary of climate reporting by the world’s 500 largest companies, gives the most insight to date on corporations’ reporting about climate change and their supply chains.

What does it tell us?

First, the number of companies reporting on their supply chains continues to steadily grow. Two years ago, only about a quarter of the world’s top 500 companies reported on “Scope 3” greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or the emissions from activities they have influence over, but are beyond direct ownership or control, such as in supply chains.

Last year, the reporting share climbed to 42 percent, and this year it grew to nearly half. That’s a steep change compared to reporting overall, which rose only a few percentage points this year to 82 percent.

At the same time, the quality and scope of reporting is improving dramatically. This year, for example, Kraft Foods said physical risks linked to climate change are not material, but they still described a whole set of supply chain and other issues that potentially matter. Kraft also clarified that they are closely examining supply chain issues to anticipate emerging enterprise risk and opportunities. The provision of this depth of information is a new development in CDP reporting, and has been aided in part by the more systematic ways that CDP is asking questions.

This relates to a third development: CDP made Scope 3 reporting more robust by expanding definitions this year. In following the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol’s Scope 3 Guidance under development, CDP transformed last year’s five categories into eight more specific ones, and then added nine more (see sidebar).

This helps transparency by increasing the comparability of reported figures. It also foreshadows the increasing sophistication of supply chain reporting to come. Indeed, Frances Way, CDP’s Head of Supply Chain, told me that CDP will continue working to ensure reporting requirements are aligned with the standard once finalized. Meanwhile, CDP is taking public comments on the design of the next survey.

Scope 3 emissions have taken center stage and turned out to be every bit as significant as we thought they would be. This raises an important question: Just how big are they?

In the summary report, CDP tallied aggregate figures by industry, finding Scope 3 to be on average about two times the amount of Scopes 1 and 2 emissions, which are sometimes called “internal” emissions. It will take a little digging, however, to get a representative number since 50 percent of companies don’t report Scope 3 at all. Of those that do, 40 percent only publish just one convenient category, such as transportation.

The companies to watch are the 10 percent that reported supplier emissions, and the even smaller 5 percent that reported supplier emissions beyond direct purchasing relationships.

For these companies, the Scope 3 multiple is much higher — more like five times greater for those reporting on direct suppliers, and 10 times more for those providing a comprehensive assessment. Some companies were much higher still: Kraft and Danone reported Scope 3 emissions that were more than 15 times the amount generated from their internal operations, and Unilever’s are more than 50 times greater.

As companies disclose their climate change and business interrelationships more fully, higher multiples like these are likely to become more common.

How to Open the Door to Supplier Disclosure

To learn more, I spoke to Kraft, which this year CDP named to its Climate Change Leadership Index, a designation for the most transparent companies taking action. Kraft is an interesting case because as recently as two years ago it had not reported Scope 3 emissions at all.

I asked Francesco Tramontin, associate director of global issues management, why Kraft is interested in managing and reporting supply chain emissions. Tramontin said that it is a logical extension of the company’s approach to climate change, and a natural step following Kraft’s achievement of GHG reduction targets within its own operations.

But, he said, Kraft’s increased CDP reporting didn’t begin with a reporting effort. Rather, the company’s R&D team leads its Scope 3 management efforts with the aim of collecting and interpreting data for strategic perspective and internal decision making. The reporting is a byproduct of these efforts, and Kraft began sharing it as management became aware of partners’ and stakeholders’ increasing interest.

One of the main benefits of Scope 3 management, Tramontin said, is that it provides an impetus to take a more careful look at internal management systems. It also enables Kraft to take part in important forums, such as the development of GHG Protocol Scope 3 Guidance.

Currently, Kraft is involved in testing a draft version of the guidance, and the company recently submitted feedback for it. According to Tramontin, participating in this governance-building effort has been beneficial. It has helped them exchange methodologies with peers and given them confidence in measuring and reporting in an environment where many communication standards are lacking.

