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Scope 4 Emissions Reporting: A Future Horizon for Associations and Membership Bodies?

Scope 4 emissions are a rapidly expanding category gaining traction as organisations start to understand their implications and seek ways to measure them.

This reporting adds depth to traditional sustainability assessments focused on Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, and offers a comprehensive understanding of an organisations environmental impact, going beyond direct and indirect emissions.


In sustainability efforts, addressing and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is vital for fighting climate change.

Historically, businesses have concentrated on Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, which include both direct and indirect emissions from their operations and supply chains. However, Scope 4 emissions are drawing attention due to their ability to capture the wider impact of an organisations activities beyond the conventional categories.


Exploring “Scope 4” Emissions

Firstly, it is important to note that while the term "Scope 4" is used, it is unofficial and not recognised by the GHG Protocol Standard, the most widely accepted carbon accounting methodology.

Generally, Scope 4 includes emissions related to an organisations products or services that can be avoided, facilitated, advertised, or advised. These emissions are industry-agnostic and applicable to any business whose products or services generate emissions throughout their lifecycle. Some organisations have already begun reporting certain aspects of their Scope 4 emissions.


To encourage more organisations to comply, they must develop a deeper understanding of the components comprising Scope 4 emissions, including:


Avoided emissions: This prevalent aspect of Scope 4 emissions calculates the environmental impact of producing a product or service throughout its lifecycle. For instance, opting for reusable water bottles over single-use plastic ones leads to avoided emissions. Scope 4 considers the entire product lifecycle, showing that while reusable bottles may initially demand more resources, they result in fewer emissions over time by replacing the need for multiple single-use bottles.


Facilitated emissions: This component, closely linked to avoided emissions, arises when professional service firms collaborate with clients to either increase or decrease emissions. For example, an engineering firm's design for a new building can facilitate avoided emissions by reducing operational and embodied emissions. Incorporating innovative low-carbon materials in the design further reduces embodied emissions during construction.


Advised emissions: This category captures emissions influenced by professional service firms when assisting external clients with projects affecting their GHG footprint. Law firms, for instance, indirectly impact GHG emissions through services provided. Supporting permitting and litigation for fossil fuel projects increases advised emissions, while aiding regulatory compliance in renewable energy projects decreases advised emissions.


Advertised emissions: These emissions stem from sales growth driven by advertising campaigns. Advertising agencies play a role in indirectly influencing emissions through product promotion. Successful campaigns boosting demand for high-emission products result in increased Scope 4 emissions due to additional production to meet consumer demand. Conversely, campaigns promoting consumption of low-emission products fall within this category too.


Transparency is key in reporting, with organisations disclosing all assumptions and methodologies used in calculations. This fosters trust among stakeholders and demonstrates a commitment to accountability and sustainability leadership.

While implementing Scope 4 emissions reporting may present challenges, the benefits are significant. By embracing this comprehensive approach, associations and membership bodies can showcase their environmental stewardship and inspire action among members and stakeholders. Through collective efforts, they contribute to a greener and more sustainable future for all.


Membership organisations are urged to set a precedent by championing sustainable practices, educating their members, nurturing collaboration, and stimulating innovation, including emissions reporting. By involving members in climate initiatives and exhibiting leadership, you can significantly contribute to combating climate change and promoting climate justice.


At Climate Action for Associations (CAFA), we empower associations to take the lead by providing guidance and vital support, including assistance with emissions reporting. Through promoting community learning, we aid them in fulfilling their sustainability commitments effectively.




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