Getting to Near-zero Emissions Takes More than Buying Electricity from Solar and Wind farms

Prioritize the highest-impact, lowest-cost mitigation opportunities across all emissions sources — not just ones grabbing the most attention.

Jason Denner
2 min readApr 29, 2024

There’s an old joke about coming upon someone searching on their hands and knees under a streetlight at night. When asked what they’re looking for, they reply, “My keys.” You then ask, “Why are you looking here, I thought you lost them down the street?” They respond, “Because this is where the light is.”

This is the story of how many companies approach emissions reduction. While only 30% of global emissions come from electricity use, it is where most organizations focus their efforts. After all, it’s the most visible and seemingly straightforward source to tackle.

Outside heavy industry, it’s true that a company’s largest emissions footprint typically stems from electricity consumption. However, there is often a significant fraction — 20% or more — from non-electricity sources that get overlooked.

Expanding the Search for Emissions

For many businesses, significant emissions arise from fuel combustion in heaters, vehicles, mobile equipment, and backup generators, these are classified as Scope 1 emissions. Electrifying this equipment through solutions like heat pump and battery technology and then procuring zero-emission electricity presents a clear and increasingly cost-effective path to curb these emissions.

Yet Scope 1 sources go beyond just energy use. Leaking refrigerants, methane releases, and manufacturing “process emissions” like those from microchip production can be substantial contributors. Another major source impacting our climate is the methane released from organic wastes decomposing in landfills.

The Bigger Picture on Short-Lived Pollutants

Methane, refrigerants, and black carbon (soot from diesel combustion) are among the most potent greenhouse gasses, dubbed “short-lived climate pollutants” (SLCPs). While they dissipate faster than CO2, over a 20-year timeframe SLCPs can have multiple times the warming impact used in standard emissions accounting.

Mitigating these pollutants buys critical time to adapt infrastructure and develop long-term emissions solutions. However, evolving science and opposition from powerful interests have made updating accounting rules for SLCPs challenging.

Seeing the Full Scope of Responsibility

From an accounting standpoint, organic waste emissions are Scope 3 for most companies outside those in agriculture. But the climate doesn’t discern our emissions “Scopes.” Companies producing organic waste sent to landfills typically have more options to control those emissions than the landfill operators, for whom it’s a Scope 1 source. New satellites are now directly measuring landfill emissions in the atmosphere and finding they are significantly greater than previously estimated.

As emissions managers, we must look beyond obvious levers like renewable electricity to address all major sources, regardless of Scope definitions. We are no longer able to ignore potent Scope 1 emissions from fuel use, refrigerants, and industrial processes and the substantial climate impact of organic waste, even when classified as Scope 3. Achieving sustainability requires prioritizing the highest-impact, lowest-cost mitigation opportunities across all emissions sources — not just ones grabbing the most attention.



Jason Denner

Jason is a climate tech founder, engineer and analyst with over two decades of experience applying efficiency and renewable resources to reduce emissions