Posted by: Christian Verstraete | November 1, 2009

Supply Chain and Carbon Footprint


Since Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, CO2 has been at the center of the environmental debate. With Copenhagen now at our doorsteps, the issue is even more dominant. But how many enterprises are really looking at how to reduce their CO2 emissions beyond the nice target established by the CEO. For some, the American Policy Center for example, there is even NO issue.

Let’s leave those “naysayers” behind, and  look at what needs to be done to keep this planet in a reasonable shape for our children and grand children. The first element is to gain understanding at how much carbon (and other greenhouse gasses) is emitted throughout the Supply Chain. This requires to calculate our Supply Chain carbon footprint. Efforts are being undertaken to find a standard way of doing so, and that will definitely help in the long run. However, there is a sense of urgency here. Scientists are now suggesting the North Pole may be ice-free within a decade. This could result in the melting of the permafrost and the “methane time bomb“. So, how can enterprises identify quickly where they can reduce their emissions?

Regardless of the method used to identify CO2 emissions, keeping a consistent method allows year over year comparisons; all what counts is that you improve. Are we not too often trying to find the ultimate, scientifically correct, method, rather than getting things going? Occasionally we need a pragmatist to tell us what really matters, isn’t it?

In identifying the CO2 emissions from the Supply Chain, the question is obviously how high to go. Should we go all the way to the raw material extraction company? And in that case, how do we get people cooperating all along. The above comment about the pragmatist made me think. What if each company calculates its own carbon emissions and how they relate to their products. If we all to that, the carbon footprint from my product is the sum of the carbon footprint from each of the components comprising the product, complemented with the emissions generated to transport and manufacture the product itself. By developing an IT infrastructure that allows the propagation of this information, an easy and pragmatic way of estimating carbon emissions could be found.

Carbon labeling is a very effective way to promote products with lower carbon emissions. However, it requires educating consumers. As you may know Tesco in the UK is putting emphasis on adding carbon emissions on the packaging. They use the Carbon Trust to calculate the actual emission, but what was interesting, beyond the number, is that printing the number on the package got as side effect that the manufacturer immediately started to look at how they could reduce that number. And the good news is that they already know how to do so.

The WWF has released a report on how information technology can help reduce carbon emissions. The report titled “The potential global CO2 reductions from ICT use” not only addresses the energy reductions that can be achieved in the use of IT equipment, but also how IT equipment can help reduce energy consumptions from buildings, vehicles and manufacturing facilities through optimizing operations. The goal, reducing emissions by 1 billion tonnes. Let’s hope our industry can help achieve this ambitious objective.

How do you feel about your carbon footprint?

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