The Elephant in the Room: Scope 3 and Upfront Carbon

Embodied, upfront, associated – what do all these words have in common?  They are all used to describe the carbon emitted to create buildings, products, and even renewable energy infrastructure before they are operational. Wind turbines and solar panels give us zero-carbon electricity, but that does not mean they have a zero-carbon footprint. The upfront carbon comes from the production of steel, aluminum, and various minerals that make our zero-carbon electricity possible.  If we want a zero-carbon future, we must address these emissions that exist deep in supply chains.

The Clean Energy Buyers Institute, an affiliate of CEBA, sat down with Ryan Spies from Saint-Gobain and CEBA Board Chair, and Phil Rausch from Hemlock Semiconductor (HSC) to understand the challenge of upfront carbon and discuss how companies can work together reduce emissions in some of the most carbon-intensive, heavy industrial sectors.  Upfront carbon from industrial commodities and related heavy-duty transport represent 30% of annual carbon emissions globally, and in many cases become part of long-lived infrastructure like buildings or solar panels.  Because of this, Ryan noted, “what we do 50 years from now is not nearly as important as what we do today.”

For many companies, upfront carbon also shows up in their Scope 3 emissions, which can be larger than Scope 1 and 2 combined, and harder to tackle for individual companies. As Phil said, the “Scope 3 emissions bucket is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to address but doesn’t know how.” 

Ryan and Phil both identified a major challenge as the lack of communication between the consumer of end products and the producer of industrial commodities at the beginning of the supply chain. Producers do not hear the demand-pull from consumers; therefore, they are not incentivized to supply low carbon materials.  The Clean Energy Buyers Institute’s new initiative, Decarbonizing Industrial Supply Chain Energy (DISC-e), aims to solve this problem by aggregating and amplifying the demand-side voice for lower carbon industrial commodities.  

The DISC-e initiative is leading a series of workshops with stakeholders to identify an industrial commodity or supply chain where companies can collectively have the greatest impact and reduce the upfront carbon that ends up in their buildings, products, or solar panels.  In the final two DISC-e workshops, participants will align on one or two focus areas and then transition to developing a strategy for impact in the spring. 

Get Involved

If your company would like to join this effort or stay apprised of progress, you can join the January 19 workshop or reach out to for more information.