What the carbon footprint is - interview with Małgorzata Wernicka
Text: Mariola Weindich-Mašek, photos: Mariola Weindich-Mašek, press release SGS
10 April 2020
Mariola Weindich-Mašek: A carbon footprint is one of the ecological concepts which in recent years has become very popular, so what the carbon footprint is, what does it mean precisely?
Małgorzata Wernicka Indeed, in recent years more and more companies have decided to analyse the carbon footprint of their products, although most of them seems to do it because of the client’s requirement, or "fashion", not necessarily of being aware of all the benefits that can be acquired. "Carbon footprint" refers to the calculation of total greenhouse gases emissions from the full life cycle of a product or a company. It is expressed as a carbon dioxide equivalent per product functional unit (CO2e /functional unit), e.g. 1kg CO2e /sheet of paper, which means that producing one sheet of paper carries a charge (is charging environment) one kilogram of carbon dioxide equivalent from the moment of planting a tree, the sheet will be made from until the moment of its disposal – to the so-called end of life of the shit of paper.
Carbon footprint just like a water footprint, is also a part of the environmental (ecological) footprint. The last one is nothing but an analysis of human demands for natural resources. In this case, human consumption of natural resources is compared to the ability of our planet for their regeneration. The first country which started to count the carbon footprint of products, or even entire companies, was the United Kingdom. No wonder, because in this country emissions far exceed the norms. British entrepreneurs initially decided to calculate the carbon footprint, and then - having a measurable indicator - to reduce their emissions and observe the progress in this regard.
Why is it worth to reduce carbon footprint and what direct impact it can have on the environment?
Entrepreneurs all the round the world - also in Poland - decide to calculate the footprint for various reasons. At present, it is mainly the market that requires this type of actions. Entrepreneurs, in cooperation with international companies (mainly from the UK) are even obliged to analyze the carbon footprint for their businesses or products. The majority of Polish companies learn about the existence of this indicator from their Western partners who send request for offers, including the question of the carbon footprint of the product. Polish company, wanting to participate in the tender, must therefore count the value of the carbon footprint for the particular product. More and more noticeable is also a tendency in companies -showing that the value of the carbon footprint of a given product is even more important than the purchase price of the product.
Despite the purely economic aspect, which also means finding sensitive areas in the process and optimizing it (e.g. by increasing energy efficiency), and finding savings, one should not forget that the aim of the carbon footprint reduction is to reduce its impact on the environment. A direct benefit to the environment, after drawing a conclusion from the estimated carbon footprint, is first of all the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. But not only. We can also reduce the amount of the consumed water, electricity, reduce suppliers’ courses and thus save fuel. Another way to reduce carbon footprint is the so-called offset - I call it amends. If an entrepreneur is not able to change the production process, or has changed it, and now the carbon footprint cannot be reduced, there is the option of doing something good for the environment - such as planting trees or installing solar panels on public building. These are also the ways of reducing carbon footprint.
How can each of us reduce our own carbon footprint?
Its a very good question, because thanks to answering this question, we may realize that each of us has a real impact on the environment and resources which we leave to our future generations.
We can reduce our own carbon footprint using the following, simple steps:
- Removing charger from plug when you are not charging any device and turn off the lights in rooms where no one is sitting (energy consumption reduction)
- Changing the way of going to work or school. Choosing public transport or even a bicycle over a car, can reduce carbon footprint to zero (reduction of fuel consumption)
- Pay attention to the products you buy. Supporting local products, or even Polish companies can significantly reduce the carbon footprint. The smaller the distances that semi-finished products had to cover – the lower the footprint is.
- By supporting the so-called circulation economy in your household - that is - by repairing equipment, instead of throwing it away, by reusing products, which are no longer suitable to perform their original function - using pallets in the apartment is very trendy nowadays.
- Segregation of waste
- At work - as far as it is possible, by organizing teleconferences instead of meetings, which require flying by plane, driving a car or taking a train in order to take part in them.
- Supporting methods of working - "home-office", which drastically reduces the number of vehicles that are on the streets every morning.
There are a lot of possibilities, but these are the basic ones, that everyone can bring into effect without any effort.
