A Sneak Peek at the New Rules for Supply Chain Footprinting

The art and science of carbon footprinting is about to take a step forward: The long-awaited launch of guidance for managing network and product lifecycle impacts is just around the corner.

If that’s news to you — and you have anything to do with managing a business with a significant supply chain — here’s your chance to get up to speed.

First, a little background. Carbon footprinting took off in 2001, when the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) established the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard. This standard outlined a practical way to quantify the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced from materials and energy use in business operations.

It did this by offering an accounting framework with three GHG emissions “scopes:” Scope 1 is a sum of emissions from fuel, refrigerants, industrial gases, and other materials combusted or used at sites the company owns or controls; Scope 2 adds up emissions linked to electricity used by those facilities; and Scope 3 encompasses all other emissions in the business value chain.

Measurement of the “internal,” or “operational,” emissions of scopes 1 and 2 has always been straightforward, and thus those standards have been rapidly adopted. Today, a significant majority of the Global 500 companies report on operational emissions.

Scope 3, however, has incited many debates over interpretation. Originally referring to emissions from supply chains, including products, waste, distribution, and travel, Scope 3 outlined a much larger and more complex set of issues than those that characterize emissions from internal operations.

While Scope 3 has always been recognized as important, and indeed reporting has been growing, companies have been clamoring for more detailed guidance. Many companies have focused on addressing more easily measured Scope 3 activities, such as business travel and employee commuting. Also, business networks, such as the Clean Cargo Working Group and the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition, have begun developing shared approaches for issues very focused on their industries.

But there has not been a common language for measuring Scope 3 impacts in detail across industries. That’s about to change.

By summer 2011, WRI and WBCSD will finalize the Scope 3 standard and the related Product standard. This will be the result of a three-year project involving more than 1,500 diverse stakeholders from governments, research institutions, businesses, and civil society, all contributing to various discussions and drafts. BSR and many of its member companies have been represented in a technical working group.

Unofficially, this has been even longer in the making. A year after the 2001 launch of the first edition of the Corporate standard, a working group explored ways to flesh out Scope 3 with lifecycle assessment tools, finding that significant time and effort would be needed to produce an effective framework.

What led us to this final chapter? Brian Glazebrook, a senior manager of social responsibility at Cisco Systems who has been involved with Scope 3 efforts from the start, says that lifecycle and supply chain information is becoming more commoditized and therefore less expensive, while at the same time there is more demand for transparency. We have crossed a threshold that is making Scope 3 management undeniably more attractive to companies, and the case to do more will only become stronger.

Following are highlights of a recent discussion I had with Pankaj Bhatia (pictured below), director of the GHG Protocol at WRI, offering a preview of what’s to come.

Ryan Schuchard: Pankaj, how will the Scope 3 standard help companies?

Pankaj Bhatia: It will enable them to develop an organized understanding of the impacts, risks, opportunities, and considerations from energy and other sources of GHG emissions throughout business networks and relationships. As a comprehensive accounting and reporting framework, it will facilitate identifying GHG reduction opportunities, setting reduction targets, and tracking performance in value chains. In turn, it will provide a sophisticated framework for reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Securities and Exchange Commission, in annual CSR reports, and for other GHG transparency programs and B2B initiatives. It also may lead companies to develop stronger relationships with suppliers by reducing waste and improving efficiency through GHG management in their supply chains.

RS: What kinds of companies should utilize it?

PB: The Scope 3 standard is written for companies of all sizes in all economic sectors. It is especially applicable to three types of companies: (1) those with significant emissions in their upstream or downstream activities, (2) those that would like to engage and inform their stakeholders about their value chain emissions and performance, and (3) those wanting to identify business risks and opportunities in their value chain and develop strategies to minimize risks and leverage opportunities.

RS: Is it a full “standard” — in the way the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard is a standard?

