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Scope 4 Emissions: What They Are & Why They Matter, Learn More Now

Scope 4 Emissions: What They Are & Why They Matter, Learn More Now

Scope 4 emissions, also known as avoided emissions, are emerging as a crucial aspect of carbon accounting, representing the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions achieved through the adoption of new products or services. Companies are increasingly interested in reporting Scope 4 emissions to enhance their sustainability profiles, comply with regulations, meet investor demands, and gain competitive advantages. However, accurately measuring these emissions poses challenges such as establishing credible baselines, ensuring data quality, and achieving methodological consistency. Existing guidance from frameworks like the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and ISO standards provides a foundational approach to measuring and reporting these avoided emissions.

How Do Scope 4 Emissions Work?

Scope 4 emissions, also known as avoided emissions, are a unique and emerging concept in the realm of carbon accounting. Unlike Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, which focus on direct and indirect emissions from a company’s operations, Scope 4 emissions represent the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are avoided through the products, services, or actions of a company. Essentially, they reflect the potential environmental benefits when a company’s offerings displace higher-emission alternatives in the market.

Understanding how Scope 4 emissions work requires looking at particular scenarios where emissions can be effectively reduced or avoided. Here is a step-by-step explanation:

  1. Identification of Potential Savings: The first step involves identifying processes or technologies that can bring about emission reductions. This could include renewable energy solutions, energy-efficient appliances, or more sustainable materials.
  2. Assessment of Emission Savings: Once the potential savings are identified, the next step is to calculate the emissions that would have occurred if a less sustainable alternative was chosen. This involves benchmarking against conventional products or practices.
  3. Comparison and Quantification: After calculating the potential savings, these figures need to be compared against the actual emissions from the company’s offerings. The difference between the two provides an estimate of the avoided emissions.
  4. Implementation of Quantitative Methods: To ensure accuracy, quantitative methods and tools are utilized. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and other performance metrics are commonly used to measure the environmental impacts and benefits comprehensively.
  5. Documentation and Reporting: The final step involves documenting the avoided emissions and reporting them in a transparent and standardized manner. This not only helps in maintaining accountability but also aids stakeholders in understanding the benefits of the company’s efforts.

There are several critical factors that influence the calculation of Scope 4 emissions:

  • Baseline Setting: Establishing an appropriate baseline is essential for accurate comparison. The baseline represents the emissions from the conventional alternative that the company’s product or service is displacing.
  • Boundaries and Scope: Defining clear boundaries and methodological scope to ensure that all relevant emissions are considered in the analysis.
  • Data Quality: High-quality, verifiable data is imperative for accurate calculation and reporting of avoided emissions.
  • Market Dynamics: Market conditions and the penetration rate of the new product or service can also impact the extent of emission reductions.

In conclusion, Scope 4 emissions work by quantifying the potential environmental benefits of products, services, or actions that reduce or avoid higher GHG emissions. Understanding and reporting these emissions can contribute significantly to a company’s sustainability profile, encouraging innovation and promoting the adoption of more sustainable practices across industries.

Why Do Companies Want To Report on Scope 4 Emissions?

Reporting on Scope 4 emissions is becoming increasingly important for companies for several compelling reasons. As the focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility intensifies, companies are seeking ways to demonstrate their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. Scope 4 emissions, which represent the avoided emissions achieved through the use of a company’s products or services, offer a unique opportunity for businesses to showcase their contributions to mitigating climate change beyond their direct and indirect operational emissions.

