Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions for WRI, by Scope and Category

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The chart above shows WRI's emissions from 2010 to today. The emissions are broken down by various “scopes” defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Most of these emissions are driven by operations in the U.S. office, which is our largest. While absolute emissions have increased as WRI has grown in staff and revenue, per capita and per revenue emissions have decreased. But, if we are to stay on a path that limits global warming to 1.5°C, we need to be targeting absolute emission reductions across these GHG scopes. Essentially, we must aim to decouple GHG emissions from economic growth.

Setting emissions reduction targets in line with climate science is an important part of our strategy. WRI has science-based targets for its top three emitting activities. Using 2019 GHG emissions levels as a baseline, WRI has committed to reduce emissions from purchased electricity (Scope 2), business travel (Scope 3, Category 6), and from goods, services and partners (Scope 3, Category 1) by 46% by 2030.

Annual Sustainability ReportsBefore shifting to online reporting, WRI published its GHG inventory in annual reports. This page hosts our historical reports from the past decade.
GHG ProtocolGHG Protocol establishes comprehensive global standardized frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains and mitigation actions.
Science Based TargetsThe Science Based Targets initiative champions science-based target setting as a powerful way of boosting companies’ competitive advantage in the transition to the low-carbon economy.


Scope 1: Direct Emissions

Direct emissions include all emissions that come from an organization's owned and controlled assets, such as furnaces, company fleet vehicles, and leaked refrigerant from air conditioning units and refrigerators. WRI’s direct emissions come from refrigerators in our office spaces and a backup diesel generator in the U.S. office building.

Emissions by Regional Office


This chart shows the impacts of refrigerators and fuel used by the U.S. office building’s backup generator. WRI leases all office spaces and does not own any vehicles, making our direct emissions relatively low compared to indirect sources up and down the value chain.

However, within this scope, there are still opportunities to minimize impacts. For example, WRI selected refrigerator models that are more energy efficient, as these models generally use less refrigerant and release fewer fugitive emissions. WRI also uses its choice of where to lease office space  to increase sustainability. Green building certifications are simple indicators that a building uses more efficient cooling equipment or has undergone recommissioning that minimizes refrigerant leaks.

WRI has also used its position as a tenant to negotiate a green lease for its U.S. office. Green leases are provisions that can be negotiated to promote resource conservation, equipment efficiency, waste reduction and more.

LEED O+M 10 G Street ChecklistWRI selected our leased office space for the U.S. office by prioritizing sustainability certifications and commitments to ongoing recertifications. Learn about the most recent 2016 building recertification here.
LEED ID+C WRI U.S. ChecklistIn 2017, WRI. utilized LEED for commercial interiors for its second LEED certified renovation of the DC office.
LEED ID+C WRI China ChecklistIn 2014, WRI China renovated their leased space in Beijing using the LEED certification program.
More about WRI U.S. and China Green Office FeaturesTake a look into our offices and learn more about the green office features.
Green Building Alliance Green LeasingThe Green Building Alliance provides background and resources for how green leases work.
Green Lease LeadersGreen Lease Leaders is a network of building owners and tenants working towards greener buildings. Their Green Lease Library provides a starting point for those interested in green leases.The Green Building Alliance provides background and resources for how green leases work.
Net-Zero Energy Leasing Resources from RMIThe Rocky Mountain Institute provides resources for landlords and tenants to drive buildings to use less energy, creating financial and health benefits.


Scope 2: Purchased Electricity

Scope 2 covers emissions from the use of electricity, steam, heating and cooling. For WRI, our Scope 2 emissions come from the electricity that we purchase. These are considered indirect emissions since WRI does not own or control any generation facilities.

Emissions by Regional Office

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While Scope 1 is relatively small compared to WRI’s entire footprint, Scope 2 is one of our top three emissions sources. Electricity consumption provides many opportunities for efficiency upgrades and behavioral shifts. Our WRI U.S. office building management underwent a series of building-wide improvements, installing higher efficiency chillers and heat pumps for LEED recertification in 2016. The building also made optimization adjustments, resulting in significant energy savings for all tenants. This process was guided by the LEED O+M rating system, from which our building received a Platinum rating in 2016.