PB: Yes. A GHG Protocol publication qualifies as a standard if it provides verifiable accounting and reporting requirements. The standard uses the term “shall” (e.g., “Companies shall account for and report all Scope 3 emissions and disclose and justify any exclusions.”) to indicate what is required for a GHG inventory to be in conformance with the Scope 3 standard.

Companies may use the inventory information to identify, prioritize, and guide innovative emissions reduction activities within and across Scope 3 activities. For example, a company whose largest source of value-chain emissions is contracted logistics may choose to optimize these operations through changes to product packaging to increase the volume per shipment, or by increasing the number of low-carbon logistics providers. Additionally, companies may utilize this information to change their procurement practices or improve product design or product efficiency, resulting in reduced energy use.

RS: Will there be any completely new ideas?

PB: Yes. Scope 3 emissions are now categorized into 15 distinct, mutually exclusive categories that avoid double counting. These categories are intended to provide companies with a systematic framework to organize, understand, and report on the diversity of Scope 3 activities within a corporate value chain.

Also, there is more guidance on characterizing confidence in data. This guidance was requested by stakeholders, since Scope 3 emissions data may be relatively less accurate and precise than Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions data. Additionally, the Scope 3 standard allows for a range of data collection and calculation approaches, with a varying range of data quality. Scope 3 data may include reliance on value chain partners to provide data, broader use of secondary data, and broader use of assumptions and modeling (such as for downstream emissions categories, such as the use of sold products by consumers).

Higher uncertainty for Scope 3 calculations is acceptable as long as the data quality of the inventory is sufficient to support the company’s goals and the information needs of key stakeholders such as investors, while providing transparency on limitations of the Scope 3 data to avoid potential misuses. Companies are therefore required to provide a description of the accuracy and completeness of reported Scope 3 emissions data and a description of the methods and data sources used to calculate the inventory. The standard provides descriptions of accuracy and completeness, guidance on describing data quality, and guidance on uncertainty. The standard doesn’t require companies to provide a quantitative confidence level or confidence interval associated with the reported emissions data — though this is optional.

RS: Will the standard provide a good tool to compare companies against each other?

PB: No and yes. First, it is important to understand the limits. Companies’ selection of one or more Scope 3 categories and their choice of whether to base measurement on operational control or financial investment is based on considerations that aren’t easily comparable across companies, like corporate vision and business risk. That means even companies that seem like peers may not prioritize the same things, so it would not be meaningful to uniformly prescribe what should “count.” Also, within categories, the level of data quality and control will vary with the level of vertical integration and the public data infrastructure where sites are located.

What it will enable is comparison of the level of depth that companies measure and report on. This will help to clarify that a larger footprint doesn’t necessarily mean a company is worse off, but rather, that it might be examining its networks in more detail. Also, while the standard won’t provide a robust way to directly compare GHG performance between companies, it will let a company measure performance against its own baseline, which potentially could be compared between companies.

As companies take up this type of reporting, there will be opportunities to develop more specific norms and benchmarking for better comparability among more specific situations. In many ways, that’s what this standard provides—a platform that creates unified language across industries for going deeper on comparisons of key applications through development of sector-specific rules.

RS: What kind of data will companies need to gather to measure Scope 3?

PB: The standard asks that companies select data that is most representative in terms of technology, time, and geography; most complete; and most precise. We have categorized data needed to calculate Scope 3 emissions into two types: primary data and secondary data. Primary data means specific data provided by suppliers or other companies in the value chain related to the reporting company’s activities, including primary activity data, and emissions data that is calculated using primary activity data (e.g., primary activity data combined with a secondary emission factor). Primary data does not include financial data (e.g., spend) used to calculate emissions.

Secondary data refers to industry-average data (such as from published databases, government statistics, literature studies, and industry associations), financial data, proxy data, and other generic data. Primary data and secondary data each have advantages. For example, primary data best enables performance tracking of individual value chain partners and supply chain GHG management, while secondary data can be a useful tool for efficiently prioritizing investments in primary data collection and for tracking emissions from minor sources.