Here are some key reasons why companies are motivated to report on Scope 4 emissions:

    • Enhanced Sustainability Profile: Reporting on Scope 4 emissions allows companies to highlight the environmental benefits of their products and services, thus enhancing their overall sustainability profile. This can distinguish them from competitors and attract environmentally conscious customers and investors.
    • Regulatory Compliance and Incentives: As governments and regulatory bodies increasingly introduce policies and incentives aimed at reducing carbon emissions, reporting on Scope 4 emissions can help companies stay ahead of regulatory requirements and benefit from potential incentives such as tax breaks, subsidies, or carbon credits.
    • Investor and Stakeholder Demand: Investors and stakeholders are increasingly seeking transparency in corporate sustainability practices. Demonstrating the positive impact of avoided emissions can improve a company’s attractiveness to investors and strengthen relationships with stakeholders who prioritize environmental responsibility.
    • Reputation Management: Transparent reporting on Scope 4 emissions can significantly enhance a company’s reputation. It demonstrates a proactive approach to addressing global environmental challenges, fostering trust and goodwill among consumers, partners, and the broader public.
    • Market Differentiation and Competitive Advantage: In competitive markets, showcasing the environmental benefits of products and services through Scope 4 emissions reporting can provide a significant market differentiator. Companies can leverage these reports to market their offerings as sustainable alternatives to traditional options.
    • Long-term Business Resilience: By focusing on innovations that result in avoided emissions, companies can build long-term resilience. This approach not only reduces their vulnerability to future regulatory changes but also positions them as leaders in sustainability, potentially opening up new markets and opportunities.
    • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Goals: Many companies have CSR goals that include environmental sustainability. Reporting on Scope 4 emissions aligns with these goals and provides measurable data that can be used to track progress and report to stakeholders.

In conclusion, reporting on Scope 4 emissions offers multiple benefits for companies, ranging from regulatory compliance and market differentiation to enhanced sustainability profiles and investor appeal. By quantifying and disclosing avoided emissions, companies can showcase their leadership in environmental sustainability while contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.

What Is the Existing Guidance for Reporting on Scope 4 Emissions?

The existing guidance for reporting on Scope 4 emissions is still evolving, as this is a relatively new concept in the area of carbon accounting. However, several frameworks and methodologies can inform and support companies in their efforts to quantify and report avoided emissions. These frameworks offer guidance on various aspects such as data requirements, calculation methods, and reporting standards to ensure accuracy, transparency, and comparability.

Here are some key frameworks and sources of guidance currently available:

      1. Greenhouse Gas Protocol: The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), is a widely recognized standard for GHG accounting. While it primarily focuses on Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, its principles can also be adapted for Scope 4 emissions. The GHG Protocol’s Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standards provides a basis for understanding the lifecycle emissions of products, which is crucial for identifying avoided emissions.
      2. ISO 14064-2:The International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 14064-2 standard provides specific guidance for quantifying, monitoring, and reporting GHG reductions or removal enhancements. This standard focuses on project-level GHG accounting and can be applied to initiatives aimed at reducing emissions, thus supporting the calculation of avoided emissions.
      3. Avoided Emissions Framework: The Avoided Emissions Framework developed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) offers detailed methodologies for calculating and reporting the emissions avoided by different technologies and practices. It includes criteria for setting baselines, measuring impacts, and ensuring consistency in reporting.
      4. CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project): CDP provides a platform for companies to disclose their environmental impacts, including avoided emissions. Their questionnaires and reporting frameworks encourage the disclosure of information related to a company’s efforts in reducing GHG emissions through innovative products and solutions.
      5. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Tools: Tools and methodologies for conducting Life Cycle Assessments are essential for understanding the full environmental impact of products and services. LCA provides a systematic approach to quantifying emissions across the product lifecycle, which is foundational for calculating avoided emissions.

Several key components should be considered when referencing these frameworks:

      • Baseline Scenarios: Establishing credible and relevant baseline scenarios against which avoided emissions are measured is vital. Baselines should reflect realistic alternatives that would prevail in the absence of the company’s intervention.
      • Transparency and Verifiability: Ensuring the transparency and verifiability of data and calculation methods is crucial for stakeholder trust and confidence. Independent verification can provide additional credibility.
      • Consistency and Comparability: Following established standards helps maintain consistency and comparability across different companies and projects, making it easier to benchmark performance and improvements.

