While product eco-labeling is one of the applications of carbon footprinting, I have argued previously that carbon footprinting can and should be used as a life-cycle process characterization tool that can reveal significant opportunities for optimizations. In that sense, using carbon emissions as a performance metric is analogous to the use of 'time' as a key metric in lean systems. I want to mention two specific examples from recent projects where optimization opportunities were revealed by a footprint analysis -- both are from the food industry, but the idea is by no means limited to any particular industry.
- In a carbon footprint analysis of a soymilk product, we found that most of the transport emissions occurred after the product was manufactured, even though almost all of the ingredients were transported a long way from other countries. It turns out that soymilk is more than 90% water, and all that water was added at the final production step. So, for a given quantity of final product (such as a half-gallon package), transporting all that water from the final production facility to the distribution centers and retail stores dominated the overall transport emissions. Minimizing transport distance after final production -- for example, by making the final production more regional and closer to the points of sale, even if most ingredients are still imported -- would be one way to reduce the footprint and make the process leaner/greener.
- A carbon footprint analysis of ready-to-eat cut fruit that is packaged in plastic containers (with no need for refrigeration) revealed that the fruits were cut by the suppliers in one country and shipped frozen to a packing facility in another country in the same continent by ocean and road. Initial freezing of fresh cut fruit is a highly energy intensive process, which alone accounted for about 30% of the product life-cycle emissions. Eliminating the need for freezing, by locating the packing facility closer to the fruit production (even if this doesn't reduce the total transport distance to consumers), would significantly reduce energy use and carbon footprint.