13th September 2017

Written by Ben Dixon

Many of the potential solutions to climate change already exist. For example, ever cheaper renewable energy technologies, materials made from renewable feedstocks, advanced materials that enable leaps in energy efficiency and mobility, new business models for greater asset utilisation, sharing, re-use and recycling, and new technologies that capture carbon from the atmosphere and use it to create everyday products.

How to navigate this landscape of solutions? Ben Dixon from SYSTEMIQ introduces the carbon productivity metrics and framework as a new road-map for your climate journey.

“We are massively mismanaging a very valuable element called carbon, casually converting it into CO2 – carbon’s least valuable and now hazardous molecule – degrading too much fossil fuel carbon and getting too little out of it. We are just very carbon-unproductive – and the time is right to change that”.

That is how SYSTEMIQ co-founder Martin Stuchtey describes the carbon productivity challenge facing industry and society today.

“That sounds intriguing and complicated…tell me more”, was a more common response I had when introducing the carbon productivity project to colleagues across industry and the NGO sector earlier this year.

Jeremy Oppenheim, the other co-founder of SYSTEMIQ, and his McKinsey & Company colleagues had introduced the term carbon productivity back in 2008 and now it was back with a new energy and purpose, driven by Volans, Covestro, SYSTEMIQ and others in the Carbon Productivity Consortium.

Carbon productivity is a measure of value created from carbon. Far from being complicated, the carbon productivity challenge is blissfully simple – how can we generate more value from less fossil fuel carbon, so that we can ensure healthy, growing economies that deliver the Global Goals for Sustainable Development whilst also maintaining global climate change within the safe limits defined in the Paris Agreement?

Simple, but not easy. Maintaining global climate change within the two-degree limit (let alone well below two-degrees) whilst maintaining today’s economic growth rate requires a 10-times increase in value created per unit of fossil fuel carbon, by 2050. Even if we follow the Google X mantra that “10X is easier than 10%” this requires a dramatic transition in our economy, energy system, transportation and industry.

“So, is this a conceptual discussion or could I apply it in my business?” – the second reaction after I had explained the concept.

The answer – yes. You could and should apply carbon productivity in your business, tomorrow. Two examples:

  • At a company level, the carbon productivity improvement framework provides a map to navigate the maze of climate change mitigation options and decisions (framework available on carbonproductivity.com). Recouple your material feedstock from crude oil to plant-based feedstocks, CO2 captured from a power station, or recycled materials. Or focus your efforts on energy efficiency, product design or the circular economy. The nine carbon productivity improvement levers provide a simple framework for strategic decision-making and action to put your business on the path to higher value generation and reduced fossil fuel carbon consumption.
  • For individual products and materials, the prototype carbon productivity metrics provide a new lens on life cycle assessment data and a new communication tool (also available on carbonproductivity.com). For example – if your product or material reduces fossil fuel consumption in its use phase (e.g. by enabling energy or fuel savings or renewable energy generation) then you can measure its Environmental Return on Carbon Employed. If it scores higher than 100 then you have a “net positive” product that repays its carbon debt during its life – tell the world!

“Can I contribute or get involved?” – a final question asked by many of the people I spoke to.

Yes again. The Carbon Productivity Consortium would love to hear from companies that are interested to get involved or pilot the prototype metrics and improvement framework. Please send your interest or questions to info@carbonproductivity.com.