New Sustainability Strategies: Target Scope Overlap

To survive in the coming decades, U.S. industries must tear down Scope Silos and direct their carbon budgets to the places and relationships that matter to them. The place to start is Scope Overlap.

January 5, 2018

Here’s a curious thing: Every time a Duke University employee flies with Delta Air Lines, the emissions from that flight are counted twice—once as a Scope 3 emission (travel-related) by Duke, and again as a Scope 1 emission (directly related to core business) by Delta—even though that carbon was emitted only once.

Every industry, market, and product has overlapping emissions. For example, I recently purchased on Etsy a family of crocheted penguins and their igloo home (Yes, I know penguins don’t live in igloos, but my daughter loves it). Who owns those emissions?

  • The farmer raising the sheep?
  • UPS for shipping the wool yarn?
  • Amazon for running the cloud servers hosting Etsy’s marketplace?
  • Or maybe I own the emissions for purchasing the (most excellent) penguin family and igloo home in the first place!

The act of Emissions Ownership is a brave decision.

Etsy has taken ownership of the emissions tied to shipping the penguins and igloo from Thailand to my home in the North Carolina Piedmont.

“Shipping between Etsy sellers and buyers is the single largest generator of carbon emissions for our business. In 2016, Etsy shipments generated 97,195 metric tons of CO2e. Eliminating our carbon impacts is a huge challenge, and it requires our entire community—Etsy staff, sellers, buyers, and partners—to work together. So, we’re implementing creative solutions, and sharing our progress so that others can build on what we’ve learned.”
Etsy 2016 Progress Report, page 22

By declaring emissions ownership, Etsy has aligned this sustainability strategy with their mission to create a more humane marketplace. Ownership influences how customers view a company, along with the products and services it sells. But ownership also indicates a real cost, and being a publicly traded company, a cost that must support profits. (See FastCompany’s May 2017 article)

Just as Etsy and UPS are not in direct competition with each other, the same is true of Delta and Duke, or Volvo Trucks and Amazon. Each partner in those pairings operate adjacent to each other, in markets that overlap where one company’s Scope 1 emissions meet the other’s Scope 3.

The opportunity is in the overlap.

Duke could solve its own Scope 3 emissions, the same with Delta, but doing so wastes a lot of effort, money, and most importantly, time. By addressing the emissions in those overlapping circles together, each emission owner saves time and money. That’s exactly what Delta and Duke did. Their combined purchase of 5,000 carbon offsets simultaneously offsets carbon emissions from all Duke University business travel on Delta in 2017 and supported the planting of 1,000 new trees in the Raleigh-Durham area.

At Urban Offsets, one of our goals is to help organizations identify overlapping emissions and work together to address those hard to solve travel-related emissions, and in doing so, we’re also funding a sustainable urban forestry health plan for cities across the country. The Delta-Duke partnership is the first to test our overlapping emissions strategy. Urban Offsets will facilitate the project and track the impact for each partner on our registry.