Like many tech firms, social media company Meta’s revenue growth in 2022 was accompanied by a corresponding increase in Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon footprint attributable to suppliers and customer use of its products and services. 

Meta reported a huge jump in real terms, although not as a percentage of the overall mix. For 2022, the company logged 8.5 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in Scope 3 emissions (99 percent of the total), compared with 5.8 million metric tons of CO2e in 2021 (also 99 percent of the overall carbon footprint). 

While some of that increase was due to changes in its carbon accounting methodology — Meta used more specific data for some items rather than averages or estimates — it also underscores the difficult challenge many large companies face in the next phase of their net-zero journeys: Influencing greenhouse gas reductions among suppliers, customers and other value chain participants far removed from a corporation’s direct influence is hard to navigate and measure.

To address that problem, Meta is embarking on a process to identify emission reductions projects that can halt, if not reverse, increases in its value chain emissions. This new push is the third pillar in Meta’s high-level emissions reduction strategy — investing in value chain emissions reductions projects — according to a “request for information (RFI)” published on the company’s corporate blog. The first two pillars are: prioritizing decarbonization in business decisions and engaging with suppliers to reduce their emissions. 

“We are initiating an RFI for value chain emissions reduction projects so that we can directly connect with entities that are positioned to originate, host and/or support a value chain emissions reduction project or the increased offtake of low-carbon or solutions or materials,” Meta said in its blog. “This RFI is focused on the hard-to-abate sectors within which our value chain partners operate.”

Among the sectors it is studying are:

  • Trucking and other transportation of durable goods (such as the hardware and networking equipment needed for its data centers)
  • Maritime and aviation shipping (reflecting the origin of many information technology products)
  • Manufacturers and producers of low-carbon versions of materials including cement and concrete, copper and steel
  • Semiconductor manufacturing
  • Industrial heating and cooling equipment
  • Green hydrogen 

The RFI builds off work that Meta has been doing since 2021 to better understand supplier emissions, according to a white paper outlining its net-zero strategy published in July. Also in 2021, it worked with a pilot group of 38 partners to calculate their carbon footprints and look for reduction opportunities. Last year, Meta increased that engagement to 114 suppliers, the company said in its white paper. The work it’s doing with suppliers includes training on carbon accounting, setting science-based reduction targets and creating a renewable energy procurement strategy.

The strategy behind this idea

In the white paper, Meta said investing in value chain emissions reductions projects is necessary to address sources it can’t directly influence — such as the companies or processes used to extract and process the copper in data center hardware or mechanical electrical equipment. It also acknowledges that this transition will take time. “Early in this decade, we do not expect decarbonization and business growth to be in harmony,” the company said.

Meta’s science-based commitments include reducing Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 42 percent in 2031, compared with a 2021 benchmark; enabling at least two-thirds of suppliers to set “science-aligned GHG reduction targets” by 2026; and holding its Scope 3 emissions below its 2021 baseline by the end of 2031.

Meta points to the corporate world’s strategy of investing voluntarily in renewable energy as an example of how large businesses can drive system-level decarbonization for other sectors. “We see value in replicating these systems and markets for other decarbonization technologies that can scale investment across sectors and countries,” the company said.

The “root cause” of emissions across all levels of the Meta supply chain are from electricity and fuel use — at least according to its “best understanding,” the company said in its white paper. Right now, it’s difficult to trace. “While we may not be able to pinpoint the exact supplier and source of emissions or when we know the source but the solutions to carbonize are not available in a region, investing in value chain emissions reduction projects can drive near-term reductions at scale,” Meta said. 

Meta is requiring potential applicants to complete a non-disclosure agreement before it shares the formal RFI application; the deadline to do so is Sept. 14. The deadline for submissions from interested project developers is Oct. 27, and the company said it will evaluate them through the end of the year.

The company declined to comment on specifics of the RFI process or its engagement with suppliers.

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