One of Kraft’s main challenges has been deciding what types of information to publish. When Kraft set out to report Scope 3 emissions for the first time last year, the company had more information than it ended up reporting, but wanted to share the data in which it had the most confidence. The company published information in just two categories, business travel and logistics, which then represented about 40 percent of operational emissions. As Kraft did so, Tramontin said, it used a “lead with results” approach that emphasized progress against goals while remaining cautious about prognosticating.

This year, Kraft not only expanded the categories it reported on, it also found a way to provide more information on topics where there is more uncertainty. Kraft did this by disclosing emissions by subcategory with narrative descriptions and confidence estimates for each, ranging from plus or minus 20 percent (business travel) to about 40 percent (supply chain and end-of-life packaging). Tramontin said he couldn’t yet say whether Kraft would add more categories next year, but felt certain the quality and confidence of data would improve.

The Road Ahead

The supply chain will enter the picture more and more, Tramontin concluded. His experience, however, reveals a difficult balance that companies need to achieve. On the one hand, there is an incentive to report as openly as possible. On the other hand, there is pressure to ensure that disclosed information is trustworthy.

This leads Kraft and other companies to an important debate that is arguably the front line of supply chain reporting: the extent to which they can use the coarse data produced by life-cycle assessments and generalized industry “models,” versus more specific information provided by suppliers themselves.

The former is easier to obtain, but largely overlooks potentially vast differences in practices among peer suppliers; the latter can generate factory floor-level information about particular suppliers, but requires a much greater commitment of resources to manage.

Questions and answers regarding these issues will continue to unfold as new GHG Protocol guidance comes out this winter and companies report to CDP next May and beyond. In the meantime, here are some promising approaches borrowed from the experiences of Kraft and others.

1. Collect Data to Gain Insight for Prioritizing Sustainability Investments

In this context, reporting is important but it is a byproduct of understanding interconnections with suppliers, products, partners, and the physical world. This is really what most stakeholders are interested in.

2. Don’t Be Afraid of Your Footprint

The next phase of Scope 3 reporting will see more companies report on their impacts, more deeply and in more categories. This will allow greater comparability, better benchmarking, and more insightful discussion about ways forward.

Until that happens, a large Scope 3 footprint is a much better sign of leadership than no reported footprint. Scope 3 management can lead to enrolling suppliers directly in improvement efforts and leveraging their dollars and skills.

3. Address Budget and Resource Constraints by Using Sampling and Estimations

It is acceptable to provide information that is approximate or based on random and/or targeted verifications. The key to getting that right is to understand how accurate the information is, and make your level of confidence and uncertainty — like the figures themselves — transparent.

First posted at GreenBiz.

Whose Carbon Is It? The ABCs of Counting Emissions in Your Supply Chain

Many companies have started scrambling to understand their indirect emissions — specifically, emissions in their supply chain — and for good reason.

According to a report by McKinsey that examined consumer goods makers, high-tech players, and other manufacturers, 40 to 60 percent of their total carbon footprint resides upstream in their supply chain. Knowing about the emissions in your supply chain can help you prioritize opportunities for reduction and understand the risks if carbon emissions are regulated.

But as the dialogue around carbon accounting increases, so does our awareness of the challenges and limitations in measuring indirect emissions and distributing the burden among multiple parties.

Take the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) 2009 supply chain report. The CDP’s supply chain initiative is one of the few global attempts at collecting primary data from companies in an effort to understand climate risks in a supply chain. Yet only five of the 100 companies in China contacted by the CDP fully responded to the CDP’s basic questions about climate management. Clearly, there is a gap in knowledge and data necessary to successfully accomplish this goal.

This raises many questions about accounting for indirect emissions: What are the emissions hot spots in a supply chain? Will companies downstream be held responsible? How much “ownership” should they claim? What should they be doing about it?

Effectively managing and reducing the total carbon footprint of your products and operations ultimately means getting answers to these questions.

