Category Archives: carbon

Yogurt Maker’s Sustainability Approach Has a Different Flavor

Yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm recently revealed that it had calculated the carbon footprint of 150 of its products, three quarters of the items it sells. (Disclosure: some of those items are in my refrigerator right now.) If you are interested in how companies account for and manage their environmental impacts, you should take a look at Stonyfield Farm. Here are three things worth noting:

Over half of the carbon footprint comes from milk production. That means cows passing gas and cow manure. In other words, the biggest source of emissions are verdant pastures, happy bovines, not belching factories. Research is underway to reduce the footprint of milk production. But my point is that most people don’t think of basic agricultural processes can have such a big environmental impact. They can.

Data is updated daily. Most companies that calculate their carbon footprints do so yearly. That’s because the processes most companies use are very labor intensive. There is still little automation of carbon accounting. The system Stonyfield Farm uses calculates product footprints daily and allows continuous monitoring of the company’s performance versus its goals. That should give the firm an edge in meeting its targets by enabling it to make mid-course corrections and improvements as it learns.

Focus on greenhouse gases rather than energy consumption. Many companies that talk about reducing their carbon emissions are actually focused on reducing their energy consumption. There are two reasons for this. First, consumption of non-renewable energy is a pretty good proxy in many cases for greenhouse gas emissions: the more you consume, the greater your emissions. And second, and more importantly, energy costs money while emitting carbon is still free in much of the world. So companies manage energy consumption, aiming for cost reductions and reaping emissions reductions as an added benefit. Stonyfield Farm focuses on greenhouse gas emissions rather than energy partly because a lot of their emissions don’t come from energy use (they come from cows) and they don’t come from their own operations (only 13% of the footprint is attributable to manufacturing).The link between costs and greenhouse gas emissions is much looser for them. So they are directly managing for environmental benefits, not just cost.

Stonyfield Farm has long staked out a leadership position in its commitment to environmental stewardship and its use of that commitment to boost brand value. The company’s approach to managing and tracking its carbon footprint is part of that tradition.

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Filed under carbon, Life Cycle Assessment, Supply chain, sustainability

The Impact of Apple’s Withdrawal from EPEAT

It’s hard to know why Apple made the decision to opt out of certification by EPEAT, the green computing standard, without hearing from the company directly about it. One thing is all but certain: the company made a considered decision to do what it thought was in the best interests of its shareholders.

The reality is that there is no single definition of a “green product.” The manufacture, use and disposal of IT products can have a wide range of environmental impacts. Some products may have excellent environmental performance in some dimensions–such as energy efficiency or the absence of toxic materials–but unimpressive performance in others. Apple has performed life cycle assessments of its products in the past and found that 91 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its products are traceable to the manufacturing and use phase. It traced just 2 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions  to recycling. It will be interesting to see how the new Macbook pro fares in an updated LCA.

Some organizations have green procurement policies that require the computers they purchase to be EPEAT rated. Apple’s move may make it difficult for these organizations to continue purchasing Apple products in the categories that EPEAT rates. Notably, this does not currently include tablets or smart phones, two growth categories for Apple. I have seen little evidence that individuals or small businesses consider environmental labels highly when deciding to purchase Apple products.

This move may ignite a debate about the definition of a green computing product, and it may drive discussion about how to define standards for newer categories of products like tablets and smart phones that are not currently addressed by EPEAT ratings and in which Apple dominates. Defining a standard there that excludes the market leader would make the standard less relevant than it otherwise would be.

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Filed under carbon, ecolabels

When to Use Carbon Offsets and Renewable Energy Credits

I recently saw another research firm quoted as saying some firms are “buying” green credentials by purchasing renewable energy credits and offsets. The implication was that there is something dishonest about this practice.

That’s unfair. Most of the companies we work with are very thoughtful about their use of offsets and credits. The better ones recognize that their first order of business is to improve their own environmental performance as far as economically possible.

Many companies now have goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to use renewable energy. But companies sometimes find achieving those goals through operational changes challenging. As they work on tuning their operations, closing the gap by purchasing credits and offsets is a completely defensible alternative–as long as it doesn’t become an execuse for inaction.

