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30 October 2010

Carbon Footprinting - The Lifecycle of Supply Chains.

Tag(s): Sustainability

   A couple of weeks ago I attended innovate10, the Technology Strategy Board’s annual showcase of its activities supporting the development of new technology in the UK. This was the fourth such event and I have attended all of them as I am an adviser to the TSB. The keynote speech was given by David Willetts, the new Minister for Universities and Science and it is good to see that he gets it in terms of the importance of the science budget which has been protected in cash terms in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Quite by chance I came across a new carbon footprinting tool, CCaLC© developed by scientists at the University of Manchester with funding from the UK Research councils and the Carbon Trust.  CCaLC enables quick and easy estimations of the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions along the whole supply chains. It provides a useful tool for reducing and managing carbon footprints of products, processes or supply chains. The methodological approach follows the internationally accepted life cycle methodology as defined by ISO 14044 and PAS2050. The tool is simple to use by non-experts and it comes with comprehensive databases. Most important of all it is available free of charge at www.ccalc.org.uk

The CCaLC tool calculates carbon footprints from “cradle to grave”. It enables identification of carbon “hot spots” and carbon reduction opportunities. It also calculates other environmental impacts to show how they may be affected by any changes in the carbon footprint. These include acidification, eutrophication, ozone layer depletion, photochemical (summer) smog and human toxicity. CCaLC enables estimation of economic value added, to show the trade–offs between “carbon added” and “value added”. The cost of reducing carbon footprints can also be estimated.

The tool covers the life cycle of the supply chain from raw materials through processing into storage, then distribution and use including all the intervening transport steps along the way. It even covers final disposal under the waste management part of the life cycle. Some products are intensive in their use of raw materials such as bricks. Others are intensive in processing such as cleaning products. Others might have a high carbon footprint in storage such as disposable nappies which are very bulky. Others might have a high carbon footprint in distribution as in flying beans from Kenya. Others are highly intensive in use such as inkjet printers. Others still are awkward in disposal as with adhesives and batteries.

One of the industrial partners who helped with the project was Kellogg’s. It expected its distribution carbon footprint to be high as its breakfast cereal products such as Frosties settle in transit and thus it is shipping a lot of air. But this turned out to be only 4% of the total life cycle carbon footprint.  45% was taken up by its raw materials, particularly its grains. So now Kellogg’s is focused much more on understanding how that can be reduced. I imagine that many companies are currently looking at the wrong parts of their supply chains in this way. A shoe manufacturer might be thinking about his production methods or his distribution cost but should be looking at the leather. Usage is particularly important to consider as for example a bottle of shampoo where the heating of water by the consumer will be by far the greatest part of the carbon footprint of the whole supply chain.

I spoke with Professor Adisa Azapagic of the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science at the University of Manchester who led the project. She told me that they had only launched the tool in August and have already had over 400 downloads. As the tool is free and simple to use even the smallest of companies, required to demonstrate its carbon footprint to a customer, for example, will be able to do this without incurring the high cost of employing expensive consultants.

She also shared with me her frustration that much of this knowledge has been available for at least ten years but there has not been the interest or the funding before. But her success is to simplify this knowledge and make it easily accessible and that should not be underestimated.

The European PVC industry is committed to 240,000 tonnes of post-consumer recycling. Lifecycle analysis is playing an increasingly important role in the decision making process. PVC has been used in window construction for a long time and there are now processes to recycle the PVC which may have been in use for 30 years and with just a thin skin of virgin PVC put it back into use for another 30 years. Thus the total life cycle of PVC which is 1.9kg CO2 is reduced in recycled PVC to just 0.4kg. By the way this compares with lamb at 14kg CO2, cheese at 11kg, Kellogg’s Frosties at 1.9kg and aluminium at 10kg. The aluminium can also be recycled after many years of use.

We still need to learn a lot more about recycling. While I religiously return all my glass bottles to the Council recycling collection service I understand it all just goes to aggregate in the M25 widening programme. What is needed is sustainable design in product where the thinking is not cradle to grave but cradle back to cradle. Perhaps we need to think about “disassembly lines” in our manufacturing processes.

Copyright David C Pearson 2010 All rights reserved




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