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Carbon emissions Britain set to lead the way?

An up-beat picture of a cleaner and greener Britain in 20 years' time, with the rest of the world acknowledging the UK's championing role in carbon reduction initiatives, is being painted by field-leading consultants and software developers Barloworld Optimus.

According to the Solihull-based company, the next two decades will be marked with carbon reduction measures gaining in momentum, notably-diminished reliance on fossil fuels, switches in production processes, and far-reaching changes in transportation patterns and policies.

“I can see emissions in the UK halving in the next twenty years, with Britain being hailed by the rest of the world as leader in slowing down the pace of climate change” says Ewan French, co-developer of the world-beating CAST-CO2 carbon optimisation software and Chief Operating Officer of the company whose software tools are used by five of the world's top 25 performing companies according to this year's AMR Research Supply Chain Top 25 report. They include Tesco, Nokia, and Coca-Cola.

Though, he says, manufacturers will still be sourcing globally, he adds that a surge in technology to make electric- or hydrogen-powered cars massively more viable, reviews of distribution patterns resulting in fewer commercial vehicles on the road, changes in commercial practices by reducing corporate mileage as a direct spin-off from last year's unprecedented rise in oil prices, and increased sophistication being shown by supply chain professionals will all contribute to the cleaner, greener Britain he's forecasting.

'Greener' warehousing, more reliance on sea transport at the expense of air, an increase in techniques such as video conferencing as an alternative to face-to-face meetings, and a slow-down in 'white van man' – a sector massively outstripping other forms of carrier transport with a Government-projected 380% growth rate up to 2050 – will also come to the fore over the next few years, he says.

“I believe we will crack the 'green' transport issue. When that happens we can look forward to a halving in emissions” he said this week.

As part of that initiative, he adds that a growth in carbon sequestration – a process by which carbon is deliberately extracted from the production process for storage in underground or even undersea 'sinks' where it will remain without polluting the atmosphere – is also on the cards.

Predicting further acceptance of the carbon labelling scheme trialled by companies including Walkers and Boots, but since overshadowed by new initiatives including the PAS 2050 standard managed by BSI British Standard, he also adds that carbon trading – whereby carbon-intensive companies can 'offset' their responsibility by trading it with low-intensive companies, a ploy opposed by 90% of UK decision makers according to recent research – is likely to be outlawed.

But despite 'hard' evidence of the marketing advantages in being seen to be green, as well as mounting proof that reducing emissions can also result in reduced costs, Ewan French says that the chief driver behind Britain's growing social responsibility is likely to be Government action and the threat of financial penalties for exceeding targets rather than ecological conscience…

“The next few years will see all UK companies being compelled to manage the carbon footprint of their products across the supply chain in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“That's an easy choice when it also results in reducing costs, but problems will arise when it comes with an increase in costs, and while the Government remains 'full speed ahead' on maintaining the carbon reduction momentum, they're also likely to be taking a hard line to ensure targets are met and some tough decisions are going to have to be made” he said.

Accordingly, with the threat of £12 a tonne penalty for overstepping planned emission levels, Ewan French says that the race to meet carbon reduction targets will speed up – but for financial rather than social responsibility reasons.

Meanwhile, he adds that initiatives such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment – a mandatory cap and emissions scheme due to come into effect in January next year – and the UK-based Carbon Disclosure Project signed by over 385 international institutional investors with $57 trillion in assets, as well as adoption of the GHG Protocol as the global standard for emissions accounting procedures are all likely to play a part in the UK's carbon reduction programme stepping up a gear.

He adds that the 'name and shame' element contained in the Carbon Reduction Commitment will also play a key role in terms of reputational cost on poor performers, and that the UK will also be leading moves to persuade emerging manufacturing nations like Russia, India and Mexico to toe the 'green' line.

His comments come despite US president Barack Obama's inaugural pledge to harness solar- and wind-power and other natural resources as an alternative to oil, and to 'roll back the spectre of a warming planet'.

Globally, says Ewan French, carbon reduction targets and the will to cut emissions show wide variance between individual nations. The UK Climate Bill requires 60% reduction in emissions by 2050 alongside an EU agreement to cut emissions by 20% by 2020 and recent research has shown that:

27% of firms see climate change as an opportunity
32% have a plan in place to cut emissions
over a third of firms would consider putting carbon labels on products
He underlined his view that Britain shows the strongest will to succeed of all the world's industrialised nations at the same time as the UK is being seen as one of the hardest-hit nations in the global economic downturn…

Despite an unprecedented number of UK firms fighting for survival, a recent request for information sent by the Carbon Disclosure Project to FTSE 350 companies resulted in a 90% response rate – the highest of any CDP sample in the world.

In fact, he reckons, the recent energy crisis and the economic downturn are spurring companies on to learn from the lessons of the past six months – typically, a Government-sponsored upturn in the development of low carbon, electric and hybrid cars, set to elevate the UK into world leadership in the field, and a speeding-up of research into solar- and wind-powered energy as the by-product of escalating gas and electricity prices.

But, he says, it's in the key area of technological progress that Britain's global reputation is set to gather momentum – with companies logging major reductions in road miles per annum as a direct result of transport optimisation software.

“The UK is leading the way in the development of software that not only helps companies to consider the costs and liabilities of product manufacture, purchasing, distribution and development but also offers tangible results in terms of real emissions reduction allied to clearly measurable cost benefits”.

In an actual application for a US-based company with production facilities in Europe, CAST-CO2 delivered 9% savings in cost – in real terms, £several millions – alongside significantly reduced road kms delivering 28% reduction in CO2 emissions as the direct result of a switch to multi-modal transportation.

In another application, a CAST study for a leading chemical company developed to review and rationalise its global caustic soda supply chain, identified a potential total of $30 million savings from storage terminal rationalisation, optimal production sourcing and demand allocation as well as the optimal selection of competitive transport modes and carriers.

In the first year alone, the company had realised $7 million savings.

“Britain appears to be at the forefront in terms of the will for change and for recognition of the fact that it has to happen sooner rather than later and that message appears to be gaining momentum – with network redesign holding the key to survival” he said this week.

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