From: Annual Sustainability Executive Survey, 2012

Green Research recently conducted a major survey of senior sustainability executives at large companies in North America and Europe. According to the study, about half of the respondents’ companies will be purchasing RECs in 2012 and about as many will purchase green power. Thirty percent will purchase carbon offsets. Despite all this, the buyers are troubled about those products:

  • More than a third said it was very or extremely important that they have greater confidence in the quality of the credits or offsets they buy
  • 25 percent felt strongly that they needed to communicate better about why they use them
  • 27 percent said they need to reduce their reliance on them.

Because of these concerns, in recent years, some companies have backed away from offsets and RECs. In 2011, for instance, computer maker Dell announced that it had ended its purchases of RECs for the purpose of classifying its operations as carbon neutral. Nike and PepsiCo stopped buying RECs and carbon offsets in 2010. The reason: to focus on direct investments that will accelerate their use of alternative energy sources. That’s great, if a company is savvy enough to know how to carry out such direct investments. Until that point, supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy via offsets and credits is a fine alternative.

What do you think?

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The Most Interesting Things Today

One of the most interesting things for me at today’s New York Times conference on the future of energy was a comment that U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu made.

Thomas Friedman asked Secretary Chu what he would want to work on if he were just coming out of school today, a freshly minted Ph.D. Rather than choose a particular scientific or technological focus, his choice was “systems.” He cited the Toyota Prius as innovative system created from existing technologies.

That’s a pretty interesting answer.

Systems thinking is the key to unraveling some of our toughest challenges, particularly those related to energy and environmental sustainability. Everyone from scientists and technologists to individuals to corporate managers to policy makers ought to beef up their systems thinking skills.

The other interesting thing was a brief, low-key but mind-blowing presentation by Mitja Hinderks in which he explained how his little organization is going to cut global CO2 emissions by 25% with an innovative new design for an uncooled internal combustion engine that, compared to today’s engines, will have a fraction of the parts, a multiple of the efficiency, and could be swapped in and out of vehicles like a cartridge.

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Will The New Biobased Label Help Your Brand?

By Bonnie J. Wallace

It’s becoming clear that the proliferation of eco-targeted labels (currently 424 in 26 countries, according to Ecolabel Index) is contributing more to confusion than to loyalty among consumers. Except for a handful of the most recognized logos– the Recycling Symbol, ENERGY STAR, and USDA Organic lead the rest by a long shot– most people still make decisions primarily based on price, style, convenience, and health benefits. Only the last of these ties in directly with perceived green qualities.

The Biobased label could well add to this confusion, since a product can get certified as Biobased without any demonstration of its superior environmental performance. It’s not technically an eco label in this sense. So why do we need yet another label, and why should you consider incorporating the USDA Certified Biobased standard into your company’s marketing strategy? For three major reasons: first, because this label has the recognition and credibility of the USDA’s backing.  Secondly, the muscle of the Fed drives the initiative. Finally, it’s in alignment with a move away from petroleum-based materials, toward renewable materials, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. The label is part of a larger program backed by Executive Order to create agricultural jobs and better manage the carbon cycle. (http://www.biopreferred.gov/).

Distinguishing this label from so many others is its test-based standard, and the requirement that the percentage of Biobased content be included on the label. This makes for a powerful antidote to the numbing and meaningless claims of “natural,” “non-toxic,” etc. that flood the market and lead to a sense of greenwashing for even legitimately sustainable products. Different product categories have different content requirements to be recognized as Biobased. Categories of product that don’t yet have a standard established must meet at least 25% Biobased content to qualify for the label.

A controversial aspect of the new standard is its exclusion of “mature market” products from the program. Products with significant market penetration in 1972 (example: paper plates, cotton t-shirts) are excluded; the rationale being that the government wants to encourage the development of new Biobased products. But this can lead to the odd prospect of a new plastic plate with only 51% corn-based PLA qualifying for certification, while its 100% Biobased paper plate competitor does not, which is both confusing and misleading to consumers.

One way to get around the mature market issue is already in the hands of green marketers. Since sustainable qualities alone are not enough in a crowded field to compel most consumers to open their wallets, the best opportunity for market share may in fact be to create a new market category entirely.  This could mean either redefining an existing product to fill a new or unmet need, or approaching old needs with a new eye. Most of the examples I can come up with in this category are technology or service-based (iPad, ink-jet printers, Zipcar, pizza delivery) but this doesn’t mean the opportunity is missing.