Choosing the appropriate type of data depends on the company’s business goals. The standard asks companies to make sure that the data quality of the Scope 3 inventory is sufficient to ensure that the inventory is relevant — both internally and for a company’s stakeholders — and that it supports effective decision making.

Companies may find that for a given activity, secondary data is of higher quality than the available primary data. In this case, if the company’s primary goal is to maximize the data quality of the Scope 3 inventory to improve decision making where accuracy is important, it should select secondary data. If the company’s primary goal is to set reduction targets and track performance from specific operations within the value chain, or to engage suppliers, the company should select primary data.

RS: What does the Scope 3 standard have to do with the Product standard?

PB: While the Scope 3 standard covers measurement and accounting to characterize the many broad types of corporate networks and relationships, the Product standard focuses on a view of the whole lifecycle of individual products. These two standards, which have been developed in parallel, share many features in common: accounting principles, approach to data allocation, approach to data collection, and treatment of confidence. A key difference is that a Scope 3 inventory is structured by organization-wide business activities, such as leased operations and employee travel, while a Product inventory is organized by key stages in the lifecycle of a product, like processing and recycling. These two different tool sets reflect two different needs: on the one hand, characterizing products’ lifecycles, especially from the view of the customer; on the other, examining the administration of organizational interrelationships and networks, something investors in particular are concerned about.

Watch for the release of the final Scope 3 and Product text next spring, and contact Ryan if you have questions.

First posted at GreenBiz.

The Latest CDP Results Reveal the Rise of Scope 3 Reporting

Last month’s release of the Global 500 Report, Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) annual summary of climate reporting by the world’s 500 largest companies, gives the most insight to date on corporations’ reporting about climate change and their supply chains.

What does it tell us?

First, the number of companies reporting on their supply chains continues to steadily grow. Two years ago, only about a quarter of the world’s top 500 companies reported on “Scope 3” greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or the emissions from activities they have influence over, but are beyond direct ownership or control, such as in supply chains.

Last year, the reporting share climbed to 42 percent, and this year it grew to nearly half. That’s a steep change compared to reporting overall, which rose only a few percentage points this year to 82 percent.

At the same time, the quality and scope of reporting is improving dramatically. This year, for example, Kraft Foods said physical risks linked to climate change are not material, but they still described a whole set of supply chain and other issues that potentially matter. Kraft also clarified that they are closely examining supply chain issues to anticipate emerging enterprise risk and opportunities. The provision of this depth of information is a new development in CDP reporting, and has been aided in part by the more systematic ways that CDP is asking questions.

This relates to a third development: CDP made Scope 3 reporting more robust by expanding definitions this year. In following the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol’s Scope 3 Guidance under development, CDP transformed last year’s five categories into eight more specific ones, and then added nine more (see sidebar).

This helps transparency by increasing the comparability of reported figures. It also foreshadows the increasing sophistication of supply chain reporting to come. Indeed, Frances Way, CDP’s Head of Supply Chain, told me that CDP will continue working to ensure reporting requirements are aligned with the standard once finalized. Meanwhile, CDP is taking public comments on the design of the next survey.

Scope 3 emissions have taken center stage and turned out to be every bit as significant as we thought they would be. This raises an important question: Just how big are they?

In the summary report, CDP tallied aggregate figures by industry, finding Scope 3 to be on average about two times the amount of Scopes 1 and 2 emissions, which are sometimes called “internal” emissions. It will take a little digging, however, to get a representative number since 50 percent of companies don’t report Scope 3 at all. Of those that do, 40 percent only publish just one convenient category, such as transportation.

The companies to watch are the 10 percent that reported supplier emissions, and the even smaller 5 percent that reported supplier emissions beyond direct purchasing relationships.

For these companies, the Scope 3 multiple is much higher — more like five times greater for those reporting on direct suppliers, and 10 times more for those providing a comprehensive assessment. Some companies were much higher still: Kraft and Danone reported Scope 3 emissions that were more than 15 times the amount generated from their internal operations, and Unilever’s are more than 50 times greater.

