The Green Supply Chain Is A Can Of Worms

Peter Judge

BT has promised to save energy for its customers. Other suppliers may find this harder to do, says Peter Judge

Calculating your carbon footprint is not a very exact science. There are sites that help you do it – either as an individual or as a company – and you always get to a point where you start making approximations, just so you can arrive at a figure.

But even when you have a good guess at how much carbon you are directly responsible for, in the goods you buy and the transport you use, what about the networks of companies that provide the stuff you are using?

Sustainability, green © Cienpies Design Shutterstock 2012What about the trucks that deliver your food, or the stuff you use in your business? What about the places that make the stuff, and the trucks that deliver their raw materials, and so on up the line?

What about the supply chain?

Green chains of responsibility

Greenhouse emission counting for things like carbon taxes, tends to use categories, in particular Scope 1, 2 and 3. Scope 1 is the emissions you make from your own cars and factories. Scope 2 takes in emissions from the people that supply you with energy, and Scope 3 takes in things like your business travel and commuting.

Those still stop short of getting to grips with the supply chain properly. If you buy in a manufactured item such as a computer, you have indirectly caused the emissions associated with making it.

And it goes both ways. If you sell a computer, you have indirectly enabled the emissions associated with plugging it in and turning it on.
How do we calculate overall emissions? Which way should we go in the supply chain, and who takes responsibility for what?

If your computer supplier has offset or paid a green tax on the emissions created in the manufacturing process, then it doesn’t make sense to count them again. If you sell services to a business, they needn’t concern themselves with yours – if you’ve accounted for them.

It’s pretty obvious that the whole area will become one where people pass the buck and avoid the blame.

Which is why I’m slightly impressed to see an effort to account for the supply chain in both directions. BT has launched the Net Good programme, in which it promises to account for the carbon in its supply chain and help its customers to reduce their own impact.

It’s got a very detailed methodology, audited by the Carbon Trust and others.

How come BT can afford to do this? For the simple reason that it operates in a privileged position in the telecoms industry.

BT has done very well in cutting its own emissions. This is indeed virtuous – though It has benefited from Moore’s Law and related improvements in telecoms which make it far easier for BT to do than, say, Ford or BMW.

In Net Good, BT pledges that it will create a net benefit, because it will enable its customers to save three times as much carbon as BT itself is responsible for.

Again, I cannot fault this gesture – but I would have to observe that the services BT is selling are ones which are inherently de-carbonising (if used properly) such as Internet acess and communications.

Good for BT in showing how to account for your supply chain.

Other firms will find it very hard to follow your example, though.

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A version of this article appeared on Green Data Center News.

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