Cutting carbon emissions upstream and downstream

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Clara Grandry is completing an internship at Tetra Pak.  Alain Herzog/EPFL

Clara Grandry is completing an internship at Tetra Pak. Alain Herzog/EPFL

Summer series - Master’s project (1). EPFL student Clara Grandry is completing an internship at Tetra Pak - the world’s leading supplier of food-packaging products and processes - for her Master’s project. She’s working in the supply-chain department to help reduce the indirect carbon emissions associated with the company’s suppliers.

Very few life sciences graduates go on to obtain a Master’s degree in a topic like supply-chain management. But that’s the unconventional path chosen by Clara Grandry, and it’s the result of her curious nature, her keen interest in environmental issues, the wide range of options available at EPFL, and a particular set of circumstances. She enrolled in the Master’s program at EPFL’s College of Management of Technology, and her studies are now culminating in a project on a pressing and increasingly trendy issue: how to cut an organization’s indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

Organizations adhering to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol Corporate Standard undertake to reduce their emissions in three areas, defined as "scopes" (see box). "Scopes 1 and 2 lie right within a company’s own operations," explains Grandry. "But Scope 3 encompasses its entire value and supply chain. And it wouldn’t make much sense for a company to stop at Scopes 1 and 2." Today she’s getting first-hand experience with how these Scopes work through a six-month internship at Tetra Pak’s Lausanne headquarters. The firm, which is based in both Sweden and Switzerland, has set a goal of reducing its Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 50% by 2030 - and Scope 3 emissions account for 97% of its total GHG emissions. Tetra Pak already achieved a nearly 20% drop in its emissions between 2010 and 2019.

Grandry works under Anke Hampel in the supply-chain department. At first glance, Tetra Pak’s procurement process appears straightforward, since the firm uses mainly cardboard, plastic and sometimes aluminum to make its cartons for milk, iced tea, apple juice and other beverages. "But it’s actually quite impressive to see just how complicated the process really is," says Grandry. "There are a lot of moving parts since Tetra Pak’s suppliers have suppliers themselves. And because supply-chain management is a brand-new field, we don’t always have all the data we need, and the data we do have aren’t always reliable. Right now I’m working closely with a product life-cycle analyst to help Tetra Pak’s suppliers identify what factors they’re already taking into account and which ones they still need to incorporate."

An emerging field

Grandry’s tasks include combing through suppliers’ reports and grouping the companies based on the challenges they face. She also helped develop a model that generates yearly predictions of Tetra Pak’s emissions reductions between now and 2029. In addition to the educational opportunity and industrial application of her work, Grandry is also learning about the people-related and strategic aspects of low-carbon initiatives. "For example, plastics suppliers - which come from the petroleum industry - tend to be defensive when we speak about our efforts and ask them to share their data," she says. "Tetra Pak’s goal is obviously to eventually stop using plastic." In addition to helping the company reduce its GHG emissions, Grandry is also designing a sustainability framework for measuring its environmental impact more broadly. Her approach considers the company’s effects on biodiversity by measuring freshwater and land use and freshwater contamination upstream of the entire production line.

It’s pretty easy to understand why Grandry is interested in this field, but it’s less clear how she made the switch from life sciences to supply-chain management. "It seemed like I had two routes after I graduated from the School of Life Sciences - either work in a research lab at a university, or get a job with a pharmaceutical or biomedical company," she says. "But I realized during my Bachelor’s internship that I didn’t want to work in a lab. However, before starting to work for a large company, I wanted to learn more about the ins-and-outs of these kinds of organizations. That’s why I decided to first get a degree in management. And since I’m also interested in sustainability, I decided to specialize in supply-chain management." Her internship at Tetra Pak studying Scope 3 emissions has been the icing on the cake. "I’ve discovered that in the real world, things don’t often work the way we were taught in class," she says. "This is particularly true in this emerging field, where people are still feeling their way around. It’s very complicated but at the same time very fascinating."

The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard classifies an organization’s GHG emissions in three Scopes:
Scope 1 emissions are those from sources owned or controlled by the organization, such as natural gas burned at a production plant.
Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy.
Scope 3 emissions are all other indirect emissions not covered by Scope 2. These emissions typically relate to purchased commodities, employees’ commutes to and from work and equipment installed at customers’ sites. Scope 3 emissions generally account for 80% of a company’s GHG emissions (not including the construction industry). They’re a particular problem in the automotive industry: building a car doesn’t necessarily generate a lot of emissions, but producing all the steel and aluminum that’s needed does, not to mention the gases emitted once the car is on the road.

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