Accounting for Supply Chain Emissions

To understand where we are in answering these questions, consider the two emergent methods for determining a company’s total carbon footprint: observed emissions accounting and model-based accounting.

The first method involves counting the observed emissions in a company’s supply chain — emissions that the company can arguably impact through its business decisions. This method typically requires tallying the measured emissions of a company’s direct suppliers, at the “point source,” and having those suppliers tally the measured emissions of their direct suppliers, and so on up the supply chain.

The second method is to count emissions based on the materials and processes used as a product moves from raw material extraction to manufacturing to end-use. This method is typically based on a lifecycle analysis of the product and uses models to estimate the embedded emissions.

Both methods can produce useful measurements, but neither provides a comprehensive picture based on primary data from the actual companies in a given supply chain, and neither provides information in a format that is comparable and cheap to produce.

Both of these methods will need to evolve to address what we call the ABCs of effective supply chain carbon accounting: allocation, boundary-setting, and the complexity of supply chains.

The ABC Framework

Allocation
Companies and their stakeholders need common systems for acknowledging their role in creating the emissions in their supply chains — or “allocating” emissions between different businesses and individuals.

Assigning ownership of emissions is a challenge at many levels. For example, China’s climate negotiator, Lia Gao, recently suggested that countries that import goods created in Chinese factories should be accountable for the related emissions. While this viewpoint is subject to international debate, it emphasizes the need for understanding the interconnectedness between producers and consumers, and all the actors in between.

Emissions allocation can be based on many things, like percentage of business your company does with a supplier compared to the supplier’s overall revenue, or units your company purchases as a share of the supplier’s overall production volume. Each method of allocation has benefits and drawbacks, and no single method makes sense for all business types.

Boundary-Setting
As the McKinsey report indicated, the emissions occurring within a company’s four walls are likely to be the tip of a much larger iceberg. The chain of supply goes on continually upstream and downstream, and it even becomes circular as products and materials take on second lives. This presents a significant challenge for accounting methods that prescribe the size of a footprint, as it’s nearly impossible to pick a clear beginning and end for a supply chain.

At a company level, you must decide which business units to include in your carbon footprint. For example, drawing your boundaries based on operational control can produce a very different result than using boundaries based on the amount of equity you hold in different entities. If companies in a supply chain are taking a different approach to boundary-setting, their footprints can’t be meaningfully allocated or aggregated among companies because there is a good chance emissions are being double-counted or going unclaimed.

Complexity of Supply Chains
Supply chains are more like webs than linear chains of activity, and the lifecycle of facilities in the network can be short and intermittent — both characteristics that make emissions accounting complex.

In consumer products and electronics industries, for example, brand-name companies procure from similar supplier bases, and the goods those suppliers provide come from different sources around the world that can change every day based on market conditions. It’s even likely that one company is both a buyer from and supplier to the same company.

Neither of the most common accounting methods can credibly deal with these complexities. Even the most progressive uses of the observed emissions accounting method would be challenged to factor in all the variables of the dynamic landscape, and the time it would take to track down the necessary information from suppliers makes it infeasible. Similarly, model-based accounting methods, which often rely on macro-level data that is several years old, are not designed to register operational changes or discrepancies among facilities.

A Way Forward

While the hurdles are significant, we believe that companies should start working immediately to understand their supply chain emissions for two reasons.

First, discussions on emissions ownership and the field of supply chain footprinting are gaining momentum, and business will be well-served by taking its place at the table. The World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, for example, have kicked off a two-year process to develop the Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s “Scope 3” accounting standards, including a methodology for supply chain emissions accounting.

Companies that are taking the steps to collect data will be in a much better position to influence the global dialogue on topics like boundary-setting and allocation methods. Ultimately, the decisions that flow from these conversations will have significant cost implications for whoever is deemed “the owner.”

