Random Musings from a Carbon Footprinting Conference

I spent Monday and Tuesday in New York City at a conference entitled Carbon Footprinting & the Supply Chain. I was asked to speak on “engaging consumers.” While I have been getting pickier and pickier about accepting speaking gigs, simply due to a lack of time, I accepted this opportunity because I was intrigued by the audience mix – representatives from everything from ConAgra to the World Bank, Nike to the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture.

The two day session was packed with presentations – I counted 43! Here are some of the tidbits that struck me as worth writing down:

  • Cadbury carbon footprinted their Diary Milk bar – 70% of the emissions are from the cows. They (Cadbury, not the cows) estimate that packaging accounts for only 1% of emissions
  • Nancy Hirshberg from Stonyfield Farm says Futerra’s Greenwash Guide is a must-read. They’re working on a US version
  • SmithKlineGlaxo says the biggest contributor of CO2e in their beverage products is sugar
  • Cows better watch out – almost half of the first day was spent talking about methane emissions from cows
  • Maybe the cows are listening – apparently cows have “improved” (released less methane) by 10% each year since 1990
  • Lots of talk of proving the ROI of sustainability projects but the CEO of Nestle was quoted as saying that any project that reduces water use should be undertaken regardless of ROI
  • From Starbucks – store operations accounts for 81% of their footprint, packaging is less than 5%
  • Intel is the number one purchaser of renewable energy credits in the US
  • 70% of a package’s footprint is determined at the design stage
  • According to the Natural Marketing Institute, consumers say the number one sustainability issue is solid waste
  • To carbon footprint one SKU, it took Proctor & Gamble 60 individuals, 16 departments, and over 600 hours internally not counting the work put in by their suppliers
  • Everyone seemed to agree that even good LCA has a margin of error of about 15%
  • LCA was created to measure potential improvements in the life cycle of a single product, not to compare two products in the same category to each other – for example, it’s not precise enough to compare Coke to Pepsi unless they are produced in radically different ways
  • According to Nike, the “use phase” of running shorts has the biggest energy impacts – that means washing them over and over again takes more energy then creating them
  • Next biggest impact of running shorts is materials. Even “cutting waste” is above logistics
  • I’ve never heard so many environmentalists say so many nice things about Walmart. Seems all the major manufacturers are working on footprinting based on Walmart requirements

Overall, cows took a beating, packaging was shown to be somewhat of a red herring and I was impressed by the level of knowledge held by major manufacturers. Oh yeah, and watch out, “waterprinting” is on the horizon.

– Maisie Greenawalt, Vice President