Scope 4 Emissions: Everything You Need to Know
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April 11, 2023
min read

Scope 4 Emissions: Everything You Need to Know

Scope 4 emissions, also known as avoided emissions, encompass various activities such as tenant commuting, energy footprint.

Understanding the Different Scopes of Emissions

Before we delve into Scope 4 emissions, it's important to understand what Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions are. Each category provides crucial information for organisations to gather, analyse, and act upon.

  • Scope 1 refers to direct emissions that occur on-site, such as fuel that is burned.
  • Scope 2 includes indirect emissions from the purchased energy that is used on-site, such as electricity and steam.
  • Scope 3, on the other hand, covers all other indirect emissions, which can include tenant emissions and embodied carbon from building construction and the supply chain.
  • Scope 4 emissions, which are often referred to as avoided emissions, encompass activities such as tenant commuting, energy footprint, and waste. These emissions are often challenging to track and report, as some reporting initiatives do not require organizations to report avoided emissions. However, Scope 4 emissions present significant opportunities for real estate organizations to drive environmental progress and enhance the quality of life for tenants.

What are Scope 4 Emissions and How Do They Differ from Scopes 1, 2, and 3 Emissions?

Scope 4 emissions refer to the avoided emissions, such as those that result from tenant commuting, energy footprint, and waste. These emissions are different from Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions, which refer to direct, indirect, and other indirect emissions, respectively.

Scope 1 emissions are generated from direct sources on-site, such as fuel that is burned. Scope 2 emissions, on the other hand, are indirect emissions that result from purchased energy used on-site, such as electricity and steam. Scope 3 emissions cover all other indirect emissions, including tenant emissions, embodied carbon from building construction, and supply chain.

Examples of activities and sources that fall under Scope 4 emissions include reducing commuting emissions through telecommuting or carpooling, reducing energy footprint through energy-efficient appliances, and reducing waste through recycling and composting programs.

Recognized Frameworks for Addressing Scope 4 Emissions

Although tracking avoided emissions under Scope 4 can be challenging, credible frameworks are available to guide organizations on how to address this. The Comparative Emissions Working Paper from the World Resources Institute and the Avoided Emissions Framework from Mission Innovation have globally recognized frameworks that provide guidance on addressing Scope 4 emissions. These frameworks are even included as acceptable frameworks in CDP reporting.

There are two methodological approaches to calculating avoided emissions: attributional and consequential

  • Attributional Approach: the attributional approach looks at the absolute emissions and removals of a product when compared to a reference product. 
  • Consequential Approach: this approach assesses the system-wide change in emissions resulting from a specific decision.

By utilizing these frameworks and approaches, organizations can more effectively measure and reduce their Scope 4 emissions, contributing to a more sustainable future.

Significance of Scope 4 Emissions

Scope 4 emissions have a significant impact on climate change and the environment. Ignoring these emissions can lead to severe consequences, making it essential to address them.

For instance, reducing the energy footprint of buildings through the use of energy-efficient appliances and lighting, as well as encouraging telecommuting or carpooling to cut down on commuting emissions can significantly reduce Scope 4 emissions.

However, failing to address these emissions can have severe consequences. For example, transportation is a significant source of Scope 4 emissions, and neglecting to address it can lead to increased traffic congestion, air pollution, and public health problems. Similarly, waste disposal is another major source of Scope 4 emissions, and without proper management, it can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation.

Here are some examples of sources that fall under Scope 4 emissions:

  1. Tenant commuting emissions
  2. Business travel emissions
  3. Energy footprint of tenants or occupants
  4. Water usage and conservation
  5. Waste management and disposal
  6. Supply chain emissions
  7. Embodied carbon emissions from building materials
  8. Product life cycle emissions
  9. Land use and biodiversity
  10. Operational efficiency and resource optimization

It is important to note that Scope 4 emissions can vary depending on the organization and industry. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to identify and track their specific sources of Scope 4 emissions to effectively reduce their environmental impact.

Measuring and Reporting Scope 4 Emissions: Process, Challenges, and Limitations

Measuring and reporting Scope 4 emissions can be challenging due to the nature of these emissions. Here is an overview of the process and challenges involved in measuring and reporting Scope 4 emissions:

Process of Measuring and Reporting Scope 4 Emissions:

1. Identify the sources of Scope 4 emissions: The first step in measuring Scope 4 emissions is to identify the sources of these emissions. This is done by analyzing the organization's operations and identifying areas where emissions can be avoided.

2. Determine the avoided emissions: Once the sources of Scope 4 emissions have been identified, the next step is to determine the amount of avoided emissions. This can be done using either the attributional or consequential approach.

3. Report the avoided emissions: The final step is to report the avoided emissions. This is typically done through sustainability reports or in accordance with reporting initiatives such as CDP.

Challenges and Limitations of Measuring Scope 4 Emissions

  1. Data availability: One of the significant challenges in measuring Scope 4 emissions is the availability of data. For example, tenant commuting emissions can be difficult to track, and organizations may not have access to this data.
  1. Data accuracy: Even when data is available, accuracy can be a challenge. For instance, calculating the energy footprint of tenants requires accurate data on tenant consumption, which may not always be available.
  2. Lack of standardized methods: There is a lack of standardized methods for measuring and reporting Scope 4 emissions. This can make it challenging to compare organizations' emissions and track progress.

How Different Industries Can Report Scope 4 Emissions

Here are some examples of how different industries measure and report Scope 4 emissions:

  1. Real estate: Real estate companies can measure tenant commuting emissions by surveying tenants or using data from transportation apps. They can also track waste diversion rates to report on avoided emissions.
  2. Retail: Retail companies can measure the environmental impact of products through life cycle assessments, which consider avoided emissions in the supply chain.
  3. Manufacturing: Manufacturing companies can calculate avoided emissions through process improvements and energy efficiency initiatives.
  4. Technology: Technology companies can report their energy footprint; the energy used by data centers, cloud computing, and other technology infrastructure. 
  5. Hospitality: The hospitality industry can measure the impact of transportation, such as shuttle services, and encourage guests to reduce their carbon footprint. 
  6. Healthcare: The healthcare industry can report sustainable practices, such as reducing waste and energy usage, and the impact of patient transportation and commute for employees. 


Scope 4 emissions, also known as avoided emissions, encompass various activities such as tenant commuting, energy footprint, and waste. While tracking and reporting these emissions can be challenging, organizations can utilize globally recognized frameworks and methodological approaches to measure and report them accurately. 

Individuals can reduce their environmental impact by adopting sustainable practices such as reducing energy usage, recycling, and using public transportation. 

Organizations can also take steps to reduce their Scope 4 emissions by implementing sustainable practices in their operations, supply chain, and transportation. 

By working together, we can make a significant impact and pave the way for a more sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.

Recommended reading

If you want to learn more about scope reporting and carbon disclosures, check out our free resources:

• Article: What Are Scope 1, 2, and 3 Emissions?

• Article: What is Green Finance?

• Article: What are Science-Based Targets (SBTi)?

• Article: Top 10 International Sustainability Standards in 2023

15 Rock is here to help

Considering all of the facts about scope 4 avoided emissions, you can now take steps to accurately report the emissions within your control.

Book a call with us to see how 15Rock can help with carbon accounting and how easy it is to measure, reduce, offset, report, and certify all of your emissions in our easy-to-use platform.