What is the carbon footprint?

27 October, 2011 16:37 by jugos in Environment, General

1 What is the carbon footprint?
It is the calculation of the total of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced directly or indirectly by companies, products and/or services and also by people and events. In this way, we can calculate the contribution of these gases to global warming, either at a company by calculating the emissions of its activities or in products and services calculating the emissions produced during their lifecycle. We can even calculate our own footprint or that of a particular event. Such calculations are applied to the direct and indirect emissions. We call direct emissions those caused by the company’s sources or by sources managed by the company, for example, in the use of fuel and in industrial processes. And indirect emissions are the ones that result from the purchase of energy or of products and outsourced services.

2 What is the global trend towards this issue?

There is a marked global trend, mainly in developing countries, towards: regulations, market practices and consumer’s attitude, oriented to the issue of carbon footprint. This results in regulations related to the labeling of products including the calculation of the carbon footprint. This is the case in France with GrenelleII Act, which is in force since January 2011. But, mainly, it is the market itself who is leading the inclusion of the carbon footprint as a voluntary practice. Such is the case of important supermarket chains (Wallmart or Tesco) that include information about the carbon footprint on their products and demand that their suppliers do likewise, as is the case of the Chilean winery Concha y Toro, which has been making the corresponding calculations since 2008 as required by Tesco. This practice goes together with consumers’ growing awareness; they are starting to take into account this factor as an important element when deciding which product to buy.

3 What positions can a company adopt?
In the previous context, the company can adopt a reactive position: to do nothing unless a rule, the market or the consumers demand it; or an anticipatory position: to take this challenge as an opportunity to improve the company’s positioning in the market. This implies the calculation of their carbon footprint in order to be aware of their current situation and be able to manage it. That is to say, to be able to identify the risks and opportunities regarding the calculation and, according to this, plan and put into motion plans for the reduction of emissions, for example: optimizing the use of energy in certain points of the production chain.

4 The footprint in Uruguay.
Today, the carbon footprint is part of the strategy of the Stockbreeding, Agriculture and Fishing Department (MGAP, for its initials in Spanish) in response to the climate change and in defense of the main agricultural export products competitiveness. In this sense, it has already preliminarily calculated the carbon footprint of rice, bovine meat and dairy products. This information is crucial to design management strategies oriented to commerce, international negotiation and measures for the reduction of the carbon footprint in a context in which countries like France or England may ask for information about the footprint in the near future. On the other hand, TEYMA, among other companies, has been a pioneer in this aspect, making inventories of the greenhouse gas emissions of all of its activities in the country and asking its suppliers to draw up similar inventories for the products and services they supply.


The different GHG (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide –among others–) have a different global warming power (GWP). A unit called CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) is used. For example: carbon dioxide is assigned a GWP. At the same time, the GWP of methane (CH4), for instance, is 25 times higher than the one of carbon dioxide. Hence, 1 kg CH4 IS EQUIVALENT TO 25 kg CO2e. Also, at an international level, there are different protocols or guides that help us make this calculation. Such is the case of the GHG Protocol, which identifies standards for the drawing up of global inventories of GHG emissions in companies, or the PAS 2050 standard, which focuses on the GHG emissions produced by the lifecycle of the production of goods and services. There are also some ISO standards related to the calculation of the carbon footprint. The most important of these –ISO 14067– is currently being developed and will include specifications for the footprint calculation on the product and its communication, including the labeling.

Source: El País Digital

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