In conclusion, while the concept of Scope 4 emissions is relatively new, existing guidance from established frameworks such as the GHG Protocol, ISO standards, and LCA tools provides a strong foundation for companies to develop robust methodologies for calculating and reporting avoided emissions. By adhering to these guidelines, companies can ensure that their Scope 4 emissions reports are accurate, credible, and useful for stakeholders.

What Are the Main Challenges of Measuring Scope 4 Emissions?

Measuring Scope 4 emissions, or avoided emissions, presents several significant challenges, primarily due to the complexity and novelty of the concept. Unlike direct emission calculations, Scope 4 emissions involve estimating hypothetical scenarios and comparing them against real-world outcomes, which introduces a range of uncertainties and difficulties.

Here are the main challenges associated with measuring Scope 4 emissions:

      1. Establishing Accurate Baselines: One of the foremost challenges is setting accurate and credible baseline scenarios. The baseline represents the emissions that would have occurred without the intervention of the new product or service. Determining these baselines requires assumptions about alternative technologies, behaviors, and market conditions, which can be highly variable and subjective.
      2. Data Availability and Quality: Comprehensive and high-quality data is essential for accurate measurement of avoided emissions. Often, getting access to reliable data on both the product’s lifecycle and the baseline scenario can be difficult. Incomplete or poor-quality data can significantly undermine the accuracy of the measurements.
      3. Quantifying Indirect Effects: Scope 4 emissions often include indirect effects such as changes in user behavior or secondary impacts on other technologies. Capturing these indirect effects accurately is complex and requires detailed modeling and assumptions, which can add layers of uncertainty to the calculations.
      4. Methodological Consistency: Achieving consistency in methodologies used for calculating avoided emissions is a major challenge. Without standardized methods, comparisons between different products, services, or companies become difficult, reducing the credibility and usefulness of reported Scope 4 emissions.
      5. Long-term Impact Measurement: Measuring the long-term impacts of avoided emissions requires assumptions about the future market penetration of the product or service and its sustained environmental benefits. These long-term projections can be speculative, affected by market dynamics, regulatory changes, and technological innovations.
      6. Verifiability and Transparency: Ensuring that the methodologies and data used in calculating Scope 4 emissions are transparent and verifiable is crucial for stakeholder confidence. Third-party verification can be challenging due to the complexity and lack of standardized approaches, making it hard to establish credibility.
      7. Greenwashing Concerns: There is a risk that companies may overstate their avoided emissions for marketing or reputational purposes, a practice known as greenwashing. This risk highlights the importance of robust, standardized reporting frameworks to ensure claims are substantiated and not exaggerated.

In conclusion, measuring Scope 4 emissions involves navigating significant challenges related to baseline setting, data quality, indirect effects, methodological consistency, long-term impact projections, verifiability, and the risk of greenwashing. Overcoming these challenges is essential for credible and effective reporting on avoided emissions, thereby helping companies truly demonstrate their contributions to environmental sustainability.


In conclusion, Scope 4 emissions represent a significant opportunity for companies to demonstrate their environmental impact through innovation and sustainable practices. Despite the challenges in measuring and reporting these emissions such as setting accurate baselines, ensuring data quality, and maintaining methodological consistency the benefits are substantial. Enhanced sustainability profiles, regulatory compliance, investor appeal, and competitive advantages are among the many reasons companies should focus on Scope 4 emissions. Leveraging existing frameworks like the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and ISO standards can provide the necessary guidance to navigate these complexities and effectively contribute to global efforts in mitigating climate change.

How we can help

Lythouse offers comprehensive support to companies aiming to measure and report on their Scope 4 emissions. The Carbon Analyzer tool ensures precision in tracking carbon emissions through AI-powered spend classification and extensive emissions factor mapping, facilitating accurate baseline setting and data quality. The Goal Navigator aids in setting and achieving ESG objectives by aligning company goals with global frameworks like UNSDG and SBTi, while the ESG Reporting Studio streamlines compliance with ESG regulations including GRI, CSRD, and TCFD. Additionally, the Green Supplier Network enables collaboration with suppliers for accurate emission data exchange, ensuring transparency and consistency across the supply chain.


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