In addition, as tenants, WRI U.S. and WRI China have undergone a series of interior fit-out renovations that are also LEED certified. There are many opportunities to make impactful interior upgrades at the tenant level. For example, our U.S. and China offices converted lighting fixtures to LEDs, installed occupancy sensors and specified Energy Star kitchen appliances to minimize electricity consumption. WRI U.S. additionally installed submeters to further reduce electricity through engagement and data-sharing with staff. In total, these energy efficiency efforts have led to a reduction of nearly 50% of electricity emissions in the WRI U.S. office from 2010 to 2019.  By 2030, WRI plans to achieve another 46% reduction across its global offices.

Beyond energy efficiency, WRI has also set a target to purchase 100% renewable energy by 2030. The U.S. office is located in Washington, D.C., which belongs to a deregulated energy market. This means that commercial buildings and residents can choose their energy providers and generation sources. As such, we have chosen to purchase wind energy for the U.S. office rather than the regional standard fuel mix. Furthermore, as part of a negotiated green lease provision (see Scope 1 resources), our building manager purchases additional renewable energy certificates (RECs) equivalent to the amount of electricity that WRI uses. Power purchase agreements and community solar are other options for cost-effective commercial renewable energy purchasing.

Energy Star Guidelines for Energy ManagementDevelop a roadmap, find energy efficient equipment, and start tracking energy with Portfolio Manager.
Advanced Energy Design Guide by the U.S. DOEDetailed guidelines and tools for different building types to achieve 30-50% energy reductions.
Battle of the Buildings, Build Your Own BattleEngage staff and building occupants in an energy savings competition. Energy Star videos, brochures, and posters are ready for you to “build your own battle.”
Clean Energy Buyers AllianceClean Energy Buyers Alliance (CEBA) supports buyers through the process of procuring clean energy.
Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ PrinciplesFacilitated by CEBA, this collaboration of leading companies seeks simplified access to renewable energy.
EPA Green Power Purchasing GuideAn overview of renewable energy purchasing options - from onsite solar to community based projects, direct purchasing, and RECs.


Scope 3, Category 1: Goods & Services & Partners

Scope 3 covers indirect emissions that arise from sources up and down an organization’s value chain, apart from purchased electricity (Scope 2). Because these sources are extremely diverse, Scope 3 is broken down into various categories. Category 1 comprises emissions from goods and services purchased by an organization. For WRI, this also includes the subgrants that we give to our partners.

Emissions by Goods, Services, and Partners

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For WRI, services we purchase and subgrants we award to partners account for the majority of emissions in this category. To learn more about the level of sustainability in our subgrantees’ operations, we include a sustainability questionnaire in WRI’s Organizational Assessment packet. The Organizational Assessment is completed by all of WRI’s potential subgrant recipients. This data helps WRI engage our subgrant recipients on operational sustainability and the actions they can take to reduce their environmental impacts.

A small portion of our Category 1 emissions come from purchased goods. To address these emissions, WRI has created sustainable purchasing guidelines to ensure that goods meet certain environmental and health criteria. Electronics such as laptops must be EPEAT certified. Cleaning products must have Safer Choice and Green Seal certifications. Vending machine foods and coffee and tea provided in our café also meet a variety of third-party certifications. These certification standards help to ensure that the goods we purchase are sustainable, while also reducing the time and research needed to vet every purchasing choice.

We use a different approach for purchasing paper. After testing samples of paper used in WRI's offices and finding potentially controversial products, we designed WRI's global paper purchasing principles. The principles aim to reduce paper use and require that any purchased paper meets preferred certification and recycled-content standards. To support adherence, the principles were adapted for the different regions where WRI operates.

To address the large impact that our food choices have on the environment, WRI created a food and events policy that is informed by our Food program’s research into shifting diets and food waste. Visitors in the WRI Global Office may have the chance to enjoy some delicious food that is plant-based (vegan or vegetarian), responsibly sourced (locally-produced, organic, fair trade, etc.) and served with minimal packaging. Our policy also emphasizes ordering just-right portions and distributing leftovers to prevent food waste. To support our efforts, we look for caterers who support our food goals by offering a wide variety of plant-based options, implementing energy, water and waste reduction efforts in their operations and serving our shared local communities by donating excess food or participating in other benefit programs.

Top Contributing Sectors


Comparing these two pie charts shows that the economic sectors where WRI spends the most money are not necessarily the same sectors that account for most of WRI’s Category 1 emissions. This discrepancy is because some sectors are more emissions intensive – generating more emissions per dollar spent – than others. In general, the top sectors (by emissions or expenditure) for WRI are:

  1. Grantmaking, giving and social advocacy organizations.
  2. Colleges, universities, junior colleges and professional schools.
  3. Environmental and other technical consulting services.
  4. Civic, social, professional and similar organizations.

