Carnegie Mellon urges industry to broaden carbon footprint calculations

Aug 16, 2008

Carnegie Mellon University researchers are urging companies to embrace new methods for following the trail of dangerous carbon emissions that are responsible for much of the world's global warming threats.

Because there is no universally accepted way of calculating someone's carbon footprint, dozens of carbon calculators have sprung up on the Internet in the past few years creating confusion and inaccurate information. In addition, accepted frameworks for tracking industry carbon emissions rely on "tiers'' of increasingly broad scope. Tier one generally includes emissions by the company's own activities, such as burning gasoline in fleet vehicles or natural gas in its facilities. The second tier boundary expands to include emissions from electricity and steam purchased by the company. Tier three includes all other emissions, including the entire supply chain of goods and services.

In practice, most companies reporting their greenhouse gas emissions opt to use only tier one or the tier two boundary. To put the implications of this boundary decision into context, Carnegie Mellon researchers H. Scott Matthews, Chris T. Hendrickson and Christopher L. Weber, have developed a new method that estimates the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across all tiers of the entire supply chain for all industries.

"By far, most companies are pursuing very limited footprints — toe prints really — instead of comprehensive ones," said Matthews, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy.

In an Aug. 15 article for Environmental Science & Technology, the authors report that two-thirds of U.S. industries would overlook 75 percent of their total greenhouse gas emissions if they continue to use the same tier one or tier two reporting boundaries. The average industry has only 14 percent of its total greenhouse gas emissions in tier one and 12 percent in tier two for a total of 26 percent.

Specifically, the research finds that only 6 percent of the publishing industry's greenhouse gas emissions result from its tier one and tier two uses of petroleum products and electricity. However, there are large emissions from electricity and paper in the supply chain that would otherwise be ignored. Similar results appear for other industries.

The researchers urge industry to use comprehensive screening tools, such as the Web site they helped to develop (http:/www.eiolca.net), which are able to analyze carbon footprints and other impacts for different economic sectors in the U.S. economy. They argue that failing to do so will lead to poor decision-making when seeking to mitigate their impact.

"A company that is looking to move toward bio-based materials may find it far more cost-effective to encourage purchases of green power in its supply chain when they look at its total supply chain carbon footprint," said Hendrickson, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Explore further: Weird weather lingers in Alaska's largest city

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fingers pointed as climate talks deadlock

2 hours ago

Accusations flew at deadlocked UN climate talks in Lima on Saturday, as the United States warned that failure to compromise could doom the 22-year-old global forum.

Fun cryptography app pleases students and teachers

12 hours ago

Up on Google Play this week is Cryptoy...something that you might want to check out if you or someone you know wishes entry into the world of cryptography via an educational and fun app. You learn more about ciphers and keys; you ...

Recommended for you

New challenges for ocean acidification research

8 hours ago

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

Compromises lead to climate change deal

8 hours ago

Earlier this month, delegates from the various states that make up the UN met in Lima, Peru, to agree on a framework for the Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to take place in Paris next year. For ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sophos
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2008
"for following the trail of dangerous carbon emissions "

DANGEROUS? seriously ? It is dangerous now?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.