An increasing number of carbon footprint calculators are available on the internet but the outcomes of these differ widely as various methodologies and emissions conversion factors are used.
Meanwhile, discrepancies can even be found between the results of research. An example of this is the difference between two projects to calculate the emissions of sea vessels in the Belgian part of the North Sea. One study arrived at a total of 1,849kton per year of carbon and the other, 720kton.
Lack of standardisation also creates a problem for application vendors intending to incorporate environmental data and analytical capabilities into supply chain modelling and planning software.
Differences in outcomes are inevitable because of differences in methodologies, logistics categories and data availability. Even if a common methodology is used, there is a potential variation in outcomes due to the need to define boundaries and allocation keys. The problem with this is that companies could influence the outcome of their carbon footprint calculations.
Lack of transparency will lead to limited confidence in initiatives and assertions by companies. In transport and logistics operations where several companies are involved, transparency is particularly necessary to look further up and down the supply chain and better understand the challenges and opportunities.
Initiatives intended to bring some standardisation in this field include the Global Reporting Initiative and the Carbon Disclosure Project. These promote transparency as a catalyst for environmental, social and economic improvement.
The advantage of a standard methodology to quantify emissions from freight transport activities at the corporate level are obvious. Quantifying emissions will allow transport providers to access the emissions from their transport assets. It will also give shippers as well as receivers of goods the opportunity to calculate their supply chain footprints.
Quantifying emissions from supply chains provides a baseline from which mitigation strategies can be developed and performance measured. It allows companies to set goals, understand trade-offs and optimise modes of transport.
The International Organisation for Standardisation has developed principles for emission inventory and life cycle assessment, while the British Standards Institute is working on PAS 2050 for the assessment of life cycle greenhouse gas emissions. These standards create a framework for quantifying emissions A recent initiative, The Green Logistics Consultants Group, aims at creating an agreed framework for the calculation of emissions of goods transportat company level but are limited in terms of specific areas such as logistics activities and goods movements.
A recent initiative is a project of the Green Logistics Consultants Group, intended to foster cooperation and coordination between stakeholder organisations to agree a framework for the calculation of emissions of goods transport and create an international database of emissions factors and logistics data. The group is a worldwide network of researchers and consultants with expertise in helping companies improve the socio-environmental performance of their supply chains.
Erik van Agtmaal is a director at