As companies disclose their climate change and business interrelationships more fully, higher multiples like these are likely to become more common.

How to Open the Door to Supplier Disclosure

To learn more, I spoke to Kraft, which this year CDP named to its Climate Change Leadership Index, a designation for the most transparent companies taking action. Kraft is an interesting case because as recently as two years ago it had not reported Scope 3 emissions at all.

I asked Francesco Tramontin, associate director of global issues management, why Kraft is interested in managing and reporting supply chain emissions. Tramontin said that it is a logical extension of the company’s approach to climate change, and a natural step following Kraft’s achievement of GHG reduction targets within its own operations.

But, he said, Kraft’s increased CDP reporting didn’t begin with a reporting effort. Rather, the company’s R&D team leads its Scope 3 management efforts with the aim of collecting and interpreting data for strategic perspective and internal decision making. The reporting is a byproduct of these efforts, and Kraft began sharing it as management became aware of partners’ and stakeholders’ increasing interest.

One of the main benefits of Scope 3 management, Tramontin said, is that it provides an impetus to take a more careful look at internal management systems. It also enables Kraft to take part in important forums, such as the development of GHG Protocol Scope 3 Guidance.

Currently, Kraft is involved in testing a draft version of the guidance, and the company recently submitted feedback for it. According to Tramontin, participating in this governance-building effort has been beneficial. It has helped them exchange methodologies with peers and given them confidence in measuring and reporting in an environment where many communication standards are lacking.

One of Kraft’s main challenges has been deciding what types of information to publish. When Kraft set out to report Scope 3 emissions for the first time last year, the company had more information than it ended up reporting, but wanted to share the data in which it had the most confidence. The company published information in just two categories, business travel and logistics, which then represented about 40 percent of operational emissions. As Kraft did so, Tramontin said, it used a “lead with results” approach that emphasized progress against goals while remaining cautious about prognosticating.

This year, Kraft not only expanded the categories it reported on, it also found a way to provide more information on topics where there is more uncertainty. Kraft did this by disclosing emissions by subcategory with narrative descriptions and confidence estimates for each, ranging from plus or minus 20 percent (business travel) to about 40 percent (supply chain and end-of-life packaging). Tramontin said he couldn’t yet say whether Kraft would add more categories next year, but felt certain the quality and confidence of data would improve.

The Road Ahead

The supply chain will enter the picture more and more, Tramontin concluded. His experience, however, reveals a difficult balance that companies need to achieve. On the one hand, there is an incentive to report as openly as possible. On the other hand, there is pressure to ensure that disclosed information is trustworthy.

This leads Kraft and other companies to an important debate that is arguably the front line of supply chain reporting: the extent to which they can use the coarse data produced by life-cycle assessments and generalized industry “models,” versus more specific information provided by suppliers themselves.

The former is easier to obtain, but largely overlooks potentially vast differences in practices among peer suppliers; the latter can generate factory floor-level information about particular suppliers, but requires a much greater commitment of resources to manage.

Questions and answers regarding these issues will continue to unfold as new GHG Protocol guidance comes out this winter and companies report to CDP next May and beyond. In the meantime, here are some promising approaches borrowed from the experiences of Kraft and others.

1. Collect Data to Gain Insight for Prioritizing Sustainability Investments

In this context, reporting is important but it is a byproduct of understanding interconnections with suppliers, products, partners, and the physical world. This is really what most stakeholders are interested in.

2. Don’t Be Afraid of Your Footprint

The next phase of Scope 3 reporting will see more companies report on their impacts, more deeply and in more categories. This will allow greater comparability, better benchmarking, and more insightful discussion about ways forward.

Until that happens, a large Scope 3 footprint is a much better sign of leadership than no reported footprint. Scope 3 management can lead to enrolling suppliers directly in improvement efforts and leveraging their dollars and skills.

3. Address Budget and Resource Constraints by Using Sampling and Estimations

It is acceptable to provide information that is approximate or based on random and/or targeted verifications. The key to getting that right is to understand how accurate the information is, and make your level of confidence and uncertainty — like the figures themselves — transparent.

