Assessing the Ecological Impact: Scope Three Zero

I want all my suppliers to tell me my scope three emissions are zero, please.
Author: Andrew Aylett
Version: 1.0Status: activeLast Revised2021/10/21Expires: 2026/10/20
Learn about Scope Three emissions, their impact on the environment, and the importance of suppliers taking responsibility. Explore the Scope Three Zero Manifesto and Pledge for a more sustainable future.?

We face a challenge in assessing the ecological impact of the things we do: some emissions are entirely under our control, while others are less so. For most people, the biggest potential environmental impact isn't from what we do directly, it's from what we buy.

What is Scope Three?

Scope One emissions are directly caused by things we do ourselves. For many of us, driving our cars and heating our homes are probably the biggest contributors to our scope one emissions.

Scope Two emissions are caused in the process of delivering our energy supply. Electrical power, gas distribution, and petrol supplies.

Scope Three is everything else. Which is a lot: all the scope one and two emissions for every company that sells you anything, plus all their scope three emissions.

Keeping track of our scope three emissions is really hard. A motivated consumer may be able to glean some insight into the behaviour of the companies they buy from, but supply chains are long and complex and for the most part opaque to us.

We can take some steps to limit, or even to mitigate, our scope three emissions. But the Scope Three Manifesto and Scope Three Pledge are intended to shift this effort to the place where it belongs: the suppliers who are responsible for these emissions.

The Scope Three Zero Manifesto

Our scope three emissions are primarily under the control of our suppliers.

We can—to a degree—control the amount of our scope three emissions by choosing the right suppliers. But this is hard.

All our emissions are scope three emissions for our customers.

This is a corollary of the above.

A supplier is better-placed to account for emissions than a customer.

Especially when offsetting or netting out is undertaken, it's really hard to work out what one's impact might be without the help of the supplier.

All suppliers should tell their customers what the carbon impact of their custom is.

Without this requirement, the externality of environmental impact is invisible to the customer. They can make informed guesses, but there is no incentive in the customer/supplier relationship for the supplier to lessen the environmental impact of their products.

That impact should be zero.

This internalises the externality.

The important change from the point of view of the purchaser is that the cost is in the headline price: it makes comparing suppliers that much easier, and it removes the burden of scope three emissions from customers.

It also lets suppliers directly benefit from their efforts to reduce the impact of their business to the environment, as their offsetting/netting cost goes down.

The Scope Three Pledge

As part of our work towards a sustainable future, we pledge to work towards a Scope Three Zero future where scope three emissions are dealt with by the supply chain directly.

We will work towards providing our customers with a carbon-neutral product.

We will encourage our suppliers to account for the carbon costs of their products in their relationship with us.


I'm a consumer. Why should I care whether a company is Scope Three Zero?

Scope Three Zero is a level playing field for businesses: it requires them to account for the cost of their emissions, and be transparent about the total cost of what they sell you, rather than hiding the cost of their products by passing the responsibility of working out CO₂ emissions and dealing with them onto the consumer.

Scope Three Zero encourages efficiency: when the carbon cost of a product is included in a company's bottom line, a more expensive process with a lower environmental impact leads to lower prices.

I sell to the public, why should I sign the Scope Three Pledge?

The vast bulk of most consumers' environmental emissions are scope three. It's certainly possible for a motivated consumer to offset or remove CO₂ privately, but it's not common. The right thing should be the easy thing to do: by accounting for the environmental impact of your products, you are making more sustainable products available to more people.

Consumers who are conscious of the environmental impact of their lifestyle are more likely to seek out suppliers who demonstrate their willingness to help. Ensuring that all our products have their CO₂ accounted for makes it easier to compare products on a like-for-like basis.

I'm a part of the supply chain, why am I being encouraged to sign the Scope Three Pledge, and why should I encourage my suppliers to do the same?

The incentives to account for scope three emissions in a B2B relationship naturally spread down the supply chain as companies adopt this approach. A company that is trying to account for the emissions they pass to their customers will find that accounting much easier when their suppliers do likewise.