Carbon footprint - key environmental issue for humanity

Carbon footprint - key environmental issue for humanity

25 Aug 2021

Global warming has been a topic of lively discussions for dozens of years. And it has become an issue of global concern once politicians began talking about it. However, discussions among scientists about this topic started as early as 1827, when what is now known as the greenhouse effect was first described.

The increase in temperatures is particularly noticeable in the Arctic region, for instance, parts of Russia are growing warmer by 0.45 degrees Celsius every 10 years. Temperatures on Earth have been rising at a faster rate than in the past 800,000 years. These changes have been spurred on by industrialization in many parts of the world, i.e. continued industrial growth has resulted in a corresponding increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

What is a carbon footprint?

In the absence of the greenhouse effect, average yearly temperatures on Earth would be negative. The issue is that during recent decades, the greenhouse effect has become more pronounced on account of increased quantities of gases that prevent heat from escaping into space, i.e. our total carbon footprint.

The aforementioned carbon footprint is equivalent to the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by humans directly and indirectly. Every time we breathe out, we emit carbon dioxide. Other greenhouse gases include methane, ozone and even water vapor. Combustion of fuels as well as operation of manufacturing and agricultural facilities account for the highest share of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

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Greenhouse gas emissions for each sector of economy. The data provided is from the interactive tool called the ”Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data Explorer”.

Why measure one’s carbon footprint?

It is impossible to live on Earth without leaving a carbon footprint. Still, we could keep a record of the amount of energy used up by one individual or a large corporation. A company’s carbon footprint is measured in order to see the manner in which energy and other resources are utilized by it. This evaluation shows the impact business operations have on the environment. When data is readily available and easy to understand, reducing the negative impact on the environment becomes an achievable target.

An energy audit of a company can help improve energy efficiency in all of its buildings and reduce spending on resources utilized. It is possible to manage a carbon footprint of a business with the aid of special activities. Companies use measurements of their carbon footprints to differentiate their products on the market from others, to keep customers/ users informed, and to make their businesses more competitive and attractive to investors. Such enterprises receive more revenues from investments in comparison to those that do not concern themselves with the issue of climate change.

Measuring carbon footprints offers important advantages by:

  • providing an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the benefit of consumers;

  • developing a strategy to manage emissions and low-carbon growth of a business;

  • improving monitoring systems;

  • ensuring data integrity;

  • giving products a competitive edge;

  • showing progress in the sphere of emission reduction.

How to measure a carbon footprint of a business?

There are three ways of assessing greenhouse gas emissions by measuring:

  • direct GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions (from fuels burned by a business);

  • indirect emissions (from purchasing required electricity by a company);

  • other emissions (the amount of energy used for production and logistics needs as well as the sale of company’s goods is taken into account).

One can measure a company’s carbon footprint using special online calculators from GreenPeace and WWF on their own or with the help of an independent organization that can perform the relevant audit and summarize all the findings. In over 40 countries around the world with voluntary carbon disclosure initiatives in place, companies and corporations openly provide emission data.

A carbon footprint assessment can be based on a product life-cycle. 

There are 4 stages to this process:

  1. Setting a target and choosing the way the analysis of a product’s carbon footprint is to be used;

  2. Performing a life cycle inventory analysis;

  3. Quantifying the carbon footprint of a product over its entire life-cycle;

  4. Interpreting results.

Carbon offsetting

Mass tree planting is viewed as an effective means of reducing the negative impact of industrialization on our planet. Still, in order to compensate for one’s emissions, simply planting a tree is not enough. After all, heat spells, droughts, forest fires and lack of care may render one’s efforts futile. The best solution is investing in projects that are aimed at reducing emissions and improving energy efficiency of businesses. The goal of big manufacturing facilities is to become carbon neutral. 

There are three approaches to achieve this target:

  • lowering direct emissions and switching to renewable energy sources;

  • ensuring CO2 is removed directly from the air;

  • investing in initiatives that reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Decreasing the company’s direct emissions is viewed as one of the most effective means of reducing one’s carbon footprint. However, this approach has its limitations due to its economic impact on a business. In order to lower emissions, it is necessary to decrease the pace of production and outputs, thereby reducing revenues. Instead of making the aforementioned changes, it is possible to invest in technologies that will help lower emissions. Still, substantial resources are required for such a step.

Direct removal of CO2, in a way, prevents it from getting into the atmosphere. The gas is either captured and stored underground or used in other processes at a manufacturing facility. The approach aims to cut emissions to net zero and beyond. The captured carbon dioxide is stored in geologic reservoirs. It can remain there for a very long time. The gas is not captured from the atmosphere but during biomass combustion, i.e. of plants and cultivated crops. Another means of capturing carbon dioxide is to pass it over a special liquid that is subsequently recycled.

Globally, the number of initiatives aimed at reducing our carbon footprint has been increasing with each passing year. One of the most popular is forest regeneration. There is also the Blue Carbon Initiative that focuses on “mitigating climate change through the conservation and restoration of coastal and marine ecosystems”. The latter sequester and store "blue" carbon. In fact, plants in such ecosystems store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests.

