Carbon clarity

13 September 2010
13 September 2010 | Shaun McCarthy We can all think of phrases that lack credibility – such as “the cheque is in the post” or “I am from head office and I’m here to help”. But the least credible phrase of the current decade is “carbon-neutral company”. What does that mean exactly? Climate change represents the most significant threat to the way we live since the second world war. The ice caps will continue to melt long after the current recession ends – and at a faster rate, given the strong correlation between energy consumption and GDP. The facts and economics involved are laid bare in the Stern Report Companies have to be responsible about their emissions. However, some are using the opportunity for cheap marketing, which confuses the customer. There are no strict rules on how companies should take responsibility for their emissions. In the example set by the London 2012 Olympics, the reference footprint is 3.4 million tonnes This includes all the emissions related to every tonne of concrete, steel, glass and so on that goes into constructing the facilities, all the way back to the raw material. The reference footprint for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 is 300,000 tonnes and does not include any construction emissions. In setting out its Plan A  objective to be “carbon neutral” by 2012, Marks & Spencer has defined its footprint and how it proposes to achieve the objective. There are no right or wrong answers, and interpretations differ. Many companies think they can consider themselves “carbon-neutral” by offsetting, but a recent report by Friends of the Earth pours scorn on this route  Offsetting, it has been said, is like having an affair and paying somebody else not to have sex. One innovative approach is creating a fund to invest in local schemes that save carbon and also provide some social benefit, such as retrofitting social housing with energy-efficient technology. This approach is the subject of a great story from one of my clients, which I will share with you soon. To thrive in the longer term, companies must establish why they think they need to be responsible about emissions, what emissions they are taking responsibility for, and how they propose to address them over time. All this needs to be done before a credible sustainable procurement strategy can be developed. Purchasers need to be clear about their organisations policy and objectives so they can translate them through the supply chain effectively.
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