First posted at GreenBiz.

FTC’s New Anti-Greenwashing, Good-for-Business Green Guides

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released its long-awaited draft guidance on environmental marketing. The so-called “Green Guides” tell companies how to prevent misleading customers—and avoid FTC actions against them.
Why now? The FTC says consumers are confused about environmental claims such as “sustainable” or “offset,” which lack consistent rules for usage. In response, the FTC’s proposed guidance does three things:
  1. Requires claims to be substantiated. Companies should communicate on specific issues for which they provide competent and reliable scientific evidence and avoid ambiguous umbrella terms like “green” or “eco-friendly.”
  2. Prescribes action on targeted issues. While the FTC leaves methodology mostly to companies, it advises on a few issues where deception is rife and solutions are particularly obvious. For example, the guides say that if companies generate renewable energy onsite and then sell their environmental attributes separately, they shouldn’t also say that they use that renewable energy themselves. Categories of specific advice include: certifications and seals, degradability, compostability, ozone-safe/ozone-friendly, recyclability, free-of/non-toxic, renewable materials, renewable energy, and carbon offsets. See the FTC’s cheat sheet.
  3. Defines where to tread carefully. The FTC acknowledges that some issues are difficult to provide blanket guidance on. For example, life-cycle assessments and ecolabeling are complex and require context, while the determination of carbon offset quality may be better handled by agencies with more expertise. In cases where the FTC “lacks sufficient information on which to base guidance,” it promises to analyze claims on a case-by-case basis.
What does this direction mean for business? I asked three individuals. Kevin Myette, director of product integrity at outdoor retailer REI, told me: “Guidance on green marketing claims has been extremely loose for years, and as a result, industry and marketers have operated virtually unchecked for too long. The FTC’s action to further define the rules is not a bad thing as they are only asking for the truth.”
Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Erica Plambeck was similarly hopeful. She told me that the guidance “will increase incentives for retailers like Walmart to invest in the measurement of environmental performance and to provide detailed information about environmental performance to consumers. Transparency will lead to improvement.”
Finally, Dara O’Rourke, founder of the Good Guide—a product-rating initiative—said that more FTC involvement isn’t only good for consumers, but also for business. That’s because “the more there is transparency, the more the leading firms will do well in the marketplace. It’s a win for smart, thoughtful, progressive companies. This is basic ‘Econ 101’.”

What to do next: In the near term, leave any suggestions you have for finalizing the Green Guides below (with your name and affiliation) or contact me, and we’ll aggregate and submit your suggestions to the FTC before the comment period closes on December 10.

First posted at BSR.


The Difference Between Product and Supply Chain Footprinting

As more companies gain carbon management experience, they are expanding work from their scope of direct operations to a broader sphere of influence. Expansion is happening through two main efforts — product footprinting and supply chain footprinting, both of which are based on broadening from the organization to the inter-organizational value chain system. Each has interrelated issues and drivers, but they represent two different movements with distinct activities and tradeoffs. As standards emerge, understanding their common denominators is important for guarding against greenwashing and making the right investments. The question for companies taking the lead on carbon footprinting now is: What is the relationship between product footprinting and supply chain footprinting, and what should your company be doing?

Product Carbon Footprinting

According to London-based Carbon Trust, a company founded in 2001 in partnership with the U.K. government, consumer purchasing is the ultimate driver of all carbon emissions, and because of this, policymakers in Europe and North America are paying more attention to carbon footprints of products.

In 2007, the E.U. Parliament called for companies to begin placing carbon labels on products. In part because of this effort, Carbon Trust, along with England’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and BSI, the U.K.’s National Standards Body, are developing the product standard PAS 2050, which will measure the embodied emissions from products.

In the United States, economists recently testified to Congress that product carbon content should be regulated through border tax adjustments, and this year, California Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Los Altos, advanced the Carbon Labeling Act known as AB2538. In Japan, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is working on rules for carbon labeling, which it aims to have ready for next spring.

