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Tool speeds up carbon footprint calculation

Saturday September 15, 2012 09:19:27 AM, IANS

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 specialized expertise.

"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.







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