Thousands of carbon footprints can be calculated “virtually simultaneously” using a new method developed by Columbia University in collaboration with PepsiCo.
The method, published in a study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology in May, is compatible with PAS 2050, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and forthcoming ISO 14067 carbon footprint standards (ENDS Report, October 2011).
It was validated for 1,137 products made by consumer goods giant PepsiCo. Life-cycle analyses obtained from the conventional carbon footprinting of 20 products, including Walkers crisps and Tropicana orange juice, underpin the new method.
The study acknowledges that further testing of other companies' products and services will be needed to fully evaluate the effectiveness and limitations of the method.
The key innovation in Columbia University’s approach to carbon footprint measurement is a model that calculates carbon emission factors. The automated generation of these factors makes it possible for non-experts to estimate carbon footprints quickly.
At present, carbon footprints are calculated manually, a process that takes considerable time, resources and expertise. An ability to generate carbon footprints quickly and cheaply should be attractive to many companies, particularly those with large product portfolios such as major retailers and food manufacturers.
The availability of a complete set of product carbon footprints should also lead to more effective company carbon reduction strategies.
PepsiCo senior environmental director Robert ter Kuile told ENDS that the new footprint method was a useful carbon reduction tool for its business. This is because it is able to identify where most greenhouse gases (GHG) are being generated during a product’s life-cycle.
It has also allowed PepsiCo to make low-carbon choices on packaging, ingredients, distribution, and sourcing, for a much broader range of products than was previously possible.
Helping PepsiCo examine its water use was an added benefit. The occurrence of GHG emissions in the company's supply chain also indicates where most water is being used, according to ter Kuile, which could help reduce water.
Fast carbon footprinting is likely to interest large UK food sector companies such as Tesco. The supermarket's carbon labelling reduction scheme, developed with the Carbon Trust, has taken four years to footprint 1,100 products and carbon label 500 of these. This is a fraction of the 70,000 product lines available at its larger stores.
In February, The Grocer reported that Tesco was abandoning carbon labels as they were too expensive and time consuming. Although Tesco subsequently claimed it was not withdrawing from carbon labelling (ENDS Report, February 2012), executive director Lucy Neville-Rolfe admitted the retailer was seeking “faster and cheaper ways to footprint and label”.
Please note this article has been republished with the kind permission of the ENDS Report.