How to reduce your carbon footprint – by reuse! by Prof. dr ir H.R. Krikke - Q1 2011
How to reduce your company’s carbon footprint – by reuse!
By prof. dr ir H.R. Krikke, DURABILIT chair of closed loop supply chains, Open Universiteit Nederland
Seen by most people as the main reason for global warming, the carbon footprint has become a key issue in doing business. A carbon footprint concerns the units of carbon dioxide produced by human activities. A carbon footprint is typically given in tons of CO-equivalent and can be determined for an individual, an organization, or a product. For example, the average North American generates about 20 tons of CO -eq each year, where the global average is about 4 tons of CO -eq per year. In Africa, this is at least twenty times less.
Customers are increasingly demanding a carbon footprint calculation on the product level as part of their purchasing decision. But companies struggle to come up with well founded data to substantiate these calculations. What’s more, they tend to have a very limited scope in making these calculations. At least three major omissions are found in industry practice today.
(1) a large number of companies simply neglects of the impact of the supply chain, only the operations phase is taken into account. Of course it is fine to green these processes, but we need to look at the production system (called supply chain) as well.
(2) in those cases where the supply chain is considered, it is usually limited to logistics or even just transportation. Is it a coincidence that this represents carbon emissions in the Western world?
(3) due to off-shoring, many of these processes have ended up in China. In this country, 0.13 tons of CO2 eq are emitted in for every 1000 Yuan of IT produced. We have displaced our emission problems!
As a result of the above omissions, the impact of manufacturing on the total carbon footprint is often completely ignored. The good news is that recently a couple of frontrunners are investigating the potential of reducing the carbon footprint by refurbishing and remanufacturing. Sprague, a supplier of -amongst others- DELL is investigating savings on carbon emissions by refurbishing. Research at Fuji Xerox in Australia 1 and other printing companies show that a reduction of over 50%. In other words a closed loop supply chain emits half the carbon eq. compared to a traditional ‘forward’ supply chain without reuse!
Now, you might wonder what the impact is on the total life cycle; this must be peanuts I hear you think. Indeed in some cases, carbon emissions for the most part occur during use of the product. For refrigerators and cars, the user phase adds up to 80-90% of total emissions. However, for personal computers it is the opposite 2, whilst cell-phones, switches and routers are somewhere in the middle (50:50). And don’t forget, companies are advising their customer how to ‘green’ the user phase of IT by reducing energy use or by using alternative energy resources. This make the relative carbon emission of the supply chain even higher. All the more reason to look at reuse!
Clearly there is a lot of low hanging fruit to be picked. However, business models, commercial incentive schemes, quality perception and lack of awareness make this fruit more difficult to pick than presumed. Our discussion with purchasing managers and - academics make clear that they still see this as a minor issue. Moreover, brand-owners are very reluctant to share carbon related information regarding their production sites with customers and supply chain partners.
But we soldier on. On this website you will find a newly developed CO2 calculator for switches (and routers). Let this be a next step in improving the carbon footprint of IT!
 Kerr W, Ryan Chr. Remanufacturing and Eco-efficiency: A case study of photocopier remanufacturing at Fuji Xerox Australia, Journal of Cleaner Production 2001; 9(1): 75-81.
 Special report series ICT and the environment, Computer Aid International, Report 1, 2010.