As the last days of a hot summer fade faster than our tan lines, word comes that industrial giant Unilever, owner of several major ice cream brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, is trying to lower the carbon footprint of the desert that makes us fat and happy. Yes, reformulated ice cream may not reduce your waistline, but may soon reduce your carbon footprint.
In an unlikely example of cracking "The Carbon Code," Unilever scientists are developing an ice
cream that can be stored and transported at room temperature. Think about the energy required to freeze ice cream, transport and store it in freezers at grocery stores, and keep it cold until you’re ready to consume it. All of that energy — and related carbon footprint — is reduced to just the energy you need to chill it before serving.
The point is that Unilever management was shrewd enough to apply "The Carbon Code" to their product lines to comply with existing regulation in the EU and prepare for what’s coming in the US and elsewhere soon. Looking for ways to squeeze out carbon saves them money on energy today and gives them a valuable head start on pending mandates to reduce carbon.
Gavin Neath, Unilever’s senior vice-president for sustainability, said that the innovative ice cream was part of a company wide review of products by Unilever to make them more sustainable and with a lower carbon debt. Applying that standard to everything in its supply chain showed Unilever management that, while their own operations generate about 4 million tons of carbon emissions per year, the total carbon burden in their products (including all lifecycle parts of the supply chain) brings that total closer to 400 million tons per year.
Of course Unilever is reducing the carbon footprint of its own factories, fleet, and offices, but realized that a 20% reduction would only cut about 800,000 tons a year — but just a 5% reduction from the supply chain slashes 20 million tons per year.
Unilever found the hidden assets (energy savings and potentially lower regulatory costs) and the real carbon burden that would ultimately need to be addressed, not just the obvious things on their P&L.
Now, I wonder if those inventors could make a low carbon ice cream that reduces our waistlines at the same time? Ah, the stuff that summer dreams are made of!
Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is a partner at Pegasus Sustainable Century Merchant Bank and the Cullman Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. (Cracking The Carbon Code is a registered trademark of Terry Tamminen).