January 22, 2009
By ANDREW MARTIN
BRADENTON, Fla. – How much does your morning glass of orange juice contribute to global warming?
PepsiCo, which owns the Tropicana brand, decided to try to answer that question. It figured that as public concern grows about the fate of the planet, companies will find themselves under pressure to perform such calculations. Orange juice seemed like a good case study.
PepsiCo hired experts to do the math, measuring the emissions from such energy-intensive tasks as running a factory and transporting heavy juice cartons. But it turned out that the biggest single source of emissions was simply growing oranges. Citrus groves use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer, which requires natural gas to make and can turn into a potent greenhouse gas when it is spread on fields.
PepsiCo finally came up with a number: the equivalent of 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere for each half-gallon carton of orange juice. But the company is still debating how to use that information. Should it cite the number in its marketing, and would consumers have a clue what to make of it?
PepsiCo’s experience is a harbinger of the complexities other companies may face as they come under pressure to calculate their emission of carbon dioxide, a number known as a carbon footprint, and eventually to lower it.
“The main thing is helping us figure out where the carbon is in the chain,” said Neil Campbell, president of Tropicana North America, a division of PepsiCo. While acknowledging that protocols for measuring greenhouse emissions are far from perfect, Mr. Campbell said, “you can end up doing nothing if you let that stop you.”
PepsiCo, a manufacturer of soda, salty snacks and cereal based in Purchase, N. Y., is among a growing number of companies that hope to get ahead of potential government mandates and curb their energy use as prices and long-term supply grow less
They also want to promote supposedly low-carbon products to consumers anxious about rising global temperatures; such labeling has already appeared in Europe.
The list of companies that have taken steps to reduce carbon emissions includes I. B. M., Nike, Coca-Cola and BP, the oil giant. Google, Yahoo and Dell are among the companies that have vowed to become “carbon neutral.”
PepsiCo is among the first that will provide consumers with an absolute number for a product’s carbon footprint, which many expect to be a trend. The information will be posted on Tropicana’s Web site. The company has not yet decided if it will eventually put it on the package.
While carbon reduction efforts are generally welcomed by environmentalists, some complain that the marketing claims are backed by fuzzy numbers and dubious assumptions.
Standards exist for determining a carbon footprint, but companies can apply them in different ways. They can decide how rigorous they want to be in counting emissions in the supply chain, and what data sources they should use in the process.
“Any time people are making a legitimate effort to reduce emissions directly or indirectly with their product and services, most of us would think that is a good thing,” said Michael Gillenwater, dean of the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, a nonprofit organization that teaches greenhouse gas management and accounting.
“The trick is when you try to put a strict label that has implications for comparing your product to another product, or implying that you have no climate change impact,” he said.