These top sectors align with WRI’s activities. As an organization that focuses heavily on turning research into action, many of our partners belong to the academic community or are non-governmental organizations like us.

Wood and Paper-Based Product ProcurementThis infographic lays out ten things you should know before making wood and paper-based purchasing decisions.
WRI Global Paper Purchasing PrinciplesLearn details about WRI’s global paper purchasing principles, which start with minimizing paper consumption.
WRI Food and Events PolicyBased on WRI Food research,all food purchased is vegetarian/vegan, and reduction of food waste is planned from beginning to end.
Sustainable Purchasing Leadership CouncilNon-profit bringing together suppliers and buyers; members have access to sustainable purchasing guidance by sector.
EPA Sustainable Purchasing ProgramOverview of purchasing concepts, other resources for U.S. and global markets, and other accessible resources.
Carnegie Mellon EEIO-LCA DatabaseEmissions factors for spend-based calculations, estimates the environmental emissions resulting from procurement of commodities and services.

Scope 3, Category 3: Transmission & Distribution

Emissions by Regional Office


Category 3 accounts for additional impacts from energy consumption beyond those included in Scope 1 and Scope 2. For WRI, these impacts include:

  1. Well-to-tank emissions from fuel used by the U.S. office building’s backup generator.
  2. Well-to-tank emissions from purchased electricity.
  3. Emissions from transmission and distribution losses of purchased electricity.

Well-to-tank emissions arise upstream from the extraction, production and transportation of fuels used to power backup generators or generate electricity.

Emissions from this category scale with fuel and electricity consumption tracked in Scope 1 and Scope 2. Thus, our work to improve energy efficiency, shift staff behavior and procure renewable energy will lead to decreases in GHG emissions from this category as well.




Emissions Intensity of Electricity Generation vs. Transmission and Distribution Losses (2021)

However, the impact of WRI’s efforts to reduce energy consumption are mitigated by the fuel mixes used to generate electricity and the state of the electrical grids that deliver power to our offices. We can understand these constraints by looking at emissions intensity – the amount of GHG emissions released for each megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated or electricity lost due to inefficient transmission and distribution. China’s electricity generation emissions are much higher per MWh because China relies heavily on high-polluting fuels, like coal, which formed 64% of its power generation mix in 2018 (China Energy Portal). The electric subregion where WRI U.S. is located, RFC East, has fewer emissions per MWh because more of its electricity is generated by cleaner fuels like natural gas and nuclear (79% of power generation mix) rather than coal (16%) (U.S. EPA). These differences in emissions intensity are illustrated by the size of the bubbles in the emissions intensity chart.

In other areas, grid inefficiencies are of relatively greater concern. These inefficiencies lead to large losses of electricity during transmission and distribution across the grid. In 2013 and 2014, transmission and distribution losses were so high in India that Category 3 emissions from our India offices amounted to a fifth of Category 3 emissions from our U.S. office, despite the U.S. office consuming nearly eleven times more electricity.

Beyond the Sustainability Initiative’s energy reduction efforts, WRI’s Energy program works to accelerate clean energy solutions that will lead to cleaner electricity generation and robust grids that are more efficient and can accommodate diverse sources of power.


Scope 3, Category 5: Waste

Emissions from Waste

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Category 5 includes downstream emissions from the disposal and treatment of solid waste and wastewater. For WRI, this means the emissions from waste disposal by landfilling, recycling and composting.

WRI strives to reduce material consumption and manage waste thoughtfully. Waste is an important issue embedded in the research of many of our programs. Accelerating the transition to a circular economytackling the impacts of fast fashion and reducing food loss and waste makes WRI a thought leader in sustainability, taking action on these issues within our own operations.

Our Zero Waste goal includes a target of 90% diversion (by weight) of waste to recycling and compost, with 10% or less going to landfill or incineration. To track these efforts, our WRI U.S. office conducts quarterly waste audits to determine diversion rates and contamination problems. Since renewing our recycling efforts and introducing composting in our WRI U.S. office in 2017, our waste audit data shows progress in reducing the amount of landfill waste and corresponding GHG emissions we generate.