Second, this doesn’t have to be painful! Based on our work to date, we offer the following tips to reduce the burden and improve the outcome of your efforts:

  1. Be aware of the challenges and limitations described here.
  2. Be transparent about your calculation methodology and the extent to which you use primary data in calculating your indirect emissions.
  3. Engage directly with suppliers and establish a dialogue, enabling them to provide ongoing information as standards emerge.
  4. Collaborate with other companies to more efficiently gather data in your supply chain and share best practices.
  5. Participate in global discussions on these issues and continue to question whether the methods created provide a credible system for helping to manage carbon emissions around the globe.

First posted at GreenBiz.

Field Notes: Helping Guide GHG Protocol’s “Scope 3”

As BSR goes to press with “Looking for Signs Along the Road to Copenhagen,” the debate about whose emissions are whose and what constitutes progress is heating up. It is going to get hotter, because it looks more likely that the WTO will enforce prospective border measures on carbon.

Hopefully, the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol’s emerging guidance for “Scope 3 Emissions” will be useful toward spotlighting risk.

The GHG Protocol, which is the global standard for organizational greenhouse gas accounting, recently embarked on a 2-year process to develop detailed guidance for calculating emissions for Scope 3—the infamously ambiguous designation for emissions outside a company’s direct ownership and control, but which they still have meaningful influence over.

As a participant in the Technical Working Group developing new Scope 3 guidance, I recently visited New York for an in-person meeting. The event was one in a multi-layered series of research collaborations bringing together perspectives from various sectors and locations.

What will Scope 3 guidance eventually look like? It is early to say, but what is clear is that that developers will wrestle seriously with the following issues:

1. How comprehensive. Some want measurement areas to focus on straightforward activities like flights and hotel stays. Others, such as some companies in the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition, want rules and principles that will allow propagating a measurement scheme through multiple tiers of suppliers.

2. How to measure. There are various methods of possible measurement, such as prescriptive calculations for commonly purchased services (like flights), predetermined conversion factors for emissions-intense materials (like aluminum), and descriptive protocols for counting observed emissions from suppliers (potentially, multiple tiers) based on rules for overhead allocation.

3. How to stay relevant. The current basic guidance on Scope 3 from the GHG Protocol assumes end-user consumers at the end of a value chain. This life cycle analysis-based depiction is easy to envision and practical for many so far. Yet, producers are also consumers, and the “linearity” and “endpoints” that tradition suggests are not so hard-and-fast absolutes, as a rapidly decentralizing and service-orientated global economy suggests.

Each conundrum illustrates huge trade-offs. The real challenge, therefore, is not technical perfection, but guidance that will have the maximum benefit for the most situations around the world. The ideal result? Catalyzing a transition from debating about the data of carbon to ratcheting it down.

First posted by BSR.

The Difference Between Product and Supply Chain Footprinting

As more companies gain carbon management experience, they are expanding work from their scope of direct operations to a broader sphere of influence. Expansion is happening through two main efforts — product footprinting and supply chain footprinting, both of which are based on broadening from the organization to the inter-organizational value chain system. Each has interrelated issues and drivers, but they represent two different movements with distinct activities and tradeoffs. As standards emerge, understanding their common denominators is important for guarding against greenwashing and making the right investments. The question for companies taking the lead on carbon footprinting now is: What is the relationship between product footprinting and supply chain footprinting, and what should your company be doing?

Product Carbon Footprinting

According to London-based Carbon Trust, a company founded in 2001 in partnership with the U.K. government, consumer purchasing is the ultimate driver of all carbon emissions, and because of this, policymakers in Europe and North America are paying more attention to carbon footprints of products.

In 2007, the E.U. Parliament called for companies to begin placing carbon labels on products. In part because of this effort, Carbon Trust, along with England’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and BSI, the U.K.’s National Standards Body, are developing the product standard PAS 2050, which will measure the embodied emissions from products.

In the United States, economists recently testified to Congress that product carbon content should be regulated through border tax adjustments, and this year, California Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Los Altos, advanced the Carbon Labeling Act known as AB2538. In Japan, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is working on rules for carbon labeling, which it aims to have ready for next spring.

