A recent study has found that scientific methods currently used to measure the carbon footprint of various products is not sufficient in determining their actual impacts on the environment.
The two studies conducted by Robert Vos of the USC Spacial Studies Institute, published in the November edition of the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review, state that the available science cannot give an accurate report of the carbon footprint impact of products as basic as paper.
Vos argues that the problem with the current science is what it measures. Vos said that carbon footprint labels should specifically take into consideration the location of production and the effects on surrounding land use.
For instance, when Vos and Joshua Newell of the University of Michigan studied the carbon footprint of paper in U.S. and Chinese supply chains, they found a significantly varying impact according to the forest harvested, which labels do not currently acknowledge.
According to Vos, forests serve as the “planet’s lungs,” meaning they absorb and store carbon dioxide, and when trees are harvested for paper this process is affected.
“The type of forest and the harvest practices are, hands down, the most crucial thing to measure about any wood-based product,” Vos said in a press release.
The study analyzes three existing international protocols for quantifying carbon footprints and proposes changes to include management practices of forests.
Some studies suggest that the loss of forests accounts for about 20 percent of the entire greenhouse gas emissions worldwide annually.
“We need to do a much better job incorporating the carbon emissions associated with forest-based products to tackle climate change,” Newell said in a press release. “From our study, it is clear that from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, not all paper is created equal.”
Some scientists speculate that the reason behind these inaccurate carbon footprints is companies that put profit before environmental effects.
“There’s a big struggle between industry and the environment,” said Maya Lusk, a freshman majoring in environmental studies. “Industries are not interested in having environmental-friendly products; they are most interested in profit and a lot of the time, environmental alternatives are more expensive.”
Vos said most retailers of paper items don’t even know where their paper fiber comes from.
Some students like Sam Cheng, a freshman majoring in biological sciences, also said that environmental concerns sometimes take a backseat to convenience.
“Most people think the need for quality comes before the environmental impact,” Cheng said.