Much like people, buildings are made of carbon – literally, in some ways, and indirectly in others. Many buildings and furnishings, especially wood and non-synthetic fabrics, are carbon-based, while others are partly made with fossil-fuel inputs.
Building design and construction requires energy to extract and refine raw materials, transport them to a building site, prepare the site, and erect the building. Many of these activities consume energy that comes from fossil fuels, so the resulting facility can account for tons of carbon emissions not included in the building’s share of total greenhouse-gas emissions.
But what about ongoing emissions related to building operations? The World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development have developed a three-part protocol for categorizing building-related greenhouse-gas emissions, including carbon:
• Scope 1 includes all direct emissions or those from sources owned or controlled by the building in question.
• Scope 2 includes indirect emissions from the consumption of purchased electricity, heat, or steam.
• Scope 3 includes indirect emissions resulting from building-related activities, such as the emissions of people coming to and from work or visiting a facility, electrical transmission and distribution losses, and waste disposal.
These categories demonstrate that managers and facility executives cannot view a building in isolation. For example, if a building uses electric baseboards for heat instead of burning natural gas in a furnace, managers still should be concerned about emissions. They should ask how that electricity is generated. Scope 2 emissions could be involved because the United States generates two-thirds of its electricity using coal or natural gas.
Similarly, a big-box retail store located off of a freeway far from a population center is accountable for significant indirect or Scope 3 carbon emissions because people need to drive to the store to shop.
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