How big companies can reduce their carbon footprint; does it involve any additional costs? If so, how significant are they?
Large companies can limit the carbon footprint in two ways:
- By introducing energy savings policy for their employees - learning to turn off the light, remove the chargers, to turn off electronic devices at night. A very interesting idea is an additional support for workers who ride a bike instead of driving car to work (free dinners, shopping /cinema vouchers). It is estimated that the environmental education of workers and enforcement of such behaviour, can reduce the carbon footprint up to 20%, without any expenses.
- By optimizing the work of the entire company. It often involves changes of the production line or semi-finished products, replacing chimneys, changing technology, but it is also a lack of interference in technology - such as changing the fleet - changing a supplier for a local one. These costs are much higher, often millions of dollars, but they also bring much greater results for the environment. Unfortunately, in Poland at the moment, rarely anyone changes the technology, that would reduce the value of indicators of the impact on the environment. Entrepreneurs are focused on far less costly, more soft methods of reducing carbon footprint.
How can the carbon footprint be measured?
The first, and also the most common way of calculating the carbon footprint in Poland is the specification -"Publicly Available Specification 2050" (PAS 2050). It was created by British Standards Institute (BSI) on the basis of cooperation and broad industry consultation. Therefore, PAS 2050 was a response to the needs of the society and industry in finding a consistent method for calculating the greenhouse gas emissions during the life cycle of goods and services. The intention, which guided the authors of this specification, was to create a standard method of determining the specific emission of products. This specification is used by BSI to update the quantitative analysis of greenhouse gas emissions in the life cycle of all goods and services, in line with the latest technical achievements and past experience. It allows you to measure the impact of activities, products and services of the company on the environment as well as the greenhouse gas emissions in their life cycle. PAS 2050 is a measurement tool thanks to which the company - knowing its impact on emissions - commits itself to reduce it in the product life cycle, within the so-called Product Related Emissions Reduction Framework. PAS 2050 specification is based on existing standards mainly - ISO 14040 (Environmental Management, Life Cycle Assessment, Policy and structure) and ISO 14044 (Environmental Management, Life Cycle Assessment, Requirements and Guidelines). There are also more specific standards, such as ISO 14067 - for calculating the carbon footprint of the product and ISO 14064 - prepared for the carbon footprint analysis for the organization. According to these documents, the input and output streams can be analysed and then using appropriate emission factors carbon footprint can be estimated.
Should a carbon footprint be limited by large concerns only or should we all take care of this, even if we have a small and seemingly insignificant in this topic company?
The only possible answer is-yes, even the smallest company should analyze its carbon footprint, reduce it and try to protect the environment. At the moment, mainly the largest companies are trying to deal with this - because of the relatively high costs associated with estimating the footprint, and then with reducing it. However, they can be an excellent example for smaller companies, which can take advantage their technologies and methods to reduce their impact on the environment. Every even the smallest activity, in a single household contributes to the national emission indicators. Even if big companies introduce restrictions and change their technologies, and smaller ones- which do prevail in Poland, will do nothing, no reduction will be achieved. What you need here is a change a way of thinking and environmental awareness. A single person must be aware of the environmental impact, and when it happens, it will be obvious even to owners of smaller businesses, that the analysis of the carbon footprint is the first step to protect the environment.
Does it really make sense if clothing companies reduce their carbon footprint by the equivalent of 5 km drive? Are we able to reduce emissions to improve the environment and stop or at least reduce global changes?
In my opinion every, even the smallest activity makes sense. However, you should take two facts into consideration: climate changes being the result of time we live in and the fact that periods of climate warming /cooling appeared in the history of the Earth periodically - we do not have any influence on it, and on the other hand – an excessive consumption of fossil fuels, the growth of the population, the lack of interest in the environment, which is being degraded in a dramatic way. Because of the total lack of environmental education in Polish schools, at home, at work - the society ignores all that surrounds us, paying no attention to environmental protection. In the countries affected by electricity shortages - such as Belgium or the United Kingdom, which struggled against the so-called blackouts, society is paying attention to labels even on food and chooses those that have been produced with less impact on the environment. The perception change and increased environmental awareness are needed, it should certainly appear in Poland in time - but Im more than sure that it will take place in the nearest future.