Understanding Scope 3 Emissions: The Potential of Port Sustainability

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The Vital Role of Scope 3 Emissions for Ports

The maritime industry plays a vital role in combating climate change, with tough targets set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for reducing carbon intensity and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. With deadlines looming, ports and terminal operators are coming under increasing pressure to step up and address their environmental impact.

This urgency means the focus is rapidly shifting beyond reducing direct emissions from operations (Scope 1) and those associated with purchased energy (Scope 2) and moving towards the often-overlooked Scope 3. These emissions encompass the indirect impacts generated by the value chain, including everything from the extraction of raw materials, employee behaviour to product disposal. 

Navigating Scope 3 emissions presents a new area in the sustainability landscape, not only for ports and terminals but the whole maritime industry.

Sjoerd de Jager, PortXchange CEO is deeply passionate about pushing the climate change agenda and believes we have a moral duty to understand our impact on the planet and take action to reduce it. Sjoerd is not one to be happy with just ticking the ‘compliance’ box and believes the maritime sector needs to evolve to view compliance as a ‘stepping off’ point rather than the end game. Sjoerd de Jager co-founder PortXchange

“Scope 3 emissions are vitally important and whilst not presently essential for reporting, they should not be underestimated as they have the highest impact. In the past, data gathering used to be crippling for ports,  but with the aid of AI-driven data technology, finding and monitoring Scope 3 emissions is well within reach. This enables ports to focus on implementing emission reduction strategies with immediate impact rather than being stuck in data-gathering mode.”



Understanding Scope 3 Emissions

Scope 3 emissions, as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, are indirect emissions that are a consequence of the Port’s value chain but outside its direct control. 

scope 3 emissions

These emissions, as defined, originate from numerous stakeholders, including all warehousing activities, transportation of goods to and from the port, ocean-going vessels, cargo-handling equipment and even employees commuting and travelling on business. To help identify them, the GHG Protocol defines 15 categories for assessment, from purchased goods and services to fuel and energy-related activities to waste.

The complexity of gathering data from these multiple sources across the value chain poses a significant challenge for most ports. Why? Because the data is scattered across different parties in the value chain, it is siloed and hard to retrieve, especially when monitoring vessels without advanced vessel emission models and AIS vessel routing networks.  

According to the UN Global Compact, Scope 3 emissions contribute 70% of the average corporate value chain’s total emissions. At ports, this figure is usually higher, as reported by the Port of New York and New Jersey Authority in its Net Zero Road Map Report:

“The challenge that we are confronting is one that many large, complex organizations face: most emissions that result from Port Authority operations are from sources that are not owned or controlled by the Port Authority itself. In our case, approximately 96% of total emissions are outside of our direct control (Scope 3).”

Despite the significance of Scope 3 emissions,  most port and terminal operators do not currently monitor them in full. Some may measure aspects of Scope 3 emissions, such as air and rail for business travel. Still, this data is typically not reported publicly and certainly doesn’t reflect the actual figure.

Read the article Ports and Green Shipping Regulations in Europe

Why Scope 3 Emissions Matter

Addressing Scope 3 emissions is paramount for several reasons.

Firstly, they constitute the most significant portion of a port’s carbon footprint. Ignoring them risks an incomplete sustainability strategy and missed opportunities for improvement.

Secondly, it affects the ability of ports to reduce their impact on the local environment, including air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and traffic congestion, as well as allowing them to positively engage with the local community.

Finally, acting on Scope 3 emissions can yield cost savings through increased efficiency and build resilience to regulatory changes and market shifts.

Another key aspect lies in addressing emissions when ships arrive and are at berth by leveraging advanced AIS technology to implement just-in-time port calls. This has the dual advantage of reducing a port’s Scope 3 emissions and a shipping line’s Scope 1 emissions by improving operational efficiency and operations, so ships arrive precisely when needed.

