Carbon tool helps cut product emissions

The Carbon Trust has developed a process to help firms develop low-carbon products by enabling them to identify opportunities for reducing carbon emissions in a product’s life cycle.

The tool’s launch in November follows trials with Walkers snacks and Trinity Mirror newspapers, which identified potential savings of 28,000 tonnes of CO2 and £2.7 million per year, according to a Carbon Trust report.1The tool uses a simplified version of life-cycle analysis to identify indirect carbon emissions from energy use in raw material production and manufacturing through to distribution, use and disposal of products.

Indirect emissions from supply chains are often much higher than a company’s direct emissions, a report published last year by research organisation Trucost points out.2The tool builds a carbon footprint for products to help identify priority areas for action across the supply chain. Opportunities are evaluated on their carbon- and cost-saving potential.

The methodology helps to identify emission sources and processes leading to higher emissions. It also raises awareness of trade-offs, such as centralised manufacturing which is more economically efficient but leads to greater distribution of emissions. Some opportunities go further than direct energy efficiency measures and are likely to be more complex to implement.

The Walkers analysis, focusing on Quavers, Doritos and Walkers Crisps, identified an opportunity based on changing the way potatoes are bought. Walkers buy potatoes by weight which increases the amount paid for them because farmers store them in humidified sheds which increases their water content. Basing payments on water content would give farmers an incentive to stop humidifying potatoes, saving energy and emissions. In turn, Walkers could reduce frying time and emissions by up to 10%.

The Trinity Group trials involved the Daily Mirror newspaper and the magazine Celebs on Sunday. The main opportunity for carbon savings was found to be cutting indirect emissions by reorganising the supply chain or specific processes.

Paper manufacturing is responsible for 70% of the Daily Mirror’s carbon footprint. The manufacturing supply chain for the paper, which has a readership of about 1.5 million, produces 174 grams of CO2 emissions per newspaper sold.

One option for newspapers to cut emissions is to use paper with a high recycled fibre content instead of virgin newsprint because producing wood pulp uses more energy than de-inking waste paper. Recycling old newspapers also reduces methane emissions by diverting material from landfill.

Trinity already buys 100% recycled paper from mills in the UK. But the carbon emissions associated with its production are much higher than paper produced in Sweden with 50% recycled content because UK electricity is largely generated by coal and gas power stations, whereas in Sweden and Finland - Europe’s main paper producing countries - hydro-electricity, nuclear power and cogeneration dominate energy production.

An emphasis on carbon emissions in paper purchasing decisions would disadvantage UK manufacturers unless there is a shift to combined heat and power and other low-carbon energy sources.

The report says another option could be to reduce page numbers or, in the case of the magazine, use newsprint instead of glossy paper. But cost savings from lower energy use would be offset by lost advertising or sales revenue, and a publisher would be unlikely to make such changes unless other publishers followed suit.

Although the results are product specific and cannot be applied across sectors, the Carbon Trust says the tool identifies how product development and purchasing decisions could help reduce emissions.

It says firms can use it to exploit indirect energy cost savings, reduce exposure to legislation on energy use and carbon emissions, and develop the market for low-carbon products.

The tool follows a Carbon Trust study published in January which found consumer buying decisions drive all carbon emissions (ENDS Report 373, p 5 ).

It suggests companies should address supply chain carbon emissions as the next step on from tackling direct emissions. It also recommends offsetting carbon and has produced basic guidance.3

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