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View from the street: Who’s afraid of scope three?

Tom Gillingham


Who’s afraid of scope three?

Reaching net zero is an inherently complicated business, so it’s almost inevitable that shorthand creeps in to explain what’s going on. Wind turbines, definitely good, oil, definitely bad – obviously.

‘Scope three’ emissions (those that an organisation is indirectly responsible for) pose a challenge to traditional views of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, however. In the UK in particular, they represent a potential reputational and political challenge that has so far flown slightly under the radar.

According to Deloitte, ‘scope three’ emissions account for more than 70 percent of many businesses’ carbon footprints, and they are increasingly in the global spotlight. Given the UK’s domestic manufacturing industry is often overlooked for overseas fabricators, this is a looming reputational challenge for almost every generation and energy business operating here.

Confidently communicating an approach to ‘scope three’ emissions could help companies avoid the sort of whataboutery that still plagues the battery technology in electric vehicles.

At the same time, a recently closed consultation from the UK Department for Energy Security and Net Zero indicated that ‘non-price factors’ are being considered more extensively as part of future contract awards for power providers, so it’s not a leap to imagine ‘scope three’ emissions and supply chain factors – the latter highlighted recently as a key priority for Labour leader Keir Starmer – could become a bigger factor.

Crucially, this is as true for renewables companies as it is for legacy energy companies.

All of this sounds pretty challenging, but there is new hope at hand. Three cheers for Ineos Nitriles and Invireo™ bio-based Acrylonitirile!

Bear with me here…

Acrylonitrile is a chemical that goes into all sorts of things, but most pertinently for emissions associated with the green transition, it’s vital for the manufacture of carbon fibre – a key component in wind turbines. The newly claimed 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for this element shows how there is work underway to ‘green’ previously unheard-of industrial processes that feed into the lesser-known carbon footprint of various technologies.

If advances like this, and efforts to shorten supply chains, can be communicated clearly and consistently in relation to ‘scope three’ emissions, this growing reputational risk can be managed.

For now, much of this detail currently still resides in the domain of energy geeks, but the current direction of travel suggests that these indirect emissions aren’t far from bursting into our wider political and public consciousness.


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