Life Cycle Assessment

Value chain engineering for consumer products

The Lenfest Center is partnering with PepsiCo, a leading global food and beverage company, to assist with sustainability initiatives for a wide range of PepsiCo product offerings. For example, depending on the specific ingredients, manufacturing processes, packaging options, as well as transportation and distribution networks, the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG, measured in CO2e) associated with such consumer goods – their “carbon footprint” – can vary widely.

The objective of the partnership is twofold: For consumers, to facilitate sustainability-conscious purchasing behavior via communication initiatives; for manufacturers and suppliers, to identify possible modifications to product formulation, manufacturing steps, and packaging options, that significantly reduce environmental impacts without jeopardizing a product’s quality, economic, and competitive value in the market.

The partnership started in 2008, originally focusing on frameworks, reporting standards, and the carbon footprint of individual products. As an example, in 2009 and in partnership with the Carbon Trust, we assisted PepsiCo in determining and publishing the first ever certified product level carbon footprint in North America, of Tropicana brand orange juice in a 64 oz carton.

More recently, this work aims to develop practical and scalable methodologies to measure firm-wide key-performance indicators (KPIs) such as environmental, operational, and financial metrics, for entire portfolios of thousands of products and services at a company (“fast LCA”). The work employs “big data” mining of companies’ existing IT systems and combines this with machine learning algorithms to provide users with fast, yet sufficiently accurate information about their value chain.

We collaborate with relevant standardization and industry groups (e.g. Carbon Trust, Carbon Disclosure Project, World Resources Institute (WRI), World Business Council for Sustainable Development, The Sustainability Consortium), as well as various software providers.

Researchers
Klaus Lackner, Ewing-Worzel Professor of Geophysics, klaus.lackner@columbia.edu

Christoph Meinrenken, Associate Research Scientist, cmeinrenken@ei.columbia.edu

Life Cycle GHG emissions of plug-in or hybrid drive trains

Plugin or gasoline-powered hybrid vehicles have been proposed to provide significant GHG emission reductions from the transportation sector. In the past, these studies usually compared the emissions (expressed over a vehicle’s lifetime or per km driven) from advanced drive train technologies (“pure” electric cars or hybrids) with traditional internal combustion engine propulsion systems. Here, advanced drive trains typically emerge as clear winners. More recently, however, research compares advanced options amongst themselves (e.g., plugin versus gasoline hybrid).

In comparing GHG from driving a certain distance on electricity versus on gasoline, complex tradeoffs emerge, ranging from lower emissions of plug-in vehicles (if grid electricity is sufficiently low carbon) to higher emissions due to manufacturing and carrying heavy batteries. At the same time, range limitations of plug-in vehicles limit the share of total distances driven and thus in turn the potential for GHG savings on a country-wide basis. In this project, we aim to establish a framework for apples-to-apples comparisons of different propulsion systems and across vehicle types and sizes, and use these to formulate policy implications to maximize GHG emission savings from the country-wide transportation sector.

For more information please click here to see recent publication(s).

Researchers
Klaus Lackner, Ewing-Worzel Professor of Geophysics, klaus.lackner@columbia.edu

Christoph Meinrenken, Associate Research Scientist, cmeinrenken@ei.columbia.edu