14 Mar 23

Understanding GHG Protocol and its role in measuring GHG emissions

Understanding GHG Protocol and its role in measuring GHG emissionsGreenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are a major contributor to climate change, thus reduction efforts are crucial in addressing global environmental challenges. It is important to have a standardised methodology for measuring and reporting such emissions, in order to track these efforts and mitigate the effects of emissions.

The GHG Protocol is a widely recognised standardised framework for quantifying and reporting GHG emissions. It provides guidelines and tools for companies, governments, and other organisations to measure and report their GHG emissions in a consistent and transparent manner.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the GHG Protocol, who uses it, and what the different standards and guidelines are. This article aims to help businesses looking to reduce emissions in understanding the role of the GHG Protocol in the measurement of GHG emissions.

Brief overview of the GHG Protocol and its purpose

The GHG Protocol was created in 1998 in a unified effort between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to establish global standards for the measurement and management of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In 2001, the first Corporate Standard was published to provide requirements and guidance for companies and other organisations preparing a GHG emissions inventory. It was designed with the following objectives in mind:

  • To help companies prepare a GHG inventory that represents a true and fair account of their emissions through the use of standardised approaches and principles
  • To simplify and reduce the costs of compiling a GHG inventory
  • To provide business with information that can be used to build an effective strategy to manage and reduce GHG emissions
  • To increase consistency and transparency in GHG accounting and reporting among various companies and GHG programmes

The GHG Protocol established the, now ubiquitous, definitions of the Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions categories.

  • Scope 1 is defined as “direct emissions from business operations”.
  • Scope 2 are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity consumed in company-owned or controlled equipment, or operations.
  • Scope 3 are classified as indirect upstream and downstream emissions and include any and all emissions that result as a consequence of activities of the company, but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the company.

For an in-depth resource on Scope 3 reporting, the GHG Protocol published another standard in 2011, the Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Standard. The classification of emissions into these clearly defined categories allows for consistency in reporting and allows for more valid comparisons. It is up to the discretion of the organisation, or the reporting agency, which Scopes are reported.


Who uses the GHG Protocol

The guidelines are used by companies, organisations, cities and governments. In 2016, 92% of Fortune 500 companies responded to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) reporting questionnaire, which requires adhering to the methodology prescribed by the GHG Protocol for emissions calculations. Here are some ways in which these organisations use the GHG Protocol:

  • Companies: A company might use the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard to measure and report its GHG emissions from its operations, including energy use, transportation, and waste management. The company can then use the data to identify areas where it can reduce emissions, such as improving energy efficiency, using renewable energy sources, or reducing waste.
  • Governments: A government might use the GHG Protocol Public Sector Standard to measure and report GHG emissions from its operations and public services, including energy use in buildings, transportation, and waste management. The government can use this data to identify areas of potential reductions, such as improving energy efficiency in buildings, promoting public transportation, and reducing waste.
  • Non-profits: A non-profit organisation might use the GHG Protocol to measure and report GHG emissions from its operations, including energy use, transportation, and waste management. The non-profit will utilize the data to identify areas where it can reduce emissions, such as improving energy efficiency, using renewable energy sources, or reducing waste. Data analysis can inform target setting for emissions reductions and to track progress over time.


The standards and guidelines of the GHG Protocol

The GHG Protocol and its series of standards outline the optimal methods of data collection and the process to convert activity data to GHG emissions. The scopes of emissions required for reporting vary for each Standard and are often reliant on data availability. The practice of successful reporting requires valid and consistent data. The GHG Protocol generated a myriad of standards encompassing GHG accounting methodologies for almost all entities, such as:

GHG Protocol for Cities

The Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) provides a robust framework for accounting and reporting city-wide greenhouse gas emissions.

Best for: Cities and Communities

Mitigation Goal Standard

The GHG Protocol Mitigation Goal Standard provides guidance for designing national and subnational mitigation goals and a standardised approach for assessing and reporting progress toward goal achievement.

Best for: Countries and Cities

Product Standard

The Product Standard can be used to understand the full life cycle emissions of a product and focus efforts on the greatest GHG reduction opportunities. This is the first step towards more sustainable products.

