Sunday 23rd Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

Time for some cool analysis

It can cost up to £30,000 per SKU to get the data to analyse greenhouse gas emissions in the supply chain – and that is for grocery products with relatively few ingredients and simple supply chains.

This rather shocking fact is highlighted in the latest report from the World Economic Forum’s Council on Logistics and Supply Chains, which is chaired by Alan McKinnon, professor of logistics at Kuehne Logistics University.

The report, Outlook on the Logistics & Supply Chain Industry 2012, looks at some of the efforts by retailers to analyse the carbon footprints of the products they sell – which has proved more difficult and costly than originally expected. It points out that, at its recent rate, it would take Tesco 560 years to carbon label its entire range.

Which rather begs the question: why bother? After all, there is a lot of practical work going on to reduce CO2 emissions in the supply chain. Marks & Spencer, for example, has just published its latest report on Plan A showing that all M&S operated warehouses, delivery fleets, stores and offices in the UK and Republic of Ireland became carbon neutral on 1st January.

The argument for carbon labelling individual products is that it gives consumers the opportunity to make an informed choice at the point of purchase. I’m not convinced: we have had nutritional labelling on food for years and obesity is now much higher than when we didn’t have it.

The report argues that to retreat from the carbon footprinting of individual products “should not be construed as a rejection of the need to measure GHG emissions from supply chains. It is merely a recognition that this level of carbon analysis is generally inappropriate.”

And it highlights the value of “choice editing” which allows company buyers to exclude products with relatively high levels of embedded carbon from the range.
The greenhouse gas debate has generated a lot of hot air, when what is needed is cool analysis. Hopefully, this report will point the way to more fruitful approaches to dealing with the issue.

Malory Davies FCILT,