Redesigning existing products to meet new category status could both qualify the product for the USDA Certified Biobased label and open up an entirely new field to lead. What products do you have that may already qualify as Biobased? What might you be able to reposition in a new category, pairing green aspects with a compelling benefit (cost savings, stronger design, more convenient) to win both the label and a first mover advantage?


Bonnie J. Wallace is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, specializing in responsible business. She holds a Sustainable MBA from Bainbridge Graduate Institute as well as a strong belief in business as a tool for transformation. When she’s not writing, Bonnie enjoys exploring ways that art can create community, and performing her supporting role as a stage mom.

 

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Corporate Sustainability Leaders to Focus on Employee Engagement and Supply Chain in 2012

Study Identifies the Only Two Sustainability Ranking Schemes Relevant to a Majority of Companies

New York City (November 30, 2011) – Green Research, a New York-based corporate sustainability research and advisory firm, today released a new report based on its annual survey of sustainability executives. The report, a planning and benchmarking tool for sustainability executives, finds that companies will focus significant staff time and financial resources on two sustainability initiatives above all in the coming year: employee engagement and supplier sustainability performance. Believing engaged employees to be a key to high performance, 88 percent of companies will be investing significantly in employee engagement in 2012, while 73 percent will focus on improving the sustainability performance of their suppliers. “Companies have good reason to focus on employee engagement and supply chain,” said David Schatsky, author of the report. “Engaged employees make things happen. And the supply chain is where the bulk of the environmental impact is for many companies.”

The study analyzes the staffing and spending plans and high-priority initiatives of top sustainability executives at some of the world’s leading companies. It draws on an exclusive, in-depth survey of nearly 50 senior sustainability executives (three quarters of which are the senior-most sustainability executive/chief sustainability officer) at global companies. These are leading companies in a dozen industries across North America and Europe, 80 percent of which have revenues of $1B or more. “We think this is the highest-quality panel of respondents ever assembled for a survey focused on corporate sustainability tactics and strategies,” said Schatsky.

The report finds that sustainability spending will rise significantly in 2012. About a third of companies surveyed are adding staff to their sustainability departments in the coming year. And fifty percent of firms will increase spending on sustainability initiatives across their companies, compared to a quarter that will increase the budgets of their sustainability departments.  “Companies are funding various departments to support their sustainability initiatives, rather than centralizing those funds with sustainability teams,” said Schatsky. “The crucial role of sustainability teams, besides coordinating sustainability strategy, is to help other departments make the business case for those initiatives,” he added.

Other topics covered in the research include: carbon accounting, ecolabels, life cycle assessment, corporate reputation, sustainability reporting, environmental credits and offsets, and sustainability rankings. The report found that despite a proliferation of corporate sustainability rankings, only two rankings are relevant to a majority of companies: the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. Sixty-four percent of respondents consider CDP important to the company and its stakeholders; 53 percent say the same about the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. All other rankings are important to a small minority of companies and their stakeholders.

The study, “Annual Sustainability Executive Survey, 2012” is available online at greenresearch.com. To learn more about the research, please visit greenresearch.com or contact David Schatsky at 646-783-8337 or info@greenresearch.com.

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Filed under carbon, Life Cycle Assessment, press release, Supply chain, sustainability

Pharma Companies Face a Supply Chain Sustainability Opportunity

We published another sustainability goals benchmark report today, this one  focused on the pharmaceutical industry. A couple of things that stand out from the benchmark:

– Judging from the goals they have announced, the major pharmas are serious about sustainability. All but one have specific, quantified sustainability goals.

– The pharmas are facing a major opportunity. Ninety percent of the goals they’ve announced deal with their internal operations. Most of the pharmas are not yet willing or able to announce supply-chain goals of any specificity. Yet the supply chain may account for the bulk of potential environmental impacts in some cases. GlaxoSmithKline, for instance, found that in 2009, the greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain were twice those from its internal operations.

This suggests an opportunity to seize sustainability leadership for whichever companies can bring some focus to improving the environmental performance of their supply chain. These are highly sophisticated companies. I’m sure they are up to the challenge.

You can find our goals benchmarking research here.

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Filed under carbon, emissions, Life Cycle Assessment, Supply chain, sustainability