UII UPDATE 227 | Q1 2024
Intelligence Update

What does embedded carbon of IT really represent?

Jay Dietrich
Rose Weinschenk
12 Jan 2024
8 min read

Due to regulatory mandates and expanded stakeholder expectations, a growing share of operators are quantifying and publicly reporting a complete carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions inventory for their data center infrastructure. An organization’s direct on-site emissions (classified as Scope 1 according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol) and emissions from purchased energy sources (classified as Scope 2) are relatively easy to calculate from measured operational facility data and available grid emissions factors.

In contrast, Scope 3 data (comprising indirect emissions from the activities of other organizations and individuals) is more challenging to gather and has a high degree of uncertainty. This is because Scope 3 represents the Scope 1 and 2 emissions of both upstream suppliers and downstream buyers, which can be up to five layers deep in the value chain. By definition, this includes potentially millions of product users scattered around the globe. Despite the challenges, data center operators need to establish processes to collect and quantify their Scope 3 emissions while recognizing both the inherent uncertainty in the data and the limited levels of control over said emissions.

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