Offshoring€™s sooty secret?


I picked up on an interesting news story this week that opens up a whole can of worms for the sourcing industry and the process of globalisation as a whole.

The concept of “embedded” greenhouse gas emissions has been covered numerous times before, but not by someone so close to the incumbent government.

This week, the government’s new chief energy scientist, Professor David MacKay, commented, with reference to the outsourcing industry, that “the UK’s apparent reduction in carbon emissions since 1990 is merely an “illusion”, because manufacturing has been outsourced to developing countries”.

To anyone who considers the impact of business, and personal activities for that matter, on the environment, this concept is nothing new.

It’s also something we’re discussing from a sourcing perspective as part of our NOA Green Steering Committee initiative, designed to help in tackling the big environmental issues facing today’s businesses.

The fact is everything we do, use and consume tends to have an embedded carbon footprint and that many of the supposedly green things we do simply lead to carbon consumption in other areas – take electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells as an example. Where do people think the electricity comes from?

On MacKay’s logic “Western” nations have a much longer way to go to reduce their overall carbon emissions as they need to fully take into account all greenhouse gas that has been produced as a result.

He also states that “if historical per capita carbon emissions were taken into consideration, the UK was also among the top three world polluters alongside the US and Germany – whether it is currently responsible for only two per cent of current global emissions today or not.”

But there is a real problem with this logic, especially in the historical argument. For example, how did the British Coal Miners know that in 1910 they were contributing to the overall greenhouse effect?

The science of global warming has only been fully developed over the last 30 years and only gained popular credence in the last 15-20 years.

If we follow the logic perhaps brewers should pay compensation for the families of hop pickers who came down to pick hops, as they “cured consumption” – they didn’t and the damp conditions killed many. But they didn’t know this at the time. Such an approach simply isn’t practicable.

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