Unlocking Your Sustainable Future with Scope 3 Transportation Emissions

Companies are dealing with considerable supply chain and transportation issues at the moment, including port congestion and tight capacity in trucking. Yet, many of them remain focused on corporate sustainability initiatives as well. One area that requires more attention is Scope 3 emissions. What are they? How do you set a target for their reduction? What actions can you take to reduce Scope 3 emissions from transportation? Those are the main questions I discussed with Brett Wetzel, Senior Director of Applied Knowledge at Breakthrough, during a recent episode of Talking Logistics.   

Scope 3 Emissions

In an earlier episode, Brett and I discussed Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. So, I began this session by asking Brett to describe Scope 3 emissions and how they relate to transportation.

Brett notes that he has seen progress in companies dealing with all three scopes of emissions but that Scope 3 emissions are particularly difficult because they are indirect. “It’s not within your facility, it’s not the electricity coming into it, it’s everything that is indirect, which includes 15 categories,” says Brett. “Those categories revolve around your vendors and your customers. It starts with your purchased materials or products, involves your employees’ commutes and travel, the way your customers use your products, and even how those products are disposed of. In all of these, transportation shows up more than any other factor.”

Measuring Scope 3 Emissions

How do companies go about measuring Scope 3 emissions, and of a company’s total greenhouse gas emissions, what percent typically come from Scope 3 emissions?

Brett points out that across the many companies they work with, Scope 3 emissions account for a surprising 90% of total emissions. 

“Across all of the categories, transportation is usually a top three contributor to total emissions, representing about 10-15%,” states Brett. “Whether it’s dedicated fleets, contract carriers or other partners, transportation is a major emitter. To capture that emissions data requires collaboration with your carriers and partners, and it varies a lot.

“But the biggest challenge is getting your arms around 15 categories,” continues Brett. He notes that companies often assign a general factor to categories because they can’t get accurate data right now. He says the important thing is to identify the categories and begin looking at ways to obtain the data.

Setting Reduction Targets

With all of the difficulties in getting emissions data, how do companies go about setting targets for Scope 3 emissions reduction? “The biggest initiative we’re seeing is the Science-Based Targets Initiative, or SBTI,” says Brett. “They give really good advice that is aligned with the Paris Climate Accords, but it’s a bit of a process to pull all of this in. 

“Most companies are setting targets for Scope 1, 2 and 3 emission reductions in the range of 10% to 50% over a 10-year horizon. Over 2,000 companies have signed on to the SBTI approach, which has almost doubled since a year ago.”

Actions to Take

Brett explains that including sustainability as a pillar of transportation strategy opens the way for taking action. He mentions freight consolidation and load fill as areas that have been considered in the past, but sustainability puts a new lens on these decisions. Other examples are intermodal decisions and even which carrier partners you choose to work with. All of the major railroads have signed onto SBTI and major carriers also have climate initiatives. 

“Your Scope 3 emissions are the Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions for the carriers, so collaboration can help,” says Brett.

Brett points out that other options include energy choices such as using biodiesel or converting to natural gas. Then looking forward to electric or hydrogen fueled vehicles, or other new technologies such as carbon capture or autonomous vehicles in the future. 

“It’s a matter of doing what you can today and then looking at what options may be available in the future to help you meet your targets,” Brett says. “If you know the components of your emissions, you can figure out what and where will give you the biggest gains for your buck.”

Transportation and Sustainability Coming Together

The logical next question is how can transportation professionals get started in bringing sustainability into their everyday decisions. Brett shared some great insights and advice on this topic, so I recommend you watch the full episode for all the details. Then keep the conversation going by posting a comment and sharing your own perspective on this topic.