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Researchers develop rapid method to measure carbon footprints
Date:9/13/2012

Researchers have developed new software that can rapidly calculate the carbon footprints of thousands of products simultaneously, a process that up to now has been time consuming and expensive. The methodology should help companies to accurately label products, and to design ways to reduce their environmental impacts, said Christoph Meinrenken, the project's leader and associate research scientist at Columbia University's Earth Institute and Columbia Engineering. A new study, published online in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, describes the methodology.

The project is the result of a collaboration between the institute's Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and PepsiCo, Inc. Its original aim was to evaluate and help standardize PepsiCo's calculations ofthe amount of carbon dioxide emitted when a product is made, packaged, distributed and disposed of. Started in 2007, it resulted in the first U.S. 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. The key component was a model that generates estimated emission factors for materials, eliminating manual mapping of a product's ingredients and packaging materials. 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." He said the software complies with guidelines sponsored by the nonprofit World Resources Institute, which provides standards against which carbon footprints can be audited.

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Contact: Kevin Krajick
kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu
212-854-9729
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Source:Eurekalert  

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