Taking ‘Green’ Claims to Task
Clare Pierson: What does it mean for a company to be “carbon neutral?”
Dennis Roberts: The New American Oxford Dictionary selected the adjective carbon neutral as its word of the year in 2006. It said, “Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in green technologies such as solar and wind power.”
Becoming carbon neutral is based on the carbon footprint of the company itself and not on the eco-friendliness of the actual products. Standards already exist to measure a company’s carbon footprint, which helps them determine where they can reduce emissions from their operations and the resulting gap that needs to be closed via the purchase of carbon credits or offsets. Therefore, a certified carbon neutral company may not necessarily manufacture green or environmentally friendly products.
Pierson: Why did the WQA set up a task force to investigate environmentally friendly and green claims?
Roberts: The task force and its subcommittees were established so that various stakeholders in the water treatment industry could work together to develop criteria against which green or environmentally friendly products, processes and manufacturers could be evaluated and validated. WQA’s initial goal is to develop a points-based ranking/rating system that could be awarded to green products and thereby allow consumers to compare green products with one another. The task force has met twice via conference call in recent months and we are learning that this is going to be a complicated process. There are several approaches to being green which all have value but must be measured differently. In our case, Filtrex products are green because of the materials and new process used to manufacture them. For others, it may be the way a new product operates in the field. Finally, there are some companies that have taken a comprehensive “cradle-to-grave” approach and are offering recycling programs for products that have exhausted their useful life. Our challenge is to come up with a standard against which these efforts can be evaluated and rewarded.
There has been a proliferation of green and environmentally-friendly marketing in our industry and there is a need to ensure those claims have some substance to support them. We want to avoid the appearance of “greenwashing” the consumers. (Greenwash is defined as disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.)
Pierson: What are some challenges this task force faces in coming up with standards for these products?
Roberts: It is very early and there is a lot of buzz, and I don’t know if anybody really knows where the green market is going to go. Everybody knows it is the right thing to do, but it will be a real challenge to come up with the right approach.
Do we factor in transportation and, if so, how do we calculate that? Is there a formula? Are we reinventing the wheel? Is there something that has already been done that we should be using, or do we need to create something new? It is a pretty specialized field, yet there is not a proliferation of experts specializing in green water treatment products, so that is a challenge.
Pierson: Please describe the green carbon project that Filtrex recently submitted to CDM/UNFCCC. Why is it important and what does it signify?
Roberts: The CDM/UNFCCC program sets global standards for reducing carbon emissions and rewards those companies that do so. A company has to establish an emissions baseline for the current process or technology and demonstrate the emissions savings achieved with the new process or technology. Carbon credits are awarded commensurate with the amount of emissions savings achieved.
In partnership with Indian Institute of Science, Filtrex has developed technology to char coconut shells in a closed-loop system. A waste stream of gases is produced and captured and can be developed into a source of energy. This project is important for several reasons. One, we felt strongly that the claims we desired to make regarding the green and eco-friendly nature of our technology needed to be validated and substantiated by a third party to a global standard. Secondly, we felt there was an opportunity to realize return on investment in this green technology by earning carbon credits.
Finally, we feel that our new technology represents a paradigm shift in how our coconut-shell activated carbon industry manufactures its products. If we can demonstrate the environmental and economic benefits of this new technology, we want to share this with other like-minded companies in our industry and assist them with the deployment of this technology for their own use.
For more information, contact Dennis Roberts at 760.992.9112 or by e-mail at [email protected].