Products or product constellations?
A heated discussion has been bubbling over at work regarding life-cycle and/or supply chain emissions [reductions] and the methods by which companies should capture and report these. So take an LCA perspective of product X. You will begin and end with a set of processes, materials, and energies ‘consumed’ across the product’s life cycle – all positive emissions resulting in a net consumption of materials/energy. But what happens if you take a systems approach, charting a business-as-usual (BAU) trajectory, and then compare the life cycle impacts of your product versus some alternative end-state? This is no arcane concept only to be appreciated by Saul Kripke’s fanclub, but rather a method that resembles how CDM-derived credits are quantified. For example, if I am an ICT company producing teleconference software that encourages people to avoid (inter)national travel and in-person conferences, then can I claim those avoided emissions as a net reduction across my own inventory’s supply chain? Companies are already doing this, such as Bayer whose CDP6 Scope 3 reporting is about -9x their combined Scope 1 and Scope 2. At first glance this appears reasonable – reward companies who are helping drive a carbon-constrained economy – but the fact remains that Bayer is not in the business of sequestration and therefore negative emissions contradict the reality that their supply chain consumes fuel, burns electricity, and turns gears, all which contribute positive emissions. A similar example can be made with building insulation. If it weren’t installed, then the building would consume more energy in heating and cooling, negating the energy consumed in the insulation’s manufacture and then some: three to one, so reports BASF. A counterargument: if I didn’t buy BASF insulation, then I would’ve bought Polyiso, so then is it fair for that particular company to receive credit against an uninsulated building’s expected emissions when in actuality there were alternatives? If you extend this line of reasoning to transportation, you’ll quickly see a pessimistic, and more pessimistic view of hybrids. On the one hand, sure – your fuel economy is higher than average, but you’re still burning fuel. And on the other, you could’ve bought a bicycle.