Product footprinting drives supply chain focus

Calculating products’ carbon footprints is creating incentives to work with supply chains to reduce carbon risks. But opinion is split on whether to communicate footprints to consumers with carbon labels.

Calculating products’ carbon footprints is creating a strong business case to address greenhouse gas emissions in the supply chain. However, more firms are questioning whether it is appropriate to communicate that information to customers.

The Carbon Trust is working with around 20 firms to measure the carbon footprints of over 70 products. The latest firms to sign up include British Sugar, a South African fruit supplier, Coors Brewers, Danone Waters UK and Morphy Richards.

The firms are testing the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 2050, currently being developed by the BSI and sponsored by the Environment Department (DEFRA) and the Carbon Trust.

A second version of the draft standard was issued for consultation on the 22 February to 1,000 businesses and organisations. BSI says it is still on-track to publish PAS2050 in July 2008. The consultation is open until 28 March.

Speaking at an ENDS conference on carbon footprinting in London on 4 March, Cadbury-Schweppes unveiled findings from its work using the draft standard (see figure).

Boots, Walkers Crisps and smoothie maker Innocent published their findings last summer (ENDS Report 387, pp 32-35 ).

Cadbury’s found that three quarters of CO2e emissions associated with a 49g bar of its Dairy Milk chocolate lay outside the firm’s direct operations. The results are similar to those generated by the other firms, all of which have expressed surprise that most of the emissions lay within the supply chain, so-called ‘scope 3’ emissions. Once again, emissions relating to transport made up a relatively small proportion of the total carbon footprint.

Cadbury’s head of environment Ian Walsh said the results had convinced the firm it should focus on reducing emissions in its supply chain as well its operational emissions: "Never had this been quantified in such stark terms. The results have seeded a whole raft of work within the organisation through to our supply chains."

Having found that milk accounted for 63% of its carbon footprint, the firm is now is now working on a guide for its farmers on best practice in manure handling and feed. It believes that lower carbon farming can be achieved without a trade-off in animal welfare.

Mr Walsh said that the work was also instrumental in convincing the board to get involved with the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Supply Chain Leadership Project (ENDS Report 397, p 23 ).

He confirmed the firm was now committed to repeating the exercise for its Maynard Wine Gums and Trebor Extra Strong Mints brands. He said that the exercise had originally cost the firm about £15,000, but that costs for these products should be much lower as the data for some ingredients had already been gathered.

But Mr Walsh said Cadbury’s would not communicate this information to consumers: "Knowing that 169 grams of CO2 is created for every 49 gram chocolate bar is probably the most useless piece of information you’ve ever received in your life. We are not going to do labels in anyway. Labelling and footprinting are two different issues but they are constantly being blurred," he said.

His comments mirror those expressed by Marks and Spencer in December. It told a parliamentary inquiry into environmental labelling that the carbon labels were "not right for consumers" (ENDS Report 395, pp 57-58 ).

Salla Ahonen, Nokia’s environmental manager, also expressed caution: "Carbon footprinting is a useful exercise to identify carbon hotspots in your supply chain but there are differences of opinion on labelling. This is something each business will need to consider in its own context."

  • Environmental research firm Trucost is testing an alternative carbon footprinting approach with several firms, including Highland Spring and Marks and Spencer. Trucost uses expenditure with suppliers as an indicator to estimate emissions of greenhouse gases and other environmental impacts. Director Simon Thomas said it used data routinely collected by firms, which reduced supplier questionnaire fatigue. Results are expected later this year.
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