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COP28, running from 30 November until 12 December 2023, marks another crucial moment in the global effort to combat climate change.

As the world gathers to discuss strategies for mitigating the impacts of climate change, one key aspect requiring attention is Scope 3 emissions. Scope 1 and 2 emissions are more commonly acknowledged and easier to measure and control. Tackling Scope 3 emissions is paramount in achieving net zero goals.

The unknown impact of Scope 3

Unlike Scopes 1 and 2, Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting institution, but that the institution indirectly impacts in its value chain. For universities, Scope 3 emissions often represent the majority of an institution’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Handmade sign at a climate protest that reads: If not now, when? There is no planet B

Scope 3 in HE: unique challenges

Scope 3 emissions of higher education institutions encompass a range of indirect emissions associated with their operations. These include emissions from purchased goods and services, employee commuting and student and staff travel. Due to the diverse nature of their activities, universities face unique challenges in mitigating Scope 3 emissions. From international research collaborations to student mobility, the carbon footprint extends beyond the lecture halls and campuses.

With scope 3 emissions a challenge across the economy, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero recently released a call for evidence on the costs, benefits and practicalities of Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK. The call for evidence closes at 11:59PM on Thursday 14 December.

So, what are the benefits of measuring Scope 3 emissions?

By measuring Scope 3 emissions, institutes can:

  • Assess where the emission hotspots are in their supply chain
  • Identify resource and energy risks in their supply chain
  • Identify which suppliers are leaders and which are laggards in terms of their sustainability performance
  • Identify energy efficiency and cost reduction opportunities in their supply chain
  • Engage suppliers and assist them to implement sustainability initiatives
  • Improve the energy efficiency of their products
  • Positively engage with employees to reduce emissions from business travel and employee commuting.

How can universities address scope 3 emissions?

By recognising the unique challenges faced by universities and promoting collaboration, we can leverage the collective knowledge and influence of higher education institutions to accelerate progress towards a sustainable future.

Dr Thomas Owen-Smith, SUMS Consultant and sustainability expert explains:

“Many institutions’ scope 3 emissions are three or four times the size of their emissions in scopes 1 and 2. Measurement of supply chain emissions in the education sector is still generally impressionistic and assumptions-based, but a coordinated approach to procurement focusing initially on the most material categories and the largest suppliers can be the start of the journey to understanding and reducing them.”

With this in mind, SUMS Consulting offers a higher education sustainability service designed to inject expert resource where it is needed, allowing institutions to really move the dial around sticky and intractable sustainability issues. These include scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions baselining and reporting and – crucially – using these as a springboard into how to reduce carbon emissions.

Specifically targeted at the higher and further education sectors, the service is delivered in partnership with EAUC, the environmental and sustainability champion in the education sector. We provide access to recognised experts and leaders who bring deep knowledge of the topic and experience of creating change over a range of institutions inside and outside education.

For more information on our sustainability service and the scope 3 modules, get in touch with our team at sums@reading.ac.uk.

SUPC logo

Our sister organisation, Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium, is dedicated to supporting university missions towards responsible procurement. SUPC offers Scope 3 reports tailored to each institution, highlighting areas where emissions are highest and identifying areas for reduction. For more information about Scope 3 reports or support with responsible procurement, please start the conversation at supc@reading.ac.uk.

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