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Sustainability isn’t a one size fits all approach. There are different scopes to sustainability, and it’s important to understand them in order for your company to accurately set goals for a more sustainable future.

Sustainability is something that requires a multi-faceted approach. Whether you believe in climate change or not, sustainability is now a core business issue and it is vital that companies understand how to work with sustainability. Sustainability can be broken down into 3 scopes, the upstream direct, indirect reporting, and indirect downstream.


The first scope is arguably the most important to a business and their sustainability efforts: direct materials used. This includes natural gas, heating oil, diesel and petrol, as well as others like refrigerants. Changing your direct sources of energy might be difficult at first, but it is important to remember that renewable energies and sustainability are profitable in the long term for a company. Investing in hybrid or electric vehicles as well as wind and solar for power are direct ways a company can articulate their sustainability actions to customers and shareholders. 

The first indirect scope usually refers to purchasing of electricity. Almost all companies purchase electric, steam heating & cooling for their own use. Some might generate their own electricity, which is a direct scope. Reducing your purchased electricity output by switching to direct output alternatives like solar energy is one example of minimizing this scope.


The second indirect scopes are the simple things that each person in a company can contribute to, to aid the company’s overall sustainability efforts. This includes business travel and commutes, waste management, as well as things like purchased and capital goods. The obvious example to cut down on a company’s 3rd scope is remote working, which has seen an upsurge during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

When it comes to measuring how your company performs under the three scopes of sustainability, direct monitoring and monitoring of activity are the first places to start. Going through expenses and financials give a company a baseline of where they are at to set reasonable and understandable sustainability goals. In depth data collection through extrapolations like surveys and top-level estimations can better refine targets. Companies large or small should understand that to be sustainable, change needs to happen in all three scopes.


It is important for a company to understand its impact on each scope of sustainability if they wish to gain a competitive advantage and ultimately more profit. Once your company understands the scopes, you can properly identify your company’s emission sources, and discern how to continue on your journey towards a more sustainable future.