Carbon footprint on the price tag of sausages and cars

Thomas Luther
Finnish services and products have a strong competitive advantage in CO2 comparisons when their operations are as low-emission as possible.

In November, California burned. In December, Australia burned. The seas are getting warmer and mountain glaciers are melting disturbingly quickly; faster than researchers have predicted.

There is no silver bullet that can quickly stop these developments. There are, however, dozens of efficient solutions. Their combined effect could stop the increase of CO2 in the long run and curb global temperature rise.

One of the most effective but least benefited from methods is information control. During the autumn, as we thought about what would be the biggest changes to the business environment in the 2020s, CO2 came up as one of the key themes. One of our visions for the 2020s is that all products and services will come with their emissions included on the price tag.

A product’s carbon footprint will become as normal as information about the amount of lactose in sausages is today. A consumer can easily compare the impact of their choices when buying sausages, milk and carrots. CO2 data is starting to be included on chemicals, concrete, paper and steel. Regardless of whether we are buying a car or buying tens of thousands of tonnes of steel for a ship, we can make responsible decisions based on data.

Easier than taxes or customs

Legislation governing the measurement and publication of emissions data would be a market-based solution that would support the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme and national taxation objectives. Getting this kind of change through would be politically easier than, for example, taking into use new environmental protection taxes or increasing existing taxation, not to mention carbon taxes.

Finnish companies acquire an important competitive edge when we begin to reduce business emissions in a more decisive manner.

The competitiveness of locally produced products and services increases when their production is as low-emission as possible. This benefits industries such as Finnish food, forestry and steel industries because their energy efficiency is already one of the best in the world. Emissions are also reduced by the electrification of production processes and heating systems. During the 2020s, Finnish electricity emissions will drop quickly when the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear power station comes on line and the production of wind power increases dramatically.

CO2 will revolutionise business leadership

The use of fossil fuels must be stopped as quickly as possible. What currently appears to be cheap will not necessarily be so in five years. In terms of the environment, responsible business operations are also a wise approach to risk management.

In the 2020s, CO2 data will be an integral part of leadership as companies see the change as both a source of risk and opportunity. The carbon footprint will be as central to product and service design and production as financial efficiency. CO2 will revolutionise supply chains, affect decisions on locations, and change sustainable business leadership.

I believe it is possible that in the near future, for example, 20–30 per cent of bonuses for leaders of large companies will be based on how they have succeeded in reducing the emissions of their companies.

Companies had a leading role in upsetting the global environmental balance and they now have to play an active role in the clean up too. Companies are able to change their operations more quickly than the state or counties as long as economically they are steered wisely and with an eye on the long term.

The author, Thomas Luther, is the CEO of LeaseGreen, a cleantech service company specialised in energy efficiency solutions for large real estate and industrial processes.

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