Quantify Your Supply Chain Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint is “the total set of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product” (UK Carbon Trust 2008). Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it. Recently there are a lot of discussions around measuring carbon footprint in supply chain. UPS announced that they plan to reduce their carbon emissions by 20%, with an ability to capture and report on the carbon footprint of each package shipped by each customer, based on distance and mode. Wal-Mart announced the “green label” program to label the sustainability index each of products it carries, so “the retailer’s 100,000 suppliers around the world will have to calculate and disclose the total ecological costs of their products” (Daniel Goleman, Wal-Mart Exposes the De-Value Chain). Software companies are catching up to develop programs for supply chain optimization around a lower carbon footprint (Roberto Michel , Supply chain network design: its Green powers not exactly new). With government commitment to reduce global carbon emissions by 50% by the year 2050, businesses are scrambling about the opportunities to reduce carbon emissions.  However, there is also a survey of company executives showing that it is “not the best time for launching big corporate initiatives” to calculate a company’s carbon footprint (Robert J. Bowman, Supply Chain Visibility: Lots of Talk, Little Action).

An end-to-end supply chain is a material flow from suppliers to manufacturers to distributors and ultimately to  consumers in the end.  So it can become a huge task to measure carbon footprint especially when many companies are also struggling with poor supply chain visibility. However, I believe that companies can take some easy steps to start quantifying their supply chain carbon footprint, and at the same time improve their supply chain efficiency and visibility.

From a supply chain management point of view, energy is used during transportation and manufacturing, and thus creates carbon emissions, also called greenhouse gases. The challenge for companies to reduce their carbon footprint is whether they have ability to quantity their current emission levels.

There are three key components in supply chain contributing to carbon emissions:

1. Movement

Any movement in supply chain, from inbound or outbound shipping to transferring products in the warehouse or on the factory floor, consumes energy and directly produces carbon emissions. Energy consumption is different based on different transportation modes, distances and weights. The calculation can be based on gallons of fuel consumed for transportation, and hence the footprint measurement can be calculated at the unit level during transportation.

2. Space

In supply chain, space such as office, factory and warehouse are used to support supply chain activities. However, space consumes energy, such as electricity or heating oil. Excess or unnecessary space caused by supply chain inefficiency, such as excess inventory or poor packaging design, not only increase supply chain costs, but also produces unnecessary carbon emissions.

3. Material

Material will be more difficult to be directly measured than movement and space, especially if the company is responsible for the end-of-life material management of toxics, hazardous materials, and waste. So a good way to capture the carbon footprint caused by different materiasl is to evaluate total energy consumed to process the material including its life cycle production and the end-of-life waste management. For example, a new material might take a longer time and more resources to produce from its raw components to finished goods, but it might require very little energy to process its waste.  Therefore the total size of the carbon footprint for the new material is smaller.

A very good information source to calculate CO2 emissions can be found at http://www.carbonfund.org/site/pages/carbon_calculators/category/Assumptions

For any company who is interested in taking actions to capture and quantify their carbon footprint, as an easy way to begin with, they can start from collecting data in their end to end supply chain, and convert those data into energy consumption and carbon emissions.  The below matrix represents the data collection plan for a traditional manufacturer through different supply chain phases:

Carbon Emissions data collection

Absolutely data collection can be a big task, especially when a large amount of materials and products are involved. But once the database is established, the company can use those energy consumption formulas to quantify their carbon foot print of their supply chain, and thus implement sustainability KPI to measure their global citizenship accountability and environmental sustainability improvements. Once companies start to take action to measure their carbon footprint, they will not only see the reduction of their greenhouse gas emissions, but also the reduction of their supply chain costs, which I will discuss more in a  future article.

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8 thoughts on “Quantify Your Supply Chain Carbon Footprint

  1. Betty, excellent post! One thing I would add to the list of key components is process. In many cases, with the same material input, the process used in production will drive a different carbon impact.

  2. Betty, good subject…and one that many companies are having to pay attention to, especially with new government regs on the horizon. To Corey’s point, process used in production will definitely leave a carbon footprint. Along with production and waste that is created, such as cardboard, shrink wrap, other plastics and metals, do you think there should be a credit added to their credit for every pound recycled?

  3. Hey Betty, very informative blog. The only point i would like to add is about the Walmart going green. Its ironical that on one hand it forces its suppliers to cut cost by making them manufacture their products from India or China and on the other hand it wants its Suppliers to calculate the “ecological costs” which obviously will be high. So i guess its a trade of between low cost and clean air.

    • Hi Subbu,

      that is correct. In my another post “reduction of supply chain carbon footprint”, I wrote: companies will be interested in the green initiatives only when they are able to achieve a lower financial cost and a better customer satisfaction at the same time. So, Low cost is still high priority.

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