Going Carbon Neutral: Does It Pay?

August 26, 2010

Editor’s Note: Eric Carlson is President of Carbonfund.org, whose CarbonFree® Product Certification Program launched the first carbon neutral product label in the U.S. He can be contacted directly at ecarlson@carbonfund.org.

There is a growing trend among businesses to measure, report and neutralize the carbon footprint of their products. The first step to carbon neutrality is a product life-cycle assessment (LCA). This thorough assessment provides a comprehensive view of the carbon footprint of a product throughout its life, but it is worth the upfront time and cost?

In general, LCAs cost between $10,000 and $20,000 but can go up to $50,000 or more depending on the complexity of the product, its supply chain and the availability of information. Although those numbers might sound high at first, keep in mind that the LCA offers new information about your supply chain and energy use that may help you to cut costs. This data can provide your business with a clear view of areas where you can focus your efforts to make real reductions in energy use and carbon reductions. And, as we all know, energy savings equals cost savings. Often the upfront costs of the LCA are paid for many times over through the efficiency gains that are realized as a result of the assessment.

Companies have also recouped some of the cost through the increase in sales and profits that they have seen by participating in carbon neutral product certification, which uses as a baseline for emissions reductions and carbon neutrality the carbon footprint from an LCA. Motorola, for example, launched their MOTO™ W233 Renew carbon neutral phone in early 2009. The company has certified and labeled as such two additional cell phones and a line of accessory products. Retailer and customer demand were strong enough to support Motorola extending these carbon neutral products to markets such as Brazil, Canada and other countries, as well as the U.S.

As for energy savings, Bill Olson, Director, Office of Sustainability and Stewardship, Motorola Mobile Devices notes, “The MOTO™ W388 Renew+, our most recent mobile phone certified, uses post-consumer recycled content plastic and has eco-conscious packaging and energy-efficient performance.” Motorola has now begun to look at the carbon footprint of its other products.

Going carbon neutral should be especially feasible for those who have already completed an LCA. If the assessment has already been done, a business can complete certification and go to market in as quickly as a matter of weeks. The current political and economic climate indicates that carbon footprinting and labeling will soon be a reality for businesses everywhere. By taking early action your business can gain a first-to-market advantage, augment its sustainability efforts and have a proven platform to address climate change and environmental protection.