Understanding Scope 3 Emissions in Manufacturing

Scope 3 emissions in manufacturing can be the trickiest to understand – but could also represent the greatest opportunity for manufacturers. Especially in the more immediate time frame.  

To understand the difference between Scope 3 and the other emissions types, you could think about it like this: 

  • Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions cover everything under your direct control, as a manufacturer 
  • Scope 3 covers everything else involved in the lifecycle of the products that you help produce 

Why are Scope 3 Emissions Important?

Scope 3 emissions help account for the carbon emissions from the entire lifecycle of the products that you help produce. From sourcing of raw materials, to production of precursor parts, to the usage of the end product, and eventually, disposal.  

The world needs to understand the total carbon footprint of all manufactured products. To do this, we need manufacturers to report on their own emissions, but also on emissions from the rest of the value chain.  

Requiring manufacturers to report on the emissions of their suppliers helps in two ways. For one, it helps to keep everyone honest. Secondly, it helps to generate the sharpest understanding of the total emissions involved with the entire value chain.  

How do Scope 3 Emissions represent an Opportunity for Manufacturers?

Reporting on the carbon emissions of your suppliers could prove difficult at first. Not all suppliers have adopted a solution for continuous carbon reporting. But this is where the opportunity lies.  

If you have a solution for continuous reporting on your Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, you will have an easier time providing your buyers with timely and accurate reporting data. Especially if your carbon reporting system can directly integrate with your buyers’ reporting solution.  

Your Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions represent your buyers’ Scope 3 emissions. The more you can present yourself as a simple and accurate solution for providing your own emissions data to your buyers, the more attractive you will be, as a supplier.  

What You’ll Learn in this Article

The purpose of this article is to help you form a greater understanding of Scope 3 emissions in your industry.  

In this article, we will discuss Scope 3 emissions in different industries: 

  • Upstream and Downstream Scope 3 Emissions in Plastics Manufacturing 
  • Upstream and Downstream Scope 3 Emissions in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing 
  • Upstream and Downstream Scope 3 Emissions in Medical Device Manufacturing 
  • Upstream and Downstream Scope 3 Emissions in Automotive Manufacturing 

To learn about Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions specifically, check out this piece: Understanding Scope 1 and Scope 2 Emissions in Manufacturing.  

If you’re looking for a broader view on carbon reporting in manufacturing, check out our Complete Guide to Sustainability in Manufacturing 


medical devices in surgical theatre

Medical Device Manufacturing Scope 3 Emissions Examples: Upstream

Medical devices are typically composed of metals, plastics and composites, such as carbon fiber. If you are a medical device manufacturer, the carbon emissions involved with the production of these materials would be classified as Scope 3 emissions.  

Plastics manufacturing is discussed below. The production of metals for use in medical devices can also produce large amounts of greenhouse gases. The extraction and refinement of copper, for example, generates 4 tons of CO2 for every ton of copper produced.  

The production of composites can produce even more greenhouse gases. For every ton of carbon fiber produced, 20 tons of CO2 are emitted 

Medical device manufacturers will have to report these types of emissions as part of their upstream Scope 3 emissions.  


Downstream Examples of Scope 3 Emissions in Medical Device Manufacturing

Downstream Scope 3 emissions involve emissions resulting in the usage of the product, and in the disposal. In the case of MedTech, Scope 3 emissions account for 70-90% of all greenhouse gas emissions.  

For medical manufacturing, the balance of downstream scope 3 emissions can depend on the type of device you produce. Medical devices that are made to be implanted within the human body do not require great amounts of energy to power usage. However, those that remain external can require vast amounts of energy. Medical equipment such as MRI machines, X-ray equipment, and angiography devices, can account for 20-30% of the total energy used in a hospital.  

This energy consumption that is associated with the usage of these medical devices would be classed as Scope 3 emissions by their manufacturers. 

Raw plastics feedstock. Production of feedstocks can be a major Scope 3 emission in manufacturing

Plastics Manufacturing: Example of Upstream Scope 3 Emissions

The discovery and production of plastics has been nothing short of revolutionary in the history of mankind.  

Since the first plastics were discovered and produced (celluloid and PVC) in the latter half of the 1800’s, plastics have grown to be ubiquitous. You can find plastics in every corner of the planet – including inside humans. Plastics are essential to every human endeavor – from preserving food to travelling to the moon.  

But plastics are notorious for being one of the greatest sources of carbon emissions today. The OECD found that 3.4% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from plastics.  

One of the reasons that plastics account for so much carbon emissions is that the raw materials that make up plastics are derived from fossil fuels. And the processes that drive the extraction of these fossil fuel raw materials require the burning of fossil fuels.  

The extraction of raw materials for the production of plastic, and the transformation of those raw materials into resin are the two processes that contribute most to carbon emissions. These two steps account for 61% of emissions.  

