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In April 2022, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave a stark reminder that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 12% since 2010 and are now higher than at any point in human history. Since this report, we’ve seen increased media coverage of the need to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across every industry. If you’ve heard that food businesses need to reduce their scope 3 emissions by 50% by the year 2030, you may be wondering what this term actually means. 

What are scope 3 emissions?

Greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three groups or 'scopes' by the internationally-recognised Greenhouse Gas Protocol

  • Scope 1 includes direct emissions from owned or controlled sources, such as fuel combustion and company vehicles.
  • Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from purchased electricity, steam, heating and/or cooling consumed by the reporting organisation.
  • Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur throughout a company’s value chain. 

“Scope 3 emissions can represent the largest source of emissions for companies and present the most significant opportunities to influence GHG reductions.” (GHG Protocol, 2011.) 

Measuring and reporting scope 1 and 2 emissions have been standard practice for many years. However, a comprehensive approach to tackling scope 3 emissions is relatively new for most companies, and the 2021 Climate Action 100 Net Zero Company Benchmark highlighted that scope 3 disclosure remained a worrying blind spot. 

The global food system contributes up to 37% of total annual emissions, and the supply chains of major food and beverage processing companies make a weighty contribution. Scope 3 emissions can account for the bulk of a food manufacturer’s emissions — potentially up to 90%. Despite this, sector-specific analysis of the status and quality of scope 3 emissions for food and beverage processing companies is critically lacking. 

The term ‘embodied emissions’ refers to the amount of GHGs emitted in the production of a specific quantity of product or ingredient (e.g. ‘CO2e per kg chicken’) across all life cycle stages. For companies in the food and beverage sector, this accounts for an overwhelming majority of overall emissions — making it critical that high-quality embodied emissions data become a priority. 

For any organisation that is committed to aligning its business with the UN’s climate goals, it’s time to do some serious work around identifying, measuring and reducing scope 3 emissions. 

The challenges of measuring scope 3 emissions 

The process of measuring and reducing scope 3 emissions presents specific challenges in terms of data availability, accuracy, comparability, access, collection, management and associated resource costs. Because of the variety of scope 3 emissions, and the fact that they occur throughout all stages of the value chain, they can be hard to define and difficult to calculate. Value chains themselves are often complex, long and not necessarily transparent, and any food business is likely to work with multiple suppliers and producers. 

In order to make any significant progress in reducing scope 3 emissions, food businesses must engage with all players in their value chains — including suppliers of everything from food ingredients to packaging and cleaning products, as well as distribution networks — demanding open communication, transparency and accountability. 

Why should my company measure scope 3 emissions?

It’s clear that failure to account for scope 3 emissions can result in a significant underestimation of a company's climate change impact, preventing effective mitigation strategies. However, it’s not just about avoiding the negative; there are a number of real benefits associated with measuring scope 3 emissions. 

With today’s consumer more influenced by ethical business practices than ever before, it also provides additional reasons to choose your brand as the sustainable option. 

For many food businesses, the majority of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (and cost reduction opportunities) lie outside their own operations. In addition to minimising environmental impact, understanding scope 3 emissions also allows organisations to:

  • increase corporate accountability,
  • be prepared for the advent of potential regulations in the future,
  • improve the energy efficiency of end products, potentially at numerous points throughout the value chain,
  • evaluate and improve procurement strategies, and see cost reductions as a result,
  • be guided by sustainability in future product design, and
  • potentially boost sales, since today’s consumer is increasingly attracted to ethical business practices. 

How can I measure scope 3 emissions?

1. Seek supply chain sustainability: The first step is understanding your supply and value chains. Review your supply chain and communicate with your suppliers, with the explicit goal of building a low carbon strategy through every stage.

  • Assess which parts of the supply chain are responsible for the most significant emissions.
  • Identify energy efficiency and cost reduction opportunities throughout the supply chain.
  • Identify which suppliers are leaders in terms of their sustainability performance, and which may be worth replacing.
  • Engage with suppliers and work with them to implement more sustainable business practices. 

2. Measurement and analysis: You can’t improve upon what you don’t measure. Implement a reliable tool to track and report on the carbon and water footprints of your organisation or product(s), including data on embodied emissions. For foodservice companies, this must also include measuring — and ultimately minimising — the volume of food waste created. 

Foodprint by Nutritics is a fully automated, easy-to-use carbon footprint scoring, display and scope 3 reporting system for food businesses. Foodprint combines the latest research with cutting-edge technology, designed to help organisations on their journey to ‘net zero' carbon. Our proprietary technology automatically matches your foods, recipes and dishes to peer reviewed LCA data sources, with a specific focus on country of origin. 

3. Seek certification: Seeking certification may help companies to minimise their carbon, water and waste footprints, and allows them to demonstrate their success in doing so. Not only does certification maintain accountability, but it is also an effective way to communicate your sustainability efforts to your customers. 

Eager to learn more? Watch our free webinar ‘Your Foodprint — Carbon Food Tracking Made Simple’, where our panel discussed the complexity of tracking and reporting scope 3 carbon food missions, share insights on the benefits of displaying a carbon footprint to the customer, and demonstrate Foodprint, our fully automated solution.

For details on how Foodprint can benefit your business directly, contact