So how does a finished goods manufacturer go about understanding the carbon footprint of their product? Well it isn’t easy is the simple answer. The question is where do you stop? Let’s take the toothbrush. We all love cars but the toothbrush has fewer parts and this will be complicated enough as it is. There are a number of components and metals involved – the plastic molding including the removable head, the rechargeable battery pack composed of nickel cadmium, a small amount of copper wiring for the inductive coil, motor and circuitry, and a central steel pin connecting the body to the brush head. To understand the carbon content a company should drill the whole way down the supply chain to the source of the ore from the ground. Of course the primary smelter will probably have purchased ore from several sources and so the average of those sources would have to be ascertained. Transport, energy and manufacturing energy inputs would have to be collated, averaged and a per lb or per ton figures developed for each of the metals in each of the components sound impractical? The reality is it is already happening, a whole industry is springing up with tools and technologies some better than others to measure and monitor the carbon footprint of materials in the supply chain. To play the game, the manufacturer doesn’t have to measure the carbon footprint of all the materials all the way back to source even if he did what would it prove, unless all his competitors were doing the same thing he would have nothing to compare it against. A simpler and no less effective message is to take one key component, the plastic maybe or the copper, or in the case of the car the steel, and illustrate that the combined carbon input for that product is the lowest in the industry or has been actively managed and reduced over time.
The impact could be quite profound for metals manufacturers. It is entirely possible such a differentiation would give manufacturers of metal products from scrap a distinct advantage over those working from primary ore, or those producers consuming iron ore from domestic sources could have advantages over those importing from the other side of the world, or finished goods manufacturers using domestically sourced components could have advantages over those importing components from say China. Trade bodies may see a need to collaboratively work with their members to measure and manage the carbon footprint of the industry as a non tariff barrier against imported goods and materials.
Marketing has always been about the need to sell on more than price. The environment is for many a cost blind or at least cost normalizing factor in making purchase decisions, meaning many buyers are willing to pay more for environmentally friendlier products. Those metals manufacturers that grasp the challenge of measuring and selling on the strength of their carbon footprint will be the early adopters and steal a march on the competition, if they have the vision to see it.