Reducing one’s carbon footprint

Climate change leads to negative consequences: natural disasters as well as company losses and businesses becoming less attractive for investors.

In 2015, the Paris Agreement was signed. Its signatories must act in accordance with the goal of the treaty, which is to reduce emissions among others. Since then, there has been a greater a shift towards a low-carbon economy, for instance, products with a considerable carbon footprint have become subject to (higher) taxes and duties, and additional labels are now being used on goods and raw materials. In order to retain their competitive edge, companies are forced to reduce their carbon footprints by various means. Some global investors have also chosen to rid themselves of high carbon assets. Essentially, divestment has begun.

In order to reduce one’s carbon footprint, it is necessary to devise a series of measures, such as:

  • to come up with a concept to minimize harmful emissions into the atmosphere;

  • to formulate a common internationally recognized approach for measuring one’s carbon footprint and implement it in good faith;

  • to design a means of rewarding individuals and businesses that have already been decreasing their carbon dioxide emissions;

  • to reward implementation of energy saving technologies;

  • to support development of new technologies aimed at lowering emissions and reducing energy consumption;

  • to support development of technologies that facilitate the introduction of safe and effective means of managing waste and using recycled materials.

Standards for carbon footprint calculation

Approaches used to measure one’s carbon footprint are described in protocols. There is a separate one for each sector. Globally, ISO standards 14061-14064 specify “principles and requirements at the organization level for quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals”.

Russia’s equivalent is GOST R 56276-2014/ISO/TS 14067:2013 “Greenhouse gases: product carbon footprint. Requirements and guidelines for quantification and communication”. The document was drawn up in 2016.

There are organizations world-wide that develop carbon footprint assessment methods. They include Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Accounting and Reporting Corporate standards), Verra (Verified Carbon Standard), the American Carbon Registry and others.

Company’s carbon footprint

Any company can leave a carbon footprint even if it is not directly responsible for emissions into the atmosphere and air pollution. After all, every business and organization needs transportation means, water and electricity to function and it often purchases goods produced at facilities that emit greenhouse gases. At present, manufacturers and the logistics industry are responsible for the emission of over half of all man-made carbon dioxide world-wide. 

A far-reaching goal for businesses is to reduce harmful emissions into the atmosphere by 2030.

And they are already striving towards it. For instance, Unilever plans to soon transition to renewable energy soon.  Siemens, a German multinational conglomerate, has focused its efforts on distributed energy systems (DES) to “improve resource efficiency and reduce operating costs”. British Airways has invested in a plant that will manufacture and supply it with biofuel. In 2020, Google pledged to eliminate their entire carbon legacy and announced that it had become carbon neutral in 2007. In Russia, Sberbank plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

Product carbon footprint

A life cycle product carbon footprint “measures the total greenhouse gas emissions generated by a product, from extraction of raw-materials to end-of-life” (including waste management). For example, the carbon footprint of a cotton shirt exceeds its own net weight (of 222 g) 50 fold. The measurement takes into account the harvesting, processing, transportation and weaving of cotton; the dying of fabric; the sewing, transportation, packaging and storage of the finished product; the making of a catalogue, as well as the delivery, intended use and disposal of the shirt. According to research carried out by Systain Consulting, all together these processes account for a carbon footprint of 10.75 kg.

Minimizing the effect of greenhouse gases is going to be difficult and will take time. The end goal is to reach net zero emissions. According to the Paris Agreement on climate change, which has so far been signed by 194 countries and the EU, this target should be achieved by the second half of the 21st century.

Brucite+ and reducing carbon footprint

By monitoring, compensating and lowering one’s carbon footprint, every business can make its contribution towards saving our planet for future generations. Having grasped this responsibility, Brucite+ is governed by the principles of environmental protection and sustainable development in all of its operations.

The goal of the company is to achieve carbon neutrality, i.e. net zero greenhouse gas emissions, with the amount of air pollution generated offset by carbon dioxide captured. According to research carried out by Carbon Footprint Ltd. (an independent organization), at present, the average amount of carbon dioxide produced to obtain 1 kg of brucite is only 9 g CO2, i.e. a value that is already close to 0.

A life cycle impact and carbon footprint assessments of our products are carried out on a regular basis. For instance, Carbon Footprint Ltd. recently measured the amount of carbon dioxide generated during the manufacture of 1 kg of MagTreat®-P (powder) and MagTreat®-S (suspension). The calculations took into account emissions produced during the mining and transportation of raw materials as well as the manufacture, processing and limited distribution of each product. Based on the assessment, both MagTreat®-P and MagTreat®-S leave a fairly low carbon footprint.

In addition, an environmental management system has been implemented at Brucite+. It complies with the international standard ISO 14001:2015. The system serves as a means of achieving sustainable development goals as well as a guide to all the company employees. As part of its environmental management policies, Brucite+ takes into account the potential environmental impact of any future operations so as to minimize it; monitors effects on the environment during mining and manufacturing processes, and takes part in environment-oriented initiatives.

We believe that all the efforts made to protect our environment will eventually help our company reach net zero emissions when it comes to our raw materials and end products.

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