To achieve less waste, WRI’s Zero Waste approach starts with considering circular economy principles, such as using services (e.g. leasing printers, renting serviceware for events), buying used (e.g. swap events) and recovering materials for new functions (e.g. reupholstering furniture, repurposing doors into benches). The best approach is to avoid purchasing altogether, such as with single-use plastics or paper. This approach also applies to food waste, as we order just-right portions for our events, often by purchasing food for 75% of the anticipated head-count.

After source reduction, diversion to recycling and compost becomes easier. From 2016 to 2017, WRI’s internal Recycle Right! Campaign helped to reduce ‘wishcycling’ contamination, which occurs when staff put non-recyclables in recycling hoping that they can be recycled. Once recycling rates improved, compost collection was rolled out in the U.S., Brazil and India offices. We expect to see more global office participation in composting, especially as simple on-site solutions such as worm-bins or enclosed compost tumblers make composting more accessible.

EPA WARM ToolThis spreadsheet tool helps calculate your emissions from landfilling, recycling, and compost.
WRI Zero WasteLearn more about WRI’s Zero Waste journey, from office composting, plastics reductions, and waste audits.
Zero Waste WorldLearn more about how to build Zero Waste systems and communities.
TRUE Zero Waste CertificationTRUE is a leading provider of Zero Waste certification for organizations.
Food Loss and Waste ProtocolThis multi-stakeholder partnership is working with companies, governments, and cities to reduce needless food loss and waste.
How WRI Reduced its Office Food Waste by More Than 75 PercentWRI adopted SDG Target 12.3, began measuring its food waste, and took actions that resulted in a more than 75 percent reduction in office food waste.


Scope 3, Category 6: Business Travel

Category 6 accounts for emissions from business travel via aircraft, trains, buses and passenger cars. WRI’s Category 6 emissions come from staff travel for business trips made by air or train.

Emissions from Business Travel

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Business travel is one of the larger sources of emissions for many organizations, including WRI. Air travel has a disproportionately high impact due to the amount of fuel required and the effect of radiative forcing (the magnified warming impact from emissions, soot and contrails being released into the upper atmosphere).

WRI committed to reducing emissions from our business travel by 46% of 2019 levels by 2030. To support this reduction target, WRI charges an internal carbon fee of US$50 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent (MT CO2e) generated by staff air travel. The fee is a direct program-related cost, with proceeds initially used to fund offset projects like the development of biomass co-generation and landfill gas-to-electricity in India. Now, instead of funding off-site GHG reduction projects, WRI uses proceeds from the internal carbon fee for “on-site” reduction projects, such as energy efficiency improvements and teleconference systems that reduce the need to travel for meetings.


Most Common Routes

Since the carbon fee’s introduction, WRI's emissions from business-related air travel have increased by 30%. However, despite the total increase, per capita emissions have decreased by 40%. The growth of the organization has not come with proportionate growth in air travel, but staff report that the carbon fee is a relatively small factor in their business-travel decisions. Travel decision-making is an ongoing area of study for the Sustainability Initiative.

The map above shows some of the most frequently traveled routes each year. The top ten routes make up nearly a quarter of business travel emissions every year. These routes present opportunities to consider strategies such as sending the closest available staff to top destinations, rather than sending staff from the D.C. office. There are also opportunities to send fewer staff or consolidate several trips into multi-city trips. We have seen some success in influencing travel decision-making — many staff take trains for shorter distances and book direct flights when possible. For example, 2019 data shows that the most frequently taken route was between Washington, D.C. and New York City, with over 316 trips. However, the majority of these trips were by train, leading to reduced overall emissions from top routes that year.

Business Travel GHG Emissions AnalysisMethods, tools, and case studies for organizations starting or improving GHG reporting and science-based targets for business travel emissions.
Learning to Fly: WRI's Experience Pricing Carbon to Address Business Travel EmissionsLearn more about how WRI implements its internal carbon fee on page 24 of our 2015-2016 Sustainability Stories report.
WWF UK Statement on Business TravelThe World Wildlife Fund (UK)’s policy position statement on business travel contains useful guidelines and a pyramid of priorities (page 3).
Business Air Travel and Climate: Changing Behaviors Before, During, and Beyond the COVID-19 PandemicLessons from applied behavioral science on adapting organizational and sector-wide practices and policies that can help decrease aviation emissions.


Scope 3, Category 7: Commute

Category 7 comprises emissions from the transportation of employees between their homes and workplaces as well as energy impacts from teleworking, working from home, or remote working. This category captures flexible or hybrid work impacts.