Idle time is reduced and unnecessary fuel consumption is avoided. The impact of this is not to be ignored, with shipping emissions in ports currently contributing to 5% of total shipping GHG emissions (ITF/OECD, 2018) and studies indicating that up to 15% of a ship’s emissions occur when it is stationary at a port’s anchorage or berth (Mjelde et al., 2019)

Another dual challenge is that ports are not investing in green infrastructure and fuel hubs, as there is a lack of assurance that shipping lines will utilize them. Equally, shipping lines are reluctant to invest in zero-emission ships without a proven global port infrastructure. Until this is resolved, it is sad to say that ports will continue to suffer from high Scope 3 emissions. 

It is worth noting that even though current regulations may not mandate Scope 3 emission reporting in all regions, such requirements are expected to be enforced very soon as pressure increases on environmental accountability. Ports that recognize this now will benefit in the future by staying ahead of their competitors.

Benefits of Scope 3 Reporting

This will create a streamlined process with data-driven knowledge that provides a complete picture of emission monitoring and productivity, allowing ports to access business insights tailored to their specific needs. This approach empowers ports to implement targeted strategies and incentives to promote effective decarbonization practices.

Another benefit is data-driven benchmarking, which has historically been limited between ports, hindering their ability to learn from one another. The capability of data-driven AI analysis provides the necessary data sets to make this practical and allow for shared learning from successes and failures, fostering continuous improvement in sustainability practices across the sector.

Alongside these business benefits, ports can position themselves as leaders in maritime decarbonization and sustainability efforts, further enhancing their importance to the sector. If made public and transparent, as we believe it should be, benchmarking provides recognition for ports delivering tangible benefits to the maritime and local communities through reduced emissions. This fosters healthy competition and stimulates further improvements in sustainability practices.

This has become possible through solutions like EmissionsInsider, which enable ports to report their emissions accurately, quickly, and affordably. 

“For a long time, ports have been working in isolation and have been unable to capitalize on their potential as a vital part of the maritime industry’s solution for achieving the illusive emissions goal. We fully advocate for a global benchmarking scheme to recognize ports monitoring Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, highlighting good practices and dramatically impacting a sustainable future for the maritime industry,” Sjoerd adds. 

Carbon Pricing and Other Emissions Monitoring Potential

The implementation of carbon pricing under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) is anticipated to yield significant revenue. However, to fast-track the maritime green transition, we believe some of this revenue should be earmarked to finance port infrastructure and data analysis. This financial support will enable ports to establish green infrastructure and fuel hubs, thereby facilitating the adoption of zero-emission ships by shipping lines.

Currently, the maritime industry predominantly focuses on reducing CO2 emissions, with less or no emphasis on other pollutants such as NOx or SOx emissions. But, as more information becomes available, this will change, for example, when calculating leakage from a source such as air conditioning equipment. Local communities are already considering having NOx and SOx monitoring brought into environmental plans and city ports will have to account for these in their reporting.  

Seizing Opportunities for Innovation

Despite the challenges ahead, ports have significant opportunities to become environmental stewards. It is their duty towards the communities they serve. Technology and innovation, alternative fuels, green shore power and operational efficiencies pave the way for a greener future. By prioritizing sustainability, ports can showcase their commitment to environmental responsibility and engage more meaningfully with their local communities.

Learn more about implementing maritime decarbonization and reducing port emissions

By understanding the implications and impact of Scope 3 emissions and embracing innovative solutions, ports and terminal operators can address the challenges ahead and make a meaningful start towards a greener, more sustainable future for future generations.

Our EmissionInsider tracks and analyzes a port’s carbon footprint, identifying pollutant sources and hotspots. The solution empowers users to assess multiple “what-if” scenarios based on the port’s specific data, determining a potential decarbonization plan’s impact on improving air quality before implementation.

It helps to build a path toward a zero-emission port by making data-driven decisions on which decarbonization initiatives to prioritize, allowing ports to achieve targets faster and provide data for corrective actions on existing plans.

How is your business monitoring scope 3 emissions? Get in touch to schedule a personalized demo session.

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About the author

Sue Terpilowski

OBE: Shaping Maritime Excellence with Over 36 Years of Industry Insight

Sjoerd de Jager

Managing Director & Co-Founder PortXchange

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