Corporate product pilot programs are already hitting the shelves. The most prominent one, created by Carbon Trust, is led by 20 companies, including the U.K. retailer Tesco, which has begun placing carbon labels on detergents and light bulbs. In addition to working with industry to develop standards, Timberland, an outdoor shoe and clothing manufacturing based in Stratham, New Hampshire, is disclosing product metrics as part of its Green Index product rating system.

So far, product carbon labels make three types of promises:

1. Carbon embodied: This is based on a lifecycle analysis (LCA) of the cumulative carbon produced throughout the life of a product, which includes production, distribution, consumer use and disposal. The PAS 2050 and Timberland’s Green Index are both embodied carbon frameworks. Currently, these frameworks are most developed in the Europe, and are slowly spreading to the United States.

2. Carbon reduced: This framework covers embodied carbon avoided from “business as usual,” or the likely emissions trajectory if the emissions reduction program hadn’t intervened. The only significant program in development is one by Carbon Trust called the Product-Related Emissions Reduction Framework (PERF), which is based on PAS 2050.

3. Carbon neutral: Products that fall under this category promise net zero emissions, made possible with carbon offsets. The Washington, D.C.-based offset provider Carbon Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based offset provider offers its CarbonFree certification, which covers carbon-neutral products. Many multinational companies make carbon-neutral product claims, and this framework is probably the most widespread of the three types of promises.

In order for these labels to be meaningful to consumers, data need to be objective, comparable and prudent. But many companies are running into challenges, such as how to define “boundary conditions,” or which carbon to include. For example, should shampoo include the energy associated with hot water during use of the product?

Jay Celorie, program manager for supply chain energy at HP, points out that for some product sectors, such as electronics, which may have thousands of parts and hundreds of suppliers, the boundary problem is extremely complex. In those cases, it’s impractical to aggregate primary data.

In addition to making data collection expensive, this sort of complexity leads to ambiguous results. According to Mark Newton, environmental policy manager for the computer manufacturer Dell, product footprinting may seem simple but statistical errors related to each incremental greenhouse gas (GHG) impact in the product lifecycle must be considered cumulatively, and variation of these can easily supersede apparent differences between products or features, making legitimate comparisons or claims difficult. 

Finally, communicating meaningful results is thorny. Edgar Blanco, executive director of the MIT Center for Latin-American Logistics Innovation, explains that it’s misleading to boil down footprints into a single figure without qualifying the depth, breadth and precision of data. Nonetheless, few companies are acknowledging the statistical context of their data, and therefore many companies may face questions they have a hard time answering.

Supply Chain Carbon Footprinting

Supply chain carbon footprinting, the practice of accounting for the carbon emissions of suppliers, is intended to increase the transparency of energy use and the efficiency of suppliers, and also to eliminate waste and help managers make responsible purchases. Like product footprinting, supply chain footprinting addresses emissions outside of a given company’s ownership and control, by accounting for other organizations — potentially multiple tiers of them — among common value chain systems. Unlike with product footprinting, this requires tracking primary data from specific companies, generally starting at the enterprise level. While product footprinting has been evolving since LCA emerged in the 1970s, supplier footprinting is much younger and less standardized.

The most prominent effort in this arena is London-based Carbon Disclosure Project’s Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration (SCLC), a group of 29 multinationals led by Wal-Mart that encourages suppliers to disclose their emissions publicly. Another initiative — the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), an effort in which BSR is assisting — is developing a supplier reporting protocol for the information and communication technology (ICT) industry. These efforts are focused primarily on direct supplier relationships, with the aim of establishing robust systems for pushing emissions reporting carefully but firmly up the supply chain.

Not surprisingly, there are challenges with these initiatives. Despite media attention to the issue, few companies — even those that disclose their own product carbon footprints — are directly engaging suppliers about carbon emissions. And those who are engaging suppliers rarely go beyond the first tier.