Emissions by Regional Office

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Comparison of Commute Modes

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Comparison of WFH Sources

WRI’s initiatives to help staff find the most suitable and sustainable commute patterns focus on the environmental and wellness aspects of commuting. By offering public transit benefits, locating our offices in walkable and transit-connected areas, subsidizing bikeshare memberships and providing amenities like showers and secure bike lockers, WRI has successfully incentivized active and lower-impact modes of transportation. From 2010 to 2019, WRI U.S.’ Category 7 emissions grew by just 44%, despite the number of staff increasing by 147% over the same period.

These efforts rely on accurate data collection to understand how the staff are commuting and why. However, commuting can become complicated because of family schedules, telework options and the availability of multiple modes of transportation. To accurately assess our commute impacts, WRI conducts an annual commute survey that asks staff for their top three commute patterns, which includes multi-modal mixes, telework days and other factors. The survey also asks staff about their priorities and reasons for choosing certain modes of transportation over others.

The granular data from our pattern-based survey helps us accurately estimate emissions and generate additional insights into what opportunities exist to shift commute patterns. For example, WRI U.S. found that over 70% of commute miles were already made by transit (primarily by metro). Instead of focusing on increasing transit use, the Sustainability Initiative developed the active-commute program for the U.S. office, encouraging staff to increase the level of biking, running or walking in their commutes. This focus on biking and walking not only reduces emissions from commute, but also provides health benefits and savings for employers that support these programs. Similarly, WRI India used their pattern-based data to identify opportunities to incentivize carpooling among the sizable number of staff who used ridesharing services for their commutes.

Telework is considered an optional component to scope 3 category 7 emissions by the GHG Protocol. Previously for WRI, only a small portion of staff opted to telework at most 1 day per week or were designated remote workers outside of WRI office regions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, WRI staff shifted to working from home (WFH) at a much larger proportion than ever before. In 2021, WRI launched a WFH survey to understand the shift of impacts as we reduced commutes but increased energy consumption at home during the workday. Moving forward with hybrid and flexible work models, WRI will use a combined commute and WFH survey annual survey for staff.

WRI Pattern-Based Commute Survey TemplateUse the survey template in Appendix B of the publication for your staff commute survey to learn more detailed insights. This is particularly suited for offices located in cities with multi-modal options. 
League of American BicyclistsResources for bicycling in the U.S. including bike-friendly state rankings and business awards.
WRI Sustainability Story on active commutingLearn more about WRI’s biking and walking initiatives that help reduce GHG emissions and promote healthier commutes.


Scope 3, Category 15: Investments

Category 15 includes the emissions impacts from WRI's endowment investments.

Emissions from Endowment

WRI is a signatory to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) and has been on a journey to net-zero for its endowment investments.

WRI's climate change investment strategy lays out the overall goal of aligning our investment decisions with Paris Agreement goals. It also details governance and oversight processes and lays out objectives for steering WRI's endowment portfolio. To learn more about our strategy, visit Climate Change Investment Strategy.

In 2021, we began estimates of the GHG emissions impact of our investment strategy for the endowment. Between 2019 and 2020, we screened-out the last of our non-ESG compliant funds - about 13.5% of the portfolio. This adjustment led to a 35% absolute emissions reduction of the portfolio in that period, while still growing value.

Currently, this investment emissions activity has not been reflected in our total GHG emissions graphic. Stay tuned for more data and updates this new scope 3 activity.

Climate Change Investment StrategyWRI’s investment strategy for our endowment, specifically aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
UN Principles of Responsible InvestmentInvestor signatories pledge to follow six principles for sustainable investment.
Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF) StandardsThese standards detail the methods used to calculate GHG impacts of investments within six asset classes – listed equities and corporate bonds, business loans and unlisted equity, project finance, commercial real estate, mortgages, vehicle loans.
Learning by Doing: Lessons from WRI’s Sustainable Investing Journey WRI commentary on the sustainable investing journey that started in 2014.

What Isn't Included

WRI’s emissions reporting does not include some Scope 3 categories. These exclusions were made for one of three reasons: (1) to avoid double-counting, (2) the category is not applicable or covers activities that are not a part of WRI’s operations, or (3) there is not yet enough accurate data available for WRI to calculate emissions. For a detailed explanation of these exclusions, please refer to Operational Boundaries in our Greenhouse Gas Reporting Manual.


Cover image by NASA/Flickr