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Partnerships will enable faster, more impactful cuts to carbon emissions

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Companies are having to act fast to reduce emissions, not just in their own operations, but across their entire value chain.

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This article is sponsored by Eaton.

Headlines with words such as "extreme," "dire" and "unprecedented" have dominated news cycles following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recently released AR6 Climate Change report. The nearly 4,000-page tome, which details updated science on the physical impacts of climate change, stresses the need to act with urgency to make deep, broad cuts to carbon emissions. 

Eaton is just one business responding to this call by joining the Race to Zero, a global campaign for a healthy, resilient, zero-carbon economic recovery based on ambitious science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets and net zero commitments.  

To meet these targets, companies are having to act fast to reduce emissions, not just in their own operations, but across their entire value chain. This includes both upstream and downstream emissions from materials purchased, transported and generated from products while in use. This comprehensive view of emissions is creating a paradigm shift — and causing a need for strategic partnerships between suppliers, product manufacturers and customers. 

A good partnership works both ways 

At Eaton, we are creating a ladder of engagement with our suppliers that starts with affirming our Supplier Code of Conduct, which outlines the company’s expectations for supplier workplace standards and business practices, followed by education on our goals and values. The company also provides tools such as webinars and targeted improvement guides to help suppliers enhance their sustainability efforts. 

Eaton is taking to heart the IPCC’s directive that "every tonne of CO2 emissions adds to global warming" and reducing as much as we can, as fast as we can. Recently, Eaton collaborated with packaging specialist Storopak across its EMEA locations to reduce emissions from plastic production and end-of-life incineration. Through the partnership Eaton replaced its plastic packaging with paper ones made from grass fibers, a renewable resource that require less water and energy to produce than traditional wood fiber alternatives. Eaton estimates the switch will reduce annual indirect carbon dioxide emissions by around 10 metric tons. Storopak’s engineering and process teams helped Eaton understand the benefits of the switch, while Eaton’s efforts helped Storopak meet its own commitments as part of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste

Downstream, Eaton is partnering with its utility and industrial customers in innovative ways such as  product take-backs and a recycling program for power capacitors. Eaton is helping its customers recycle power capacitor materials, including dielectric fluid, metals and porcelain bushings. The program allows our customers to recycle a traditionally difficult waste and helps the company to reduce its product end-of-life emissions. As a result of this program, Eaton has avoided about 17 metric tons of carbon emissions. 

And in Asia, Eaton is partnering with TES, a provider of sustainable technology lifecycle services, on a lithium ion battery recycling program. This initiative will recover more than 90 percent of the precious metals used to produce new batteries. Lithium ion batteries for energy storage are a critical enabler of the transition to renewable energy while at the same time, predicted metals shortages indicate the need for a more partnership-focused, lower carbon circular approach. 

Deepening partnerships with investment

Carbon insets, an alternative to carbon offsets, allow companies to reduce their indirect emissions by taking responsibility for and making investments directly in their value chain. Originally, carbon insets were typically used to invest in natural solutions — think reforestation projects within agricultural or paper sectors. However, today the concept is evolving to cover investments in technical solutions that reduce emissions within supply chains. 

Companies are rolling up their sleeves to get more involved in providing expertise, incentives and even financing within their value chain to reduce emissions. And some are verifying the reductions of their carbon insets to offset other sources of their greenhouse gas emissions. 

To measure partnership impacts, we need better carbon accounting

These kinds of partnership approaches require better carbon accounting and data transparency to measure the impact and validate the effort. And initiatives aiming to solve the challenge of limited data exchange around complex value chains are gaining traction. In June, The World Business Council on Sustainable Development announced its new Carbon Transparency Partnership, which aims to help address this issue. Other examples of carbon transparency platforms are databases such as Earthster and the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator,  which rely on collaboration and aggregation of robust supplier data. 

Similarly, more companies are also measuring and reporting on their customers’ avoided carbon emissions to validate their innovations and solutions to decarbonize the economy. While attributing customer avoided emissions to one’s own reductions in Scope 3 emissions is not yet a generally approved method of carbon accounting, these kinds of insights are becoming more important and may need to become part of a businesses’ official carbon reduction progress in the future. 

One way to measure this impact is by calculating your company’s "handprint." The handprint methodology is used to account for how an organization helps its customers, and the world at large, reduce their own footprints. This calculation can be used to account for and attribute positive impact achieved through collaboration. In 2020, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sustainability Health Initiative for Net Positive Enterprise (MIT SHINE), published the methodology framework for calculating handprints in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.

The bottom line is this kind of next level carbon accounting and reductions can’t happen in isolation. It will require standardization, collaboration and partnership across value chains to get us there and it looks like we are well on our way. 

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