Corporate product pilot programs are already hitting the shelves. The most prominent one, created by Carbon Trust, is led by 20 companies, including the U.K. retailer Tesco, which has begun placing carbon labels on detergents and light bulbs. In addition to working with industry to develop standards, Timberland, an outdoor shoe and clothing manufacturing based in Stratham, New Hampshire, is disclosing product metrics as part of its Green Index product rating system.

So far, product carbon labels make three types of promises:

1. Carbon embodied: This is based on a lifecycle analysis (LCA) of the cumulative carbon produced throughout the life of a product, which includes production, distribution, consumer use and disposal. The PAS 2050 and Timberland’s Green Index are both embodied carbon frameworks. Currently, these frameworks are most developed in the Europe, and are slowly spreading to the United States.

2. Carbon reduced: This framework covers embodied carbon avoided from “business as usual,” or the likely emissions trajectory if the emissions reduction program hadn’t intervened. The only significant program in development is one by Carbon Trust called the Product-Related Emissions Reduction Framework (PERF), which is based on PAS 2050.

3. Carbon neutral: Products that fall under this category promise net zero emissions, made possible with carbon offsets. The Washington, D.C.-based offset provider Carbon Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based offset provider offers its CarbonFree certification, which covers carbon-neutral products. Many multinational companies make carbon-neutral product claims, and this framework is probably the most widespread of the three types of promises.

In order for these labels to be meaningful to consumers, data need to be objective, comparable and prudent. But many companies are running into challenges, such as how to define “boundary conditions,” or which carbon to include. For example, should shampoo include the energy associated with hot water during use of the product?

Jay Celorie, program manager for supply chain energy at HP, points out that for some product sectors, such as electronics, which may have thousands of parts and hundreds of suppliers, the boundary problem is extremely complex. In those cases, it’s impractical to aggregate primary data.

In addition to making data collection expensive, this sort of complexity leads to ambiguous results. According to Mark Newton, environmental policy manager for the computer manufacturer Dell, product footprinting may seem simple but statistical errors related to each incremental greenhouse gas (GHG) impact in the product lifecycle must be considered cumulatively, and variation of these can easily supersede apparent differences between products or features, making legitimate comparisons or claims difficult. 

Finally, communicating meaningful results is thorny. Edgar Blanco, executive director of the MIT Center for Latin-American Logistics Innovation, explains that it’s misleading to boil down footprints into a single figure without qualifying the depth, breadth and precision of data. Nonetheless, few companies are acknowledging the statistical context of their data, and therefore many companies may face questions they have a hard time answering.

Supply Chain Carbon Footprinting

Supply chain carbon footprinting, the practice of accounting for the carbon emissions of suppliers, is intended to increase the transparency of energy use and the efficiency of suppliers, and also to eliminate waste and help managers make responsible purchases. Like product footprinting, supply chain footprinting addresses emissions outside of a given company’s ownership and control, by accounting for other organizations — potentially multiple tiers of them — among common value chain systems. Unlike with product footprinting, this requires tracking primary data from specific companies, generally starting at the enterprise level. While product footprinting has been evolving since LCA emerged in the 1970s, supplier footprinting is much younger and less standardized.

The most prominent effort in this arena is London-based Carbon Disclosure Project’s Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration (SCLC), a group of 29 multinationals led by Wal-Mart that encourages suppliers to disclose their emissions publicly. Another initiative — the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), an effort in which BSR is assisting — is developing a supplier reporting protocol for the information and communication technology (ICT) industry. These efforts are focused primarily on direct supplier relationships, with the aim of establishing robust systems for pushing emissions reporting carefully but firmly up the supply chain.

Not surprisingly, there are challenges with these initiatives. Despite media attention to the issue, few companies — even those that disclose their own product carbon footprints — are directly engaging suppliers about carbon emissions. And those who are engaging suppliers rarely go beyond the first tier.