The challenges are multifold: Many suppliers, citing that they are small, private and/or exclusively business-to-business, don’t see a business case for disclosure. Others aren’t familiar with common emissions measurement practices. And in addition to technological and data transparency and assurance challenges, there are often language and/or cultural gaps between suppliers and customers. In some cases, suppliers feel they lack the authority to disclose, or they fear that if they do offer disclosure, they’ll be barraged with multiple questionnaires in varying formats.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

As it turns out, product and supply chain footprinting have interrelated drivers and issues, but they represent different movements with distinct activities and tradeoffs. Many companies are committed to supply chain footprinting, which they expect to increase efficiency and reduce waste, yet they are reticent to advocate product footprinting because data complexity and virtually no standards mean high costs and uncertain results. At the same time, some companies advertise product carbon footprints in an effort to deliver more customer value, but they don’t engage suppliers directly because they lack the systems and know-how. Yet despite their differences, “bottom-up” supply chain footprinting and “top-down” product footprinting are both important, and contrasting them can provide useful insight for companies aiming to achieve a lower carbon footprint.

Companies seeking to reduce emissions from the value chain should keep in mind the opportunities and costs of both product and supply chain footprinting. Product footprinting frameworks such as PAS 2050 start with a product’s boundary conditions (e.g. which carbon to include), and then model the cumulative impacts of processes at various stages along the value chain. While this provides a conceptual overview of the value chain’s hotspots, it does not take into account operations changes inside individual companies, which is why supply chain footprinting is also essential. In looking at the supply chain, this framework identifies the most important suppliers and observes their actual data. (For SCLC, this means suppliers of the largest public companies, like Unilever and Procter & Gamble; for EICC, it is first-tier suppliers. HP has recently disclosed [PDF] its list of key suppliers. Unlike with product footprinting, the data can be used to define operational baselines and set process performance targets. The tradeoff is that it doesn’t prioritize areas where value chain carbon emissions are highest. 

Product footprinting extrapolates secondary data from manufacturing processes and makes assumptions regarding use and disposal, while supply chain footprinting measures data from real companies directly. The former gives substantial information with high variance, while the latter provides high confidence, but for one company at a time.Each has its own standardization problems. Product footprinting must merge hundreds of processes across multiple companies yet there are scant norms for making these massive summaries meaningful to the customer, whose aim is to make simple product-to-product comparisons. Supply chain footprinting, on the other hand, struggles with how to allocate and normalize emissions by revenue, production unit, facility or another other figure.

Although both product and supply chain footprint frameworks are still emerging, it is wise for businesses to invest in the building blocks for both while legislation, pilot programs and technologies develop. In doing so, consider the following recommendations:

  • Watch for meaningful standards to emerge, particularly the GHG Protocol, which is developing guidance for product and “scope 3” emissions, and the SCLC, which is establishing reporting norms.
  • Get involved in industry-focused forums to make sure that the right incentives are being created and your efforts are being counted. As economy-wide frameworks develop, there is an increasing need for industries to play a part in informing situational guidance and the rules for boundary-setting, normalization and allocation.
  • Work with your peers on standardized content for industry supplier questionnaires to ensure that the process is also the same, with a single entry point for suppliers and buyers. In doing so, develop tools that invite entry-level and experienced users alike, and that produce standardized data that potentially support both product and supply chain footprints.
  • In making carbon claims and wider promises (see BSR’s recent report, “Eco-Promising: Communicating the Environmental Credentials of your Products and Services”), watch for advice from authorities like the Federal Trade Commission, which plans to update its guidance on green marketing claims toward the end of 2008 for the first time in 10 years.
  • Keep it simple. Companies naturally want systems that best describe their situations. However, when aggregating footprints among many companies, data grow unwieldy so there’s a premium on accessibility and common denominators. To keep it simple, focus on materiality, deferring when possible to primary data (e.g. electricity use) and public data (e.g. financial statements), and encourage your peers to communicate analyses in straightforward, comparable equations.

Originally published at Greenbiz.