Best for: Companies and Organisations

Policy and Action Standard

The GHG Protocol Policy and Action Standard provides a standardised approach for estimating the greenhouse gas effect of policies and actions.

Best for: Countries and Cities

Project Protocol

The GHG Protocol for Project Accounting is the most comprehensive, policy-neutral accounting tool for quantifying the greenhouse gas benefits of climate change mitigation projects.

Best for: Companies and Organisations; Countries and Cities

Corporate Standard

The GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard provides a framework for companies and other organisations to measure and report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The main objective is to help companies produce a GHG inventory that is a true and fair account of their emissions, and to do so in a consistent, transparent, and cost-effective manner.

The standard was developed with the input of over 350 experts from the business, government, non-profit, and accounting sectors, and has been tested by over 30 companies across 9 countries. It covers all significant sources of GHG emissions, including direct emissions from owned or controlled operations, as well as indirect emissions from the purchase of electricity, heat, and steam.

The Corporate Standard can be used by a wide range of organisations, including companies, NGOs, government agencies, and universities, who have operations that give rise to GHG emissions. However, it is not intended for use in quantifying emissions reductions for the purpose of offsetting or credits. Policymakers and GHG program designers can also use relevant parts of the standard to inform their own accounting and reporting requirements.

The Corporate Standard is compatible with most existing GHG programs and their own accounting and reporting requirements. It is a neutral standard that focuses solely on the accounting and reporting of emissions, but does not require organisations to report their emissions to the WRI or WBCSD. Additionally, the standard provides guidance on developing a verifiable inventory, but does not dictate the specific verification process that must be followed.

Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Standard

The Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Standard provides a methodology for companies to account for and report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from activities outside of their own operations. The development of the standard involved a multi-stakeholder process that lasted over three years, with 2,300 participants from 55 countries and 34 companies testing the standard.

The standard is designed to be user-friendly and accessible, with accompanying guidance and tools provided by the GHG Protocol to help organisations with implementation. Until recently, most companies primarily focused on measuring emissions from their own operations and electricity consumption. However, it is common fora majority of a company's total emissions to be attributed to its value chain, or Scope 3 emissions, and the Scope 3 Standard is the only internationally accepted method for companies to account for these emissions.

Users of this standard can now calculate emissions from 15 categories of Scope 3 activities, both upstream and downstream of their operations. The framework supports companies in partnering with suppliers and customers to address climate impacts throughout the value chain. By implementing the Scope 3 Standard, companies can gain a more comprehensive understanding of their GHG emissions and take meaningful action to reduce them.

Implementing the GHG Protocol

The GHG Protocol is implemented by organisations through the use of its standards and guidelines for measuring and reporting GHG emissions. The process of implementation typically involves the following steps:

  1. Choose organisational boundary
  2. Set operational boundary
  3. Classify emissions
  4. Establish how to collect data inventory
  5. Establish how to calculate emissions
  6. Set up quality management for data/inventory


The importance of the GHG Protocol in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the role of organisations

Organisations play a critical role in implementing the GHG Protocol by using its standards and guidelines to measure their GHG emissions. By doing so, organisations can identify the sources of their emissions and act to reduce emissions in a transparent way. The reporting of emissions using the GHG Protocol helps organisations to track their progress over time, set emissions reduction targets, and measure the impact of their efforts to reduce emissions.

Finally, in addition to the benefits for individual organisations, the GHG Protocol also provides benefits to the global community. The standardisation of GHG emissions reporting increases the comparability of emissions data across different organisations and sectors, which in turn informs policy decisions and drives collective action to reduce emissions. The GHG Protocol also provides a common framework for stakeholders to understand and communicate about GHG emissions, which helps to increase public awareness and support for action to mitigate climate change.

Useful resources:

A Greenstone guide: Scope 3 emissions reporting & where to start

Greenstone's library full of content to help you better understand Scope 3 emissions and how to start calculating, reducing and reporting in this area.

Greenstone's library full of content to help you learn more about science-based and net-zero targets. 

GHG Protocol , Environment