Yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm recently revealed that it had calculated the carbon footprint of 150 of its products, three quarters of the items it sells. (Disclosure: some of those items are in my refrigerator right now.) If you are interested in how companies account for and manage their environmental impacts, you should take a look at Stonyfield Farm. Here are three things worth noting:
Over half of the carbon footprint comes from milk production. That means cows passing gas and cow manure. In other words, the biggest source of emissions are verdant pastures, happy bovines, not belching factories. Research is underway to reduce the footprint of milk production. But my point is that most people don’t think of basic agricultural processes can have such a big environmental impact. They can.
Data is updated daily. Most companies that calculate their carbon footprints do so yearly. That’s because the processes most companies use are very labor intensive. There is still little automation of carbon accounting. The system Stonyfield Farm uses calculates product footprints daily and allows continuous monitoring of the company’s performance versus its goals. That should give the firm an edge in meeting its targets by enabling it to make mid-course corrections and improvements as it learns.
Focus on greenhouse gases rather than energy consumption. Many companies that talk about reducing their carbon emissions are actually focused on reducing their energy consumption. There are two reasons for this. First, consumption of non-renewable energy is a pretty good proxy in many cases for greenhouse gas emissions: the more you consume, the greater your emissions. And second, and more importantly, energy costs money while emitting carbon is still free in much of the world. So companies manage energy consumption, aiming for cost reductions and reaping emissions reductions as an added benefit. Stonyfield Farm focuses on greenhouse gas emissions rather than energy partly because a lot of their emissions don’t come from energy use (they come from cows) and they don’t come from their own operations (only 13% of the footprint is attributable to manufacturing).The link between costs and greenhouse gas emissions is much looser for them. So they are directly managing for environmental benefits, not just cost.
Stonyfield Farm has long staked out a leadership position in its commitment to environmental stewardship and its use of that commitment to boost brand value. The company’s approach to managing and tracking its carbon footprint is part of that tradition.