By Sarah Fister Gale
CHICAGO, Sept. 14, 2007 -- At this week's Carbon Footprint Consumer Products Conference and Expo in Chicago, the companies behind the world's biggest brands made it abundantly clear that they are both dedicated to reducing their carbon footprints and to spreading the word about their efforts.

More than 150 people gathered together at the Marriott Chicago Midway hotel to talk about how their organizations can measure and reduce their carbon footprint across operations and the supply chain. Executives from such globally recognized brands as PepsiCo, Nike, Kraft Foods, Aveda, CH2M Hill, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and others, shared their ambitions and frustrations as they pondered both how to shrink their emissions, and whether their efforts hold any value for consumers.

This small but extraordinarily influential group holds the potential to become pioneers in their industries as they begin to define how best to reduce emissions and how to educate the public about their successes.

Early in the conference, Mark Trexler, director of EcoSecurities Global Consulting Services, quoted Daniel Esty's book Green to Gold as he reminded the crowd, "climate change is the issue facing business today." His co-panelists, Mike Mason, chairman of Climate Care, added: "This is a crisis of huge proportions," and urged attendees to look toward the future of science, suggesting that if they didn't make significant changes in the way they did business, their businesses might not survive the impending climate crisis.

Most of the session topics and networking conversations centered on best practices for further reduce emissions -- through sessions on topics such as the pros and cons of carbon offsetting, and how to measure and track your carbon footprints; as well as how businesses can communicate their efforts to consumers.

It was a captive audience throughout the conference, with attendees enthusiastically asking questions and sharing their stories. "We are here because we want to get a better understanding of the future and how carbon emissions will impact our business," said Al Halvorsen, group manager of energy and utilities for Frito Lay. "This conference is giving me a chance to focus on longer term issues."

Rick Kraft, senior engineer for the packaging innovation pipeline at PepsiCo, was there to determine whether his company should start mentioning its emission reduction efforts on product packaging. "We want to know what carbon footprint is, what it means to customers, and whether there will be a standardized label in the future," he says.

Most panelists agreed that marketing carbon reductions programs is a delicate balancing act between treating customers intelligently without inundating them with information.

Dave Stangis, director of corporate responsibility for Intel Corporation also reminded the group that any carbon reduction effort must be a part of any company's business plan.

"You have to manage your risks before you can manage your carbon," he says. "You've got to build it into your strategy, and build it into your culture."