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Carbon Negative Ice Cream
Yesterday I had dinner in a restaurant that featured “carbon negative” ice cream. This interesting claim was made by the company Jude’s Ice Cream. I was intrigued as to how ice cream could be carbon negative so I went to the company’s web site, where they say,
We work with carbon footprinting experts, Small World Consulting, to measure our carbon footprint and identify the most sustainable ways to reduce it. Through rigorous assessment of our Scope 1, 2 and 3 (upstream) they estimated that last year we released 7,082 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2020 we committed to reduce our carbon intensity per litre of ice cream by 43% by 2030, and last year we reduced it by 20%! We achieved this by comprehensively reviewing everything we do as a business and proactively identifying ways to reduce carbon. For example, our logistics team is now even more efficient in terms of routes and fill loads, we are evolving our products to be more sustainable, but just as luxuriously creamy as you’d expect, and we’re committed to introducing more and more people to the delights of plant based ice cream and already 28% of our range is plant based.
In this statement the company is claiming that they have significantly reduced their CO2 emissions per unit of production by 20%. This is very creditable, but it is not “carbon negative”. For example, they are now “more efficient in terms of routes and fill loads”. Fair enough, but the company still needs diesel trucks to deliver raw materials and finished products. This is not “carbon negative”.
The company further says,
We are the first British ice cream company to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit.
In 2020 we took the unprecedented step of becoming the first ice cream and desserts company to remove more carbon from the air than our carbon footprint.
The company does not employ any carbon capture technology, so this claim is difficult to understand. The company’s activities all result in CO2 emissions - they may be reducing their emissions intensity, but that is fundamentally different from claiming negative emissions.
Scope 3 Emissions
The company takes credit for improvements in Scope 3 emissions - specifically the upstream operations of their suppliers. As we will discuss in greater detail in future posts, taking credit for what suppliers and customers do creates many, many difficulties with defining boundaries. Indeed, the company recognizes Scope 3 difficulties in the following statement,
Supply chain (Scope 3) emissions are difficult to quantify, as there is mathematically no limit to the number of pathways that can contribute to total supply chain greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Increased complexity as the supply chain grows leads to a level of uncertainty associated with emissions metrics, which has been used as justification by many organisations to pay little attention or ignore supply chain emissions.
To illustrate the complexity of Scope 3 accounting, the company would have to understand issues such as the amount of fertilizer (made from natural gas) that its suppliers use to make plant-based raw materials. They would also need to know how much diesel fuel the upstream suppliers use in their farm equipment and delivery trucks. Calculations such as these are unrealistic for a medium-size company.
The company does not provide detail as to how they have become carbon negative. They do, however, describe how they are supporting reforestation efforts. Possibly they are taking credit for the carbon taken up by growing trees.
Once more, this is a creditable activity, but it is not directly related to the emissions associated with the manufacture and delivery of ice cream. Moreover, trees only capture carbon, they do not sequester it. Eventually a tree dies and returns its components to nature.
Need for Standardization and Rules
It’s great that the Jude Ice Cream company is making such efforts to reduce its emissions. But the claims that they make highlight some of the difficulties that we see in many company reports. These difficulties include the following:
Taking credit for ill-defined Scope 3 activities
No company, regardless of its size, can understand the full scope of the operations of its suppliers and customers. It makes more sense to stick to just Scopes 1 and 2.
Difficulties with auditing
It is difficult to evaluate the company’s claims based on the information that they provide.
Consistency of reporting
It is important not just to know about a company’s emissions, but also to understand how these emissions compare with other companies — in this case, ice cream manufacturers. A standardized reporting system is called for.
Confusing “reduced emissions” with “zero emissions”
There is a clear and present need for standardization and rule-making to address difficulties such as the above. This is why we are writing the book The SEC Climate Rule.
Back to the Dinner
I mentioned that I started this train of thought while having an enjoyable dinner. I felt that I had no alternative but to finish with a scoop of Jude’s ice cream. It was very good.
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