The challenges are multifold: Many suppliers, citing that they are small, private and/or exclusively business-to-business, don’t see a business case for disclosure. Others aren’t familiar with common emissions measurement practices. And in addition to technological and data transparency and assurance challenges, there are often language and/or cultural gaps between suppliers and customers. In some cases, suppliers feel they lack the authority to disclose, or they fear that if they do offer disclosure, they’ll be barraged with multiple questionnaires in varying formats.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

As it turns out, product and supply chain footprinting have interrelated drivers and issues, but they represent different movements with distinct activities and tradeoffs. Many companies are committed to supply chain footprinting, which they expect to increase efficiency and reduce waste, yet they are reticent to advocate product footprinting because data complexity and virtually no standards mean high costs and uncertain results. At the same time, some companies advertise product carbon footprints in an effort to deliver more customer value, but they don’t engage suppliers directly because they lack the systems and know-how. Yet despite their differences, “bottom-up” supply chain footprinting and “top-down” product footprinting are both important, and contrasting them can provide useful insight for companies aiming to achieve a lower carbon footprint.

Companies seeking to reduce emissions from the value chain should keep in mind the opportunities and costs of both product and supply chain footprinting. Product footprinting frameworks such as PAS 2050 start with a product’s boundary conditions (e.g. which carbon to include), and then model the cumulative impacts of processes at various stages along the value chain. While this provides a conceptual overview of the value chain’s hotspots, it does not take into account operations changes inside individual companies, which is why supply chain footprinting is also essential. In looking at the supply chain, this framework identifies the most important suppliers and observes their actual data. (For SCLC, this means suppliers of the largest public companies, like Unilever and Procter & Gamble; for EICC, it is first-tier suppliers. HP has recently disclosed [PDF] its list of key suppliers. Unlike with product footprinting, the data can be used to define operational baselines and set process performance targets. The tradeoff is that it doesn’t prioritize areas where value chain carbon emissions are highest. 

Product footprinting extrapolates secondary data from manufacturing processes and makes assumptions regarding use and disposal, while supply chain footprinting measures data from real companies directly. The former gives substantial information with high variance, while the latter provides high confidence, but for one company at a time.Each has its own standardization problems. Product footprinting must merge hundreds of processes across multiple companies yet there are scant norms for making these massive summaries meaningful to the customer, whose aim is to make simple product-to-product comparisons. Supply chain footprinting, on the other hand, struggles with how to allocate and normalize emissions by revenue, production unit, facility or another other figure.

Although both product and supply chain footprint frameworks are still emerging, it is wise for businesses to invest in the building blocks for both while legislation, pilot programs and technologies develop. In doing so, consider the following recommendations:

  • Watch for meaningful standards to emerge, particularly the GHG Protocol, which is developing guidance for product and “scope 3” emissions, and the SCLC, which is establishing reporting norms.
  • Get involved in industry-focused forums to make sure that the right incentives are being created and your efforts are being counted. As economy-wide frameworks develop, there is an increasing need for industries to play a part in informing situational guidance and the rules for boundary-setting, normalization and allocation.
  • Work with your peers on standardized content for industry supplier questionnaires to ensure that the process is also the same, with a single entry point for suppliers and buyers. In doing so, develop tools that invite entry-level and experienced users alike, and that produce standardized data that potentially support both product and supply chain footprints.
  • In making carbon claims and wider promises (see BSR’s recent report, “Eco-Promising: Communicating the Environmental Credentials of your Products and Services”), watch for advice from authorities like the Federal Trade Commission, which plans to update its guidance on green marketing claims toward the end of 2008 for the first time in 10 years.
  • Keep it simple. Companies naturally want systems that best describe their situations. However, when aggregating footprints among many companies, data grow unwieldy so there’s a premium on accessibility and common denominators. To keep it simple, focus on materiality, deferring when possible to primary data (e.g. electricity use) and public data (e.g. financial statements), and encourage your peers to communicate analyses in straightforward, comparable equations.

Originally published at Greenbiz.