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All those little (carbon) labels

By Jonathan Wright | 10/20/2009 | 1:55 PM

All those little (carbon) labels


A couple of my colleagues met with Carbon Trust last week.  Carbon Trust is the UK organization that wrote a detailed standard for identifying the carbon footprints of individual products (PAS 2050).  From the discussion, it certainly seems like there is a growing interest across manufacturing and retail companies of all sizes to include product carbon footprints on their products – following on from what some of the big brands have already done.


Similar to nutrition and food safety labeling, carbon labeling will require organizations up and down the supply chain to work together to come up with accurate calculations that can be trusted and used by consumers to make product comparisons.  Consumers expect to have “corporate assurance” that the information they are being given about a product is accurate and consistent with the information given on alternative products – not a trivial assurance.  


For example, to be able to use the Forestry Stewardship Council label and to earn the associated certification, an organization must first adapt its management and operations to conform to all applicable Council requirements.


Now, the key question for us in logistics and transport is to understand the data requirements for calculating the carbon footprint for a product (or more likely for us a consignment).


It’s not easy to conduct these types of analyses.   Just think of a shipment leaving a factory in Asia and heading to a retail store in Europe. The transaction involves a number of sub-contractors; different sorting, packaging and storage logistics centers; and a number of different transportation modes including sea, road and rail freight. In addition, there is the allocation of emissions from all these activities to a single consignment, although a multitude of very different products are shipped together. You get the sense of the complexity involved in this consignment-level reporting exercise?


While there currently are some great tools to help companies within the supply chain drive relative improvements, we still need standards across the end-to-end supply chain to ensure consistency.


The World Economic Forum’s Logistics & Transport group (with Accenture  support) is making good progress on developing guidance.  And, some of the world’s leading freight and logistics companies and the main advisory organizations like WBCSD, WRI and Carbon Trust are helping to underscore the need for a transparent and more standardized product-level foot-printing framework and developing industry-specific standards and guidelines to report consignment-level emissions.


That doesn’t take away from the need to be able to calculate consignment-level emissions in response to client queries (and I am working with a major global manufacturer on just such a request for their Asian plants). It is clearly not a straightforward exercise, which is why we are working with some of the world’s largest logistics and transport companies to automate consignment-level emissions reporting, increase the accuracy of the emissions reported from subcontractors and better integrate reporting with all other key functions of the companies.  


Ultimately, this will enable logistics and transport organizations to quickly and effectively provide their clients the environmental impact associated with shipping their products and go some way towards delivering corporate assurance on footprint labeling.

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The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Jonathan Wright

Jonathan Wright

Jonathan Wright is a Singapore-based senior executive in Accenture's Supply Chain Management practice with global responsibility for the company's supply chain fulfillment client work. With 17 years' experience, he is a recognized thought leader in supply chain transformation and sustainability. He joined Accenture in 1997 after five years with Exxon Mobil Corp. Since joining Accenture, Wright has worked in the retail, communications, high-tech, and aerospace and defense sectors. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation.


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