March 11, 2012

ECOLOGY, NATURAL RESOURCES AND SUSTAINABILITY: New Tools Pave the Way for More Sustainable Choices

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The first innovative new tool, called Scope 3, measures the climate-warming gases released throughout a company’s manufacture process as well as its utilization and discarding of waste. In the past, energy experts and statisticians had difficulty creating an emission-measuring device because they could not develop an effective standardized method. The development of Scope 3 provides the necessary standardization, which has a huge impact on the companies’ manufacture of consumer products: it allows relative environmental harm to be placed on a comparable level.

The second tool determines the emission of carbon dioxide, methane, and four other gases specific to particular consumer products. While Scope 3 measures a company’s complete greenhouse gas footprint through the manufacture, use, and disposal of all its waste, this second tool focuses on the environmental footprint of an individual product’s life cycle. For example, the second tool would measure the effects of obtaining the materials needed to construct a particular laptop and the amount of natural gas or fossil fuel required in order to create enough electricity to power it.

The benefits of the statistical data on greenhouse gas emissions that the new tools can calculate extend beyond scientific inquiry. Some of the most prominent effects of the new technology will be on future company competition, product manufacture and consumer purchasing behavior. This means that as the measurement technology is further improved and perfected, companies can now be judged on how their supply chains affect the environment. Therefore, companies are likely to strive for more sustainable product production in order to gain consumer support. Even now, Kraft Foods is researching ways that their cocoa producers can maximize their crop yields while minimizing the use of carbon-intensive fertilizer. Eventually, consumers may be able to choose between two frozen dinners based on their environmental footprint.

These innovative greenhouse gas emission-calculating devices are furthering the trend toward sustainable methods of production and sustainable goods. They have allowed the environmental footprint of companies and products to be placed on a comparable scale that will help companies and make smarter and environmentally friendly choices.

Liz Waldorf is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. She may be reached at lwaldorf@cornellsun.com. The Missing Link: Ecology, Natural Resources and Sustainability appears on Mondays.

Original Author: Liz Waldorf

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