Is Embodied Carbon Scope 3 for design teams?

Hi everyone, I am an Architect at LMN and we have been calculating/buying offsets for our office (energy use, supplies, commutes, travel, etc) for over a decade. I have asked many smart people whether embodied carbon is a Scope 3 (per Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard.) or not, with most architects suggesting it is not part of their Scope 3. My position is that we should, but should agree on it as an industry, thus this email. The only person who agreed is Alex Ianchenko, who responded with this from the GHG Protocol chapter on Identifying Scope 3 Emissions:

Indirect emissions are emissions that are a consequence of the activities of the reporting company , but occur at sources owned or controlled by another company .

All indirect emissions (not included in scope 2) that occur in the value chain of the reporting company , including both upstream and downstream emissions.

Any thoughts? Anyone know someone at GHG Protocol that can weigh in on this? Embodied carbon emissions are nearly 300 x our office emissions annually.


Wouldn’t the embodied carbon emissions and the operating emissions of the buildings you designed be attributed to the building ownership? Otherwise there could be double counting - if this logic was applied to the General Contractor there could be triple accounting. Congratulations on your long-term commitment to reduce your corporate carbon footprint!

Bob Redwine, Structural Engineer

Hi Bob,

From the GHG protocol, basically Scope 3 does include emissions from other entities, so there will be double, triple, or even higher counting of the same emissions. I am not an expert on this, but my understanding is that if everyone zeroed out their Scope 1 we’d be in a roughly carbon neutral world. But someone’s Scope 1 is someone else’s Scope 2 or 3, so multiple counting occurs frequently. For instance, purchased energy for a company is Scope 2. The same emissions are also Scope 1 for the power plant owner, and part of Scope 3 for a company that uses the first company’s services.

The goal of the GHG Protocol as I see it is to understand for a single company how directly related they are to their wide range of emissions.

And if the net is cast wide enough then embodied carbon and perhaps energy use of our buildings would be considered Scope 3 for design teams…any other thoughts from the group on that?




We agree - Embodied Carbon is definitely in Scope 3 for architecture firms, and operational carbon might also be (we certainly feel responsible for it, anyway!)

From the GHG Protocol - " A scope 3 inventory enables companies to identify their downstream hot spots so that they can credibly engage with customers to reduce their value chain emissions."

Since we (as architects) deliver buildings to our customers, to me that says operational carbon would be a downstream hotspot, where we have the responsibility to engage with our customers to reduce the associated [scope 3] emissions.

feel like there needs to be something like a scope 4 - for designers. Use it as a way to call attention to and leverage the change we can make. Whether that’s operational or embodied carbon of projects/products. Maybe give it more of a positive connotation then one you offset.

While being an expert of nothing, my immediate take on this conversation is that while we may be triple counting the point is not to promote competition but cooperation. If that’s true then we can count as many times as we want because what we are establishing is the interconnected scope and hopefully shared responsibility.

If we want to solve this for everyone then we need to begin to put aside competition, fighting for market share and, eventually, profit for profits sake. There’s no longer enough left to be fighting for our own little piece.


Very interesting topic!

I have been giving this problem a lot of time and my current thinking is this: We could attribute Embodied & Operational Scope 3 carbon depending on your influence over each project. In the same way the influence of a designer changes from Concept to Handover, the chain of custody for the carbon necessitates that we each consider our part and account for it. If a designer has the opportunity to reduce carbon when they have the influence to do so but chooses not to, then that should be reflected in an increase in their scope 3 accounting.

As the degree of influence will vary greatly depending on scope/discipline etc I agree that co-operation is key. I would love to see perhaps LEED, BREEAM or failing that AIA, RIBA, BSRIA, RICs, ICE, ASHRAE, CIBSE, FIDIC etc get into this and overlay a notional percentage into their stages/systems/contracts broken down by stakeholder. Has anyone else come across this kind of approach? I am sure we are not the first to think of this. Thanks, Iain

Hi all,

Let me preface this by saying that I agree with Kjell and with Alex, that EC should be part of Scope 3. The intent should be that every member of the value chain does get a deep understanding of their total emissions and their impact hotspots. According to UK GBC report “Embodied Carbon: Developing a Client Brief”:

“[…] In terms of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol for emissions accounting, the embodied carbon of built assets in included within Scope 3 emissions”.

Regarding the double/triple counting topic, despite being a valid concern, the GHG protocol is not designed to be used as such. In section 1.5 “Scope of the standard” of the Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard, the following is stated:

“Use of this standard is intended to enable comparisons of a company’s GHG emissions over time. It is not designed to support comparisons between companies based on their scope 3 emissions”.

To my understanding the above phrase does mean that double counting cannot happen as the scope itself is not intended for aggregations. Additionally, under section 5.1 “Overview of the scopes”, we find the following:

“Scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3 are mutually exclusive for the reporting company […]. The scopes are defined to ensure that two or more companies do not account for the same emission within scope 1 or scope 2 […]”. Also, “[…] Scope 3 emissions should not be aggregated across companies to determine total emissions in a given region”.

So the double counting issue is not actually an issue as long as we don’t aggregate scope 3 emissions to understand “something”. That being said, yes, we should include EC in scope 3 and do look into our total emissions over different reporting periods and how we can actually reduce them.




It is interesting how a single question can have so many different opinions in response!

My thoughts after reading through all of the posts is “it depends”.
If you want to know your company’s carbon footprint in the classical definition, you probably should not incorporate scope 3.
I you want to know the carbon footprint that your company has some responsibility in creating, maybe you should incorporate scope 3. I used the word “some” because your company may have varying degrees of responsibility - I have no idea how to determine this.
It seems to me that the carbon footprint approach, whether from the personal, household or corporate level speaks for the embodied and operational carbon emitted by your actions within the entity you are considering. If my household conducts a yard sale, is it responsible for the embodied carbon of everything we sell? If my household buys a product from Amazon, is it responsible for the embodied carbon in that product?
The argument that designers should consider their control over embodied and operational carbon as their responsibility is in my opinion a moral obligation argument which I agree with.
Thanks for all the great responses and questions!

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