Washington: A new
software can quickly calculate the carbon footprints of thousands
of products simultaneously, a process that has so far been
time-consuming and expensive.
It should help companies to accurately label products, and to
design ways to reduce their environmental impacts, said Christoph
Meinrenken, project leader and associate research scientist at
Columbia University's Earth Institute and Columbia Engineering.
The project is the result of a collaboration between the
Institute's Lenfest Centre for Sustainable Energy and PepsiCo, the
Journal of Industrial Ecology reports.
Its original aim was to evaluate and help standardize PepsiCo's
calculations of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted when a
product is made, packaged, distributed and disposed of, according
to a Columbia statement.
Started in 2007, it resulted in the first US carbon footprint
label certified by an impartial third party, for Tropicana orange
juice. PepsiCo has been pilot-testing the methodology for other
uses since 2011.
Meinrenken and his team used a life-cycle-analysis database--a
tool used to assess the environmental impact of a product--that
covered 1,137 PepsiCo products. They then developed three new
techniques that work together, enabling them to calculate
thousands of footprints within minutes, with minimal user input.
Meinrenken said the automatically generated factors enable
non-experts "to calculate approximate carbon footprints and
alleviate resource constraints for companies embarking on
large-scale product carbon footprinting."
Up until now, life-cycle-analysis has mostly been performed one
product at a time. This imposes large requirements for personnel,
expertise, and time, and few companies have enough employees with
"At companies like Facebook or Netflix, engineers employ
statistical wizardry to mine vast datasets and essentially teach
computers to predict, for instance, who will like a particular
movie," said Meinrenken.