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Measuring the Supply Chain Carbon Footprint

Sure, green is good. It's important to know the impact transportation has on carbon dioxide emissions. But, when I see comments like the one below, I raise a few eyebrows.

A few weeks ago, Claire Whittaker, the EU's transport directorate-general, told delegates of Green Freight Europe, a recently launched environmental initiative, that the European Commission is “considering an unambiguous way of measuring CO2 footprints in the logistics chain.” She said transport is the only sector in 20 years that has seen an increase in such emissions.

Certainly, it makes sense for the commission to take another look at how carbon footprints within the transportation arena are measured. I can't help but wonder, though, what will come from it.

I wasn't at the meeting and don't have many more details other than what I have read in a report, and I don't really know what this “unambiguous way” could mean if it turns into policy. But two questions immediately come to mind about this: Should the EU and other governments not only consider measurements but also more heavily regulate the supply chain's footprint, with particular attention on the transportation and logistics sector? Or could this idea be just another thing logistics companies and corporate social responsibility offices will eventually have to factor into total supply chain planning and costs but, in general, doesn't really accomplish anything?

Europe has long been progressive on its environmental stance, implementing all sorts of environmental protection strategies and laws. I don't necessarily disagree — without legislation and enforcement, many companies across many industries would probably not do this on their own.

And, according to the EU:

    Heavy-duty vehicles (HDV) represent about a quarter of EU road transport CO2 emissions and some 6% of the total EU emissions. In spite of some improvements in fuel consumption efficiency in recent years, HDV emissions are still rising, mainly due to increasing road freight traffic.

    As part of the EU's future strategy to address HDV fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, a number of actions can be considered that will result in:

    1. Improved vehicle efficiency through new engines, materials and design
    2. Cleaner energy use through new fuels and propulsion systems
    3. Better use of networks and more efficient fleet operation, with the support of information and communication systems.

If the EU moves these considerations forward and requires logistics companies to upgrade their fleet and use trucks with cleaner engines or propulsion systems, there will be a ripple effect throughout the supply chain — probably in the way of costs and higher prices.

On the plus side, maybe the supply chain has already reached a tipping point on this and, whether because of legislation or collective awareness, is ready for some “unambiguous way of measuring CO2 footprints.” According to a recent supply chain report from the Carbon Disclosure Project, “Companies are making real changes to their operating models, most frequently in procurement, resulting in greater reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions and greater monetary gains across the entire supply chain… The business case is strong and growing: suppliers that do not measure, quantify, and manage their greenhouse-gas emissions will soon see their business move to competitors that can provide better information and clearer evidence of change.”

Does this also apply to logistics suppliers and freight-forwarders? I venture to say I hope so.

7 comments on “Measuring the Supply Chain Carbon Footprint

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 15, 2013

    Hi Jenn: I have to agree that CSR efforts may be creating a whole lot of difficulties with little result, but I'll reserve that debate for antoher day. My first thought after I read this article was about the EU's train system, which I've always believed was one of the best in the world. Here's a dumb question: are engines still powered by fossil fuel or electricity or both? (I can't answer that regarding our local system, but will google it later). Then there is air freight, which we know is fuel-driven. Finally, trucking, which in the US is sacred–the Teamsters Union. Nuff said. Here's the point: if this unambiguous measurement of CO2 concludes that planes, trains and trucking are all bad for the environment, what's the alternative? Lots of investment in upgrades, which the EU doesn't have the $$ for, or maybe donkeys?

  2. rohscompliant
    January 16, 2013

    While 'going green' is a woderfully altruistic panacia …it will not propel a container ship loaded with goods bound for the USA from China. “Going Green” will not lift a Boeing or an Airbus off the ground and into flight. Also it will not pull a mile long freight train across the continent loaded with refigerated goods or new automobiles…….some things just require the use of the internal combustion engine and the use of fossil fuel. the EU has enough problems of their own yet they will try to Carbon Credit us an VAT us to death………….and it is catching on over here……..thanks Al Gore you pant load hypocrite………….yes this topic infuriates me. 

  3. William K.
    January 16, 2013

    Why should the EU believe that they can improve the situation? They have not made traffic flow smoothly in a lot of places, and they have reduced production efficiency with their ROHS foolishness.

    Most laws created based on uneducated and un-informed emotions wind up doing things that were not originally intended. Everybody should understand that reality, and consider their actions very carefully.

  4. Jennifer Baljko
    January 21, 2013

    Barbara – That's exactly right – what's the alternative. For buildings and energy used by cities, Europeans are using a lot of alternative green energy options. But I don't believe it has trickled down to significant parts of the logistics chain. I'm not sure how the trains here are powered, but I'll add that to things to Google list, too.

  5. Jennifer Baljko
    January 21, 2013

    rohscompliant – you sound like you've been burned on this before. But, right, until a green energy solution can power a train from Brussels to Rome or a boat from China to Los Angeles, the industry and government will have to find a middle ground.

  6. Jennifer Baljko
    January 21, 2013

    William K.  – That's a key point: Laws made with good intentions but lead to unintended results… means that the industry has to figure out how to comply in a cost-effective way.

     

  7. William K.
    January 21, 2013

    Jennifer, you are exactly correct. The problem that I see is that there may not be a suitable means in existance. JUst because an action can be proposed does not nean that it can be executed, just as the fact that a product can be designed does not mean that it can be manufactured.

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