State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


New Software Speeds Carbon Footprinting

Taking a big step towards helping companies accurately label the carbon footprint of their products, researchers at the Earth Institute have developed new software that can calculate the carbon footprints of thousands of products simultaneously, a process that had been time-consuming and costly up until now.

Photo: Steven Depolo

The tool created was part of a project designed by a team headed by Christoph Meinrenken, associate research scientist at Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, to help PepsiCo, Inc. develop standardized calculations of the lifecycle of thousands of its products. Started in 2007, the project resulted in the first U.S. carbon footprint label certified by an impartial third party for just one product, Tropicana orange juice. Since then, Meinrenken’s team has built on that initial analysis to develop a model that can estimate the carbon emissions of various materials, and then calculate footprints for thousands of products within minutes, virtually automatically.

To develop this tool, researchers were inspired by techniques to mine vast datasets that are used outside the field of environmental science, such as those used by Facebook or Netflix. In the same way that those companies use data to teach computers to predict user preferences, the new tool uses similar methods to mine detailed product and supply chain data.

By making information more accessible, this ground-breaking tool will help companies and consumers alike take a step in the right direction to reduce their carbon footprints.

To read more about this project, see the Earth Institute press release here.

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