Discussing carbon footprinting strategies for the FMCG chain

Packaging Professional magazine
1 Jan 2008

A benchmark for assessing a packaging manufacturer's carbon impact is a long way off, concluded delegates at the conference on ‘Reducing Carbon Footprint in the FMCG Supply Chain’, held from 27-28 November 2007.

‘It has taken 500 years to come up with some degree of agreement on cost reduction standards. We cannot expect CO2 reduction standards to be agreed overnight,’ said Nigel Topping, Client Partner with the Carbon Disclosure Project, a non-profit organisation based in London that helps corporations address their carbon footprint.

Industry and environmental representatives at the Intertech Pira conference, held in London, UK, instead discussed what such a standard should involve, and how companies can begin to improve their environmental record.

Topping listed two strategies. The first involves identifying the problem areas at the top levels, including improving design to reduce the number of components used. The second approach uses product marketing, whereby key products are identified and their supply chain mapped. This involves working with suppliers to improve their processes.

Marks & Spencer (M&S) began working with UK Government-funded organisation Carbon Trust in early 2007 to create a carbon map of its food products. Focusing on beef cannelloni ready meals, the company found that substituting packaging materials with recycled paper and plastics only reduced 0.08% of the carbon, while taking a quarter of the beef out reduced it by seven per cent. The store is also working with its suppliers to create packaging that influences customer behavior, such as laundry detergent packs that encourage people to reduce their washing temperatures to 30ºC.

In terms of carbon labeling, the speakers were largely critical of current schemes, such as the Walkers Crisps carbon footprint symbol. ‘The supply chain only makes up part of the overall carbon use,’ noted Rowland Hill, Corporate Social/Sustainability Manager for M&S. He said that factors such as the treatment of animals going into a product and the way customers dispose of it can produce greater carbon emissions. Also, ‘should people choose snacks based on carbon emissions, or on its fat and nutrient content? And what about free trade items from Africa? How do we measure the economic assistance provided to farmers against the carbon emissions produced by flying the product in?’

Companies should not be too eager to publish their carbon information until a comparative standard has been agreed, noted Deborah Evans, Head of Corporate Reporting and Assurance at Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance, UK. ‘We need to decide what companies are doing and what they should take responsibility for,’ she said. Different international models, such as the ISO 14000 series of environmental regulations, provide some guidance, ‘but it’s too early to say which will have industry backing’.

Dr Belinda Howell, Chief Executive of Greenstone Carbon Management, UK, added, ‘If you’re wondering what you can do now, all companies can go after energy efficiency changes. It’s not sexy, but it will make a difference.’