If you manufacture goods made out of plastic, then you will have to report on the emissions involved in mining the raw materials, and in converting those raw materials into plastics as upstream Scope 3 carbon emissions.  

Using recycled plastic in your manufacturing processes can significantly cut down on upstream Scope 3 emissions. Studies have found that recycling plastic reduces carbon emissions 42% versus conventional plastic production.  


Downstream Scope 3 Emissions in Plastics Manufacturing

Plastics have been revolutionary due to their strength and durability, especially given that they are so lightweight. However, the durability of plastic can be problematic when we turn our attention to end-of-life processes.  

As a manufacturer of goods that include plastics, you will have to report on end-of-life emissions as downstream Scope 3 emissions

End-of-life, for plastics, comes in 3 forms: Recycling, incinerating, or disposal. Overall, 9% of plastics are recycled, 12% are incinerated, and 79% ends up in landfills or simply dispersed into the greater environment.  

Each of these end-of-life processes for plastics has it’s own carbon footprint. Incineration produces the greatest amount of carbon emissions. Every ton of plastic that is incinerated leads to 2 tons of CO2 released. Recycling reduces these emissions by 40%-50%. 

Plastic thrown into landfills also produces greenhouse gases as the plastics degrade naturally. However, the scientific community has not yet been able to pin down precisely how much carbon is emitted through this process.  

Pharmaceuticals manufacturing. Raw materials for active ingredients can be a major source of upstream scope 3 emissions

Examples of Upstream Scope 3 Emissions in Manufacturing: Pharmaceuticals

Petrochemicals are found in nearly all pharmaceuticals. Everything from penicillin to cough syrup to repositories are produced from petrochemical raw materials. By some estimates, 99% of feedstocks and reagents used to generate pharmaceuticals come from petroleum.  

As such, pharmaceuticals manufacturers must class petroleum as an upstream Scope 3 source of carbon emissions.  

The 5.1 billion tons of carbon released through the production, transport and processing of petroleum would be scheduled as Scope 1 and Scope 2 for the producers of petroleum. The 3% of petroleum that is used as raw ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry would be classified as Scope 3 emissions for those pharmaceutical manufacturers. 


Pharmaceutical Manufacturing: Downstream Scope 3 Emissions Examples

Downstream Scope 3 emissions include emissions from usage of products as well as emissions from the disposal of the product at end-of-life.  

For the pharmaceutical industry, usage of its products don’t typically have an appreciable carbon footprint. The exception is with single-use asthma inhalers. Asthma inhalers primarily make use of hydroflourocarbons (HFCs) as their main active ingredient. HFCs from asthma inhalers in the US produce as much an emissions impact as 500,000 cars 

Under the CSRD regulations, pharmaceutical manufacturers will have to include hydrofluorocarbons emissions as part of their downstream Scope 3 emissions.  

Otherwise – manufacturers of asthma inhalers will also have to include disposal of plastic in their downstream Scope 3 emissions.  


Assembly line for automotive transmissions
Transmissions in a car factory

Automotive Manufacturing: Example of Upstream Scope 3 Emissions

The upstream Scope 3 emissions from automobile manufacturers’ suppliers is substantial. The auto supply chain is one of 8 supply chains that account for more than half of the world’s carbon emissions 

The supply chain for automobiles is enormous, maybe too big to comprehend. ZF Group is one of several tier 1 suppliers for the automobile industry, but ZF Group estimates that it has contracts with more than 10,000 suppliers.  

Processes such as milling and stamping can be enormously energy intensive for automobile parts suppliers. For the suppliers, this energy consumption would be scheduled as Scope 2 emissions. For automobile manufacturers, they would represent upstream Scope 3 emissions. 

Downstream Scope 3 Emissions in Automotive Manufacturing

As mentioned before, downstream Scope 3 emissions include those involved with the usage and disposal of a manufactured product.  

With automobiles, emissions resulting from the usage of vehicles is by far the largest source of downstream Scope 3 emissions.  

The usage of road vehicles accounts for nearly 15% of all global carbon emissions. Automobile manufacturers must contend with accounting for carbon emissions involved with the use of their products under downstream Scope 3 emissions. 


Accounting for upstream and downstream Scope 3 carbon emissions will be a challenge for manufacturers.  

Manufacturers must depend on their suppliers to provide timely and accurate Scope 3 emissions data. Suppliers that have implemented a realtime carbon emissions tracking solution will have an easier time providing emissions data to their customers.  

Mavarick’s carbon reporting solutions go one step further. You can configure Mavarick’s carbon reporting solution to directly accept data from your supplier’s systems, making Scope 3 reporting simple. 

Talk to Mavarick today to find out how